All posts tagged definition

A dystopia is the idea of a society which is too bad in some way to exist, typically due to tyranny and/or government corruption. This is basically a fallen utopia, a society which is too good to be true, and in many cases, dystopia can stem from utopia. Many will argue that utopia will always lead to dystopia, as a society which is “perfect” must be under significant control by some sort of government, and thus corruption and tyranny is implied. However, while this is often the case, I would argue that there isn’t necessarily always this connection between the two.

Examining dystopias from the viewpoint of different genres allows us to see the concept through a new lense, opening up different common themes and perspectives. For example, with romance dystopian novels, you often see recurring themes of sacrifice and silver linings, while with sci-fi dystopian novels, the idea of the dangers of technology is typically prominent. This doesn’t usually change our definition of a dystopia, but it does add to it for different genres and often reshapes the main ideas of the depictions of dystopia.

More recently, there’s been a rise in YA dystopian novels, those that are geared towards young adults. Dystopias in these contexts don’t change in definition, but do become limited in the content that they can offer, often sparing the gory details and explicit nature. However, this can often means we see more in depth character development, and the path to maturity is a theme that’s more predominant throughout the subclass of dystopias.

While there’s quite the range of subcategories throughout the dystopian novels, they all share the basic definition and a variety of similar themes. I’m looking forward to discovering the nuances of each genre as we read and learn more throughout the semester, as more reading into the topic will certainly 

Works Cited

The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

The definition of dystopia is quite complex and it is often confused with those of utopia, science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse, and several others. One online definition is “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” This is a very negative view of a place. Propaganda is used to control the citizens of the society and the citizens do not know what the world is like outside of their society. There is constant surveillance, and the citizens are to conform to uniform expectations where individuality is frowned upon.

While dystopias and utopias are complete opposite, the perspective taken on a society can change whether something is categorized as a dystopia or a utopia. A utopia is “an imaginary and indefinitely remote place; a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.” For the ruler or government in charge of the place, the society can seem like a perfect and ideal place, a utopia. The citizens, on the other hand can be poor, miserable, and living a harsh life and view their society as a dystopia.

Dystopias are often confused with other genres. One big misunderstanding is that dystopias and science fiction are often confused with one another. In many dystopian societies there is advanced scientific technology and they are usually set in the future so it is easily confused as being a work of science fiction. Even in my experience with the dystopias that I have read, including The Hunger Games, and The Divergent series, they all included some kind of science fiction aspect.

Dystopias are often combined with the YA genre, which creates a more relatable storyline, since it does not limit the audience to a certain age group. YA novels usually include a protagonist in their age range who experiences similar things that a young adult would, including first love, family relations, and competitions. Older people can also relate to these stories, since they were young at one point in their lives. YA dystopia makes the problems relatable to a large audience in an easy to read format for everyone to enjoy.

“Utopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,
“Dystopia.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, English Oxford Living Dictionaries,
“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.” ReadWriteThink. NCTE/IRA, 2006,

I always felt like I knew what utopia and dystopia meant and didn’t put much thought into either of them. However, after CCUL readings and class discussions I have come to realize the depths behind the words. While utopia describes an ideally perfect society, dystopia presents us with a broken social atmosphere where the government paints this seemingly perfect view of society through oppressive control; however both of them make a criticism of a current social system, political tendencies or trends. We live in a world where the analysis of societal norms is not a foreign concept, and our trending YA literature is apparently shifting towards dystopian novels.

While dystopian novels may range from science-fiction, horror, fantasy, post-apocalypse…; there are many elements that are common in the majority of examples of this genre that should not be overlooked:

  • Propaganda is a very iconic feature of dystopian literature. Advertisements, pamphlets, television, posters, flyers… they are specifically design to control society while depicting this utopian society.
  • It is not surprising to read about citizens who have been stripped of their freedom, independent thinking and access to information. We usually encounter with descriptions of characters who are under constant surveillance and cannot exercise their free will, having to conform to a government-set uniformity.

