dystopia definition

All posts tagged dystopia definition

Dystopias seem to be defined in a plethora of ways. On a general basis, there are certain characteristics that seem to be common to most dystopian tales. A lot of the time, it starts off with a utopian goal, but something doesn’t go as planning and leaves the community in shambles. These dystