big government

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When it comes to dystopias, there is always a group of people who are being controlled. This may be to prevent a rebellion or to hide information, but it can be assumed that part of the population has strict rules to keep them from falling out of line.

Strict rules and the presence of enforcement usually aren’t enough to convince a population of their inferiority because it entices anger and unites them. In most dystopias, there needs to be the presence of fear of an outside force that keeps the population in line and propaganda is a reliable way to entice that fear.

In my independent reading book, Legend by Marie Lu, propaganda plays a large role in convincing the population to be scared. Throughout the story, there are giant billboards that release information about threats. There is the threat of the enemy Colonies on the beloved Republic, the threat of the Patriot rebels who slow down the war effort, and the threat of criminals who defy the Republic’s rules and regulations. All of these threats are then exaggerated and displayed in public locations to justify the rules and police enforcement that are present.

In Legend, the notorious criminal Day’s wanted poster is displayed frequently around the Republic. This propaganda is significant because it instills fear into the citizens of a person they don’t even know. The government even has no idea what Day looks like so they use a different photograph each time. In the visual above, it is clear how the words used to describe Day are accusatory without actual specifics on what he’s done. The term “hindering the war effort” is very vague and alludes to an unnecessary violence when in reality all of his actions were for survival.

This poster is an important example of propaganda in Legend because it shows how much the government depends on the citizens. They ultimately wanted Day to be caught, but realized they weren’t capable of capturing him without the help of the citizens, using money to entice them. This represents the need for the controlling force to appear “protecting” to the citizens in order to keep their trust and to accomplish tasks they can’t do without them.


Lu, Marie. Legend. Penguin Group, 2011.


While Merriam-Webster’s definition of a dystopian society is pretty broad, I think there are some key additional components of a society that make it truly dystopian. Merriam-Webster mentions that people tend to live fearful lives in a dystopian society, but they don’t really define the source of this fear. One of the biggest things that defines dystopia for me is the common theme of an oppressive government that causes the people to live in fear. In books like Animal Farm or even Hunger Games, there is a central, oppressive government that keeps a tight grip over their people. The first way they accomplish this is with a strong military to keep the people in check. In the Hunger Games, the Capitol uses an army called “Peacekeepers”, and Napoleon uses a pack of fierce dogs in Animal Farm.

As Snow describes in the Hunger Games movie, hope and fear are extremely powerful emotions which must be controlled precisely. By having an all powerful military, the people have no hope in successfully causing an uprising.

Another major component of dystopian societies that isn’t covered by the definition is their use of propaganda to influence the people. Luckily, many of us are told not to trust everything we read, but in dystopian societies everything said by the government becomes fact. The Treaty of Treason in the Hunger Games is a great example of this. The government tells this epic tale of the struggles that existed before the government existed, then explains how the current situation is all the fault of a previous failed uprising. This is also true in Animal Farm, where the established commandments of their society continue to be changed slightly as the pigs decide that they should be able to behave more and more like the humans that formerly oppressed them. Unfortunately for both of these societies, the people are forced to accept the propaganda as fact, or else face the wrath of the government.