  • Natural environment seems to have reached a point of near destruction and is scarce. Many dystopian novels set their plots in futuristic scenery with barely any greens.
  • It is also worth mentioning the fact that control is not only exercised by the government (The Hunger Games), but sometimes corporations (The Maze Runner) and even technology (The Matrix).
  • The main character prototype of this genre tends to be an individual who questions authority and the existing regimes that are oppressing society. The protagonist is someone who tend to realize the negative aspects of their dystopian society. It is not uncommon to find novels where the population is drugged or brainwashed to the point they do not understand the reality of their situation and it is often the main character the one who wakes up from this state due to diverse reasons.

In my opinion, the combination of dystopia with another genre definitively means a shift in the topics covered and how the plot unfolds, adjusting literature towards these other subgenres. I however do not believe they immensely change the definition because its basic traits continue to be present, mildly affected, but still there and creating the atmosphere previously discussed. Combining dystopia with YA literature probably means adjusting the context to a younger audience and making sure the reading is appealing to the younger generations that are picking up the book. One can notice the trends in slightly younger protagonists and the frequent apparition of young romance that tend to attract the public they are targeted at.

So, why is it that such a perfect word describes such an imperfect reality?

The “formal” definition of a dystopia according to Merriam-Webster, is “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Although this is correct, perhaps a better way to look at a dystopia is the opposite of what one would include in a utopia, which is why the definition of dystopia is open to interpretation.

“Utopia,” written by Thomas More dating back to 1516, created the ideal society of perfection–for the year 1516. Over time, our values and policies have changed, and with it, what we view as an “ideal” society. In fact, with this change in ideologies came the existence of the “dystopia,” and as such, authors utilize the concept of dystopian society to express their personal views on the worst version of society and humanity.

Although classic dystopian novels do exist (e.g.  Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, etc.), most modern day novels are written in the young adult genre. A simple Google search of “young adult dystopian novels” will yield 33 different titles, all written within the past decade.  In modern times, dystopian novels seem to reflect the fears that the current generation may anticipate for the future–hunger, depression, end of the world, etc.–so most current dystopian novels are written in the young adult genre to reflect growing concern and appeal to the audience that would relate to it the most. Furthermore, combining dystopian literature with young adult content allows for a larger fanbase of young adults that can take their appreciation with them as their generation grows older.

Most dystopian novels have another genre combined with them–horror, sci-fi, romance, apocalypse–that allow for an appeal to a certain audience. Some readers enjoy romance, so having a dystopian world where everything goes to hell except for the love of a couple is appealing and appreciated. For example, the popular series The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins holds many themes, but the overarching characteristic of it is the love between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, and we follow their ups and downs as lovers which seems to be the only aspect of the dystopian society that remains consistent. Other genres combined with dystopias allow for the double-appeal to young adult readers: 1) the appeal to a generation with fears of a dystopian world, and 2) the appeal to fans of other, more specific book varieties. In general, the success of a dystopian novel rides on its ability to appeal to the audience it was intended for.



Definition of a Dystopia:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.

Dystopias, as a genre, contain a huge amount of content. They consider all that is in a society, and pushes them to the extreme. A dystopia represents a stratified socio-political state that exercises total (or near-total) control at the price of their subjects’ individual rights, and uses deceptive appeals in the form of slogans and propaganda to maintain order according to a corruptive governing doctrine.

(1) Organized Division

The atmosphere of a dystopian world is characterized by the presence of a caste or divisive mandate.  In the Divergent series, we see that to maintain order and control, hope is only placed on the “ones that know” and have a place in society. We witness a division of friends and even family members, based on character and individual qualities, into four groups that accentuate an individuals primary trait (knowledge, bravery, selflessness, honesty, kindness). This separating and hierarchical influence is also established in the in-class text The Hunger Games in which Panem is divided into 12 districts that have distinct cultures, customs, and commodities, while only interacting with one another through the televised bloodshed between their tributes.  Both texts show how divisive measures are placed on the populaces in efforts to maintain order, and, in other ways, limit communication.

The 12 Districts of Panem illustrating dystopian division. (

(2) Control

Dystopias are NOT societies run per the govern. These are communities that have essentially given up on human nature, and therefore do not trust the decisions made by their citizens. In dystopias, this control is presented as security and protection from the unpredictable flaws of human nature. This heavy hand has its grasp on every facet of an individual’s interactions. Individual rights do not exist in a dystopian society, and if they do, they are limited or an item of deception. Dystopian control also extends further to surveillance and forced uniformity. In dystopian text like  The Giver, everyone is denied knowledge, sexual relationship, and even to see visual color. This “sameness” illustrates the control that is relinquished by the individual to the “betterment” of a society.

Quote from The Giver on the topic of “sameness”. (

(3) Doctrines and Deception

Dystopias are also a socio-political entity, and are run by a governing doctrine. Looking through the eyes of a radical socialist, one would see many similarities. Dystopias often thrive on exaggeration. A slogan is often the core of the verbiage within these society doubling as the source of deception. These doctrines and mandate are usually contradictory to their method of execution. For example, in The Hunger Games, in efforts to maintain peace, the Capital established violent gladiatorial combat between teenagers while simultaneously pinning the 12 districts against one another. Even looking at a classic dystopian text like 1984, we are presented with a term called “double think” which is the act of holding two contradictory opinions at once and simultaneously believing in both of them, which is said to be a talent every Party member was required to possess.

1984 Party Slogan (

These are just three core principle that go into defining a dystopia, but there are many more. Dystopias are fluid concepts, and, depending on what is exaggerated, can appear in many different forms.


Work Cited (Books):

  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.
  • Lowry, Lois. The Giver.Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993.
  • Roth, Veronica. Divergent.HarperCollins, 2011.
  • Orwell, Georgia. 1984.Harvill Secker.1949

According to Merriam-Webster, a dystopian society includes elements of misery, disease, depression and overcrowding. In looking at Thomas More’s definition of utopia and anti-utopia in his own Utopia, it’s definition also includes that it is an unreachable or even non-existent place. Although dystopias are usually futuristic, they are imaginable. Often the government is totalitarian and oppressive. This social control, though it is evident to the reader is often faded by the illusion of a flawless society. The science fiction genre is similar in multiple respects. It is also defined as an imaginable and futuristic world, according to Merriam-Webster. But, the focus of these novels and pieces stays on major technological, social, or environmental changes on a society. While these two genres are often mismatched, it is important to recognize that dystopian fiction is often recognized as a sub-category of science fiction. Therefore, dystopian novels can be labeled as science fiction while not all science fiction novels are necessarily dystopias. But, there are others who do not necessarily categorize dystopias as particularly science fiction novels or want the two to be combined. Michael Solana of Wired argues that the creation and popularity of dystopian science fiction has a certain capacity to entertain and shape the way readers view and understand the future of technology. He further presents the idea that manmade technological advancements in many novels often lead to disruption of lower order societies which is something to be feared. This specific combination of dystopia and science fiction allows a reader to believe that mass technological and environmental revolutions in the real world may lead to a dystopian society. This is where the combination of these two genres can overlap and cause confusion and even panic in a reader. While the two genres are certainly similar in many aspects, it is important that a reader or viewer recognizes the ability of science fiction to be independent of a dystopia.


“Stop Writing Dystopian Sci-Fi—It’s Making Us All Fear Technology.” Wired, Conde Nast, 14 Aug. 2014,

“Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

“Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

What is dystopia?

I think of dystopias as imagined societies created and shared in order to critique and/or caution readers of certain trends, norms, or social and political systems that the author deems as dangerous or undesirable. This is evident when dystopian works from different centuries or ages are compared to each other as observed in The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature by Gregory Claeys. The focus of the critique transforms as different social trends and norms come into place along with the new century. Admonishment of certain political and social systems changes with the current systems as well, for example, capitalism being critiqued in times of economic struggle or failure.

The authorities in dystopian societies create their dystopia as a solution to an issue or crisis that they are approaching or experiencing. These “solutions” paint a negative perspective of society as well as humankind on a fictional canvas. Dystopian societies often follow ridiculous rules and norms that may seem specific to that dystopia, but actually embody much broader aspects that are applicable to our current, non-fictional world. An example of this is in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. While the Capitol insists that the games are to keep peace (and to keep the people of the Capitol entertained), their actions actually translate into a general warning of government power and oppression.!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2014/10/17/760/n/1922283/0ce4c4b0f63f8eae_advice/i/When-Those-Big-Beautiful-Blue-Eyes-Pleading.gif

Combining dystopia with another genre doesn’t change my definition as the combination serves to focus the critical spotlight, illuminating the concept or behavior that the author most disagrees with. For example, a dystopia combined with the sci-fi genre critiques humans’ use of technology, often dissenting our efforts to mechanize and genetically engineer many aspects of our lives. Dystopias paired with the romantic genre are reproachful of repression of emotions. They might consist of a system where the citizens are all participants in a giant, computerized match-making program as observed in the dystopian novel, Matched by Ally Condie. The system might even prohibit or obstruct the citizens from expressing or feeling love.

Bringing dystopian literature into the YA field brings significance to the genre. Opening the younger generation’s eyes to the world of dystopia allows them to consciously and subconsciously absorb messages about society and humanity. Of course, other literature besides dystopia in the YA genre relays messages, but much stronger and deeper critique is provided through dystopia. The often shocking or disturbing worlds of dystopia are more captivating and can convey provocative concepts without being too philosophical to keep young readers’ attention.

Whether you’re actively looking for something that will change the way you view society, or just want something to sit down and enjoy, dystopia fiction will leave you with something to ponder.

Works cited:

Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York, NY, Scholastic, 2008.

Condie, Ally. Matched. New York, NY, Dutton Books, 2010.


It is a word that conveys many different thing, including the destruction of worlds, the fear of the many, and the power of the few. But beyond a mere glance of well-known science fiction dystopian works lies a web of characteristics that illustrate the darker aspects of society. Contrasting this is the term utopia, which references a location of good and perfection. But it does not reveal the happiness and joy that is present in society; rather, utopia illustrates the pinnacle of human existence that, while desired, can never be reached. So while both utopia and dystopia lie on opposite ends of the social spectrum, they share many similarities that only serve to heighten discontent and tensions within a society.

The word dystopia comes from the Greek prefix of dys, meaning bad or diseased. In particularly, this describes a place of darkness filled with despair and hardship. Typically, a small congregation of individuals amass enormous power and are able to subjugate the masses through a show of strength. That stratagem employs one of the most impactful emotional responses known to humankind: fear. And such a fear confines those subjected to the cruelty to salvage for scraps among themselves. As in The Hunger Games, a common misdirection of hate runs rampant between the poor, and the focus on who is the real evil there is lost. These negative emotions break down a society from within, and all good thoughts are abandoned.

The word utopia compounds the Greek prefix ouk, meaning not, and suffix topos, meaning place. In this instance, it is a description of nothing, or, to be more specific, a place that does not exist. Over time, this has translated into a sort of “good place” where you can search for in order to escape the horrors of society that someone is existing in. But the concept of perfection confines us in another way: hope. The partner to fear, it is potent in its own right. The potential to reach a kind of Elysium holds our hearts in a cage that is just as binding as before, as in The Matrix. And the entrance to such a location is a very selective path, with devastatingly few being able to set foot on those softer beaches. So where as dystopian rule destroys any ideas of hope, utopian societies elevate it into a plane that traps all who dare dream of a better life.

So where is the perfect middle ground? What qualities are necessary to allow society to achieve its full potential without overdoing it and leaving the majority behind? To be completely honest, we may never know. As a species, we are plagued with conflict and inequality. It is, quite simply, just how the world works. But when the dust settles, something is revealed. This is the fact that one cannot exist without the other. For humans have the power to hope in the darkest of places, and despair in the best of times. It is what makes us human. But as long as we accept our shortcomings and revel in our successes, we can truly find harmony in whatever disharmony the world decides to throw at us.


Works Cited-

  1. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  2. Henderson, Greg. “Futurespect: Utopia vs Dystopia – 10 Depictions Of The Future.” Rootnotion, 22 Aug. 2014, Accessed 22 Jan. 2017.

Dystopia. A perfect world with an imperfection. The societies living in most dystopias are aware that their world is imperfect, however it is beyond their control to fix it.  A common dystopian storyline proceeds like this: world heading towards perfection gets disrupted by big event(war, Armageddon, the Earth running out of resources, etc.) only to overcome said event through a skewed ruling system. This fragile and rigid ruling system is then challenged by the protagonist, who often attempts to overthrow it by becoming a voice for the oppressed society. While a very broad and general outline of what dystopian literature is, this analysis sheds light on what sets it apart from other genres. The concept of an imperfect society is key to a dystopia, so a book featuring such a society must be dystopian, right?

Well not really. See this definition of dystopia starts to break down when the author creates a world beyond this imperfect society. Let me clarify. In a fictional world where the Earth is perfectly normal except for a post-apocalyptic United States, is someone living in Italy, living in a dystopia? Surely, this war doesn’t affect them, so is a book detailing their daily lives dystopian? What about a sci-fi novel set in space where a couple of the planets are run as dystopian society? Why would this be classified as dystopian? Well it shouldn’t be.  A dystopian novel disregards what is happening outside of it’s society, because it isn’t important. In the Hunger Games, the reader isn’t told what is happening in the rest of the world. It is assumed that there is no life outside of the capitol-district system. In the end, this is what defines a dystopian novel to me. A dystopian world, and a story pertaining only to that world. However, this makes it easy for genre’s to overlap dystopian literature.

A similar overlap happened between adult dystopias and children’s literature. The fusion of those two created YA dystopias. The politics is usually subliminal in these worlds. For example, the the tension between the districts and the Capitol is a secondary theme, hidden behind the shocking premise of children murdering each other. This makes it easier for younger audiences to enjoy these works, while still capturing the attention of older readers. This has shifted the dystopian genre to where a larger message/political critique is hidden behind a simpler, bigger problem.


Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.

My definition of the word ‘dystopia’ is defined by the word’s history and roots. According to The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, the first use of the word, ‘dystopia’, dates back to the 1860s. It is in this era that ‘dystopia’ is distinguished as “the idea of utopia gone wrong” (Viera 16). The prefix “dys” derives from a Greek word dus, which “means bad, abnormal, diseased” and reverses the good nature in the meaning of the word, utopia (Viera 16).  In literature, dystopias and utopias are both imagined places, which are too evil or pure to exist. I believe that the difference between dystopia and utopia in literature thus lies in the underlying mood. Fátima Viera says, a dystopian literature “predicts that things will turn out badly; it is thus essentially pessimistic in its presentation of projective images,” in contrast, utopian literature follows a more optimistic point-of-view (Viera 17). Furthermore, I believe the core of dystopian literature lies in the imperfection nature of the environment. Therefore, the “moral, social and civic responsibility of the citizens” are imperfect elements (Viera 17). This idea is the reason why many scholars and I believe that a dystopia is an anti-utopia.

Through the introduction of sub-genres like science-fiction, romance or apocalypse, the definition of a dystopia doesn’t change drastically, rather the practice of dystopian literature changes from writer to writer. Each literary sub-genre when used in a dystopian novel strengthens a different core element of dystopian literature. For instance, Suzanne Collins utilizes romantic elements in her acclaimed dystopian novel, The Hunger Games. According to Fátima Viera, “…although the images of the future put forward in dystopias may lead the reader to despair, the main aim of this sub-genre is didactic and moralistic…” (Viera 17). The romantic elements of Collin’s book humanize the main character Katniss Everdeen and through this allows her to become a moral character and symbol. For instance, when Katniss falls in love with Peeta during the Games, she begins to protect, trust, and care for him. It’s through moments like this that Katniss becomes the symbol for morality because it so vastly contradicts the actions and emotions of the other members of the Games and the Capitol people.

When geared toward young adults, dystopian literature can hold a much more powerful message. Gregory Claeys says, “‘Dystopia’ is often used […] to describe a fictional portrayal of a society in which evil, or negative social and political developments, have the upper hand, or as a satire of utopian aspirations which attempts to show up their fallacies” (107). The youth of today hold the power to change the world tomorrow. Therefore, if literature geared toward them is social commentary on the world, it can be very impactful. As dystopias tend to point out the “fallacies” of the writer’s present, the literature is a call to action, a call for change (Claeys 107). By highlighting the wrongs of today in Young Adult literature, it can persuade a generation to change tomorrow.


Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. ” The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 107. Print.

Vieira, Fátima. “The concept of utopia.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 16-17. Print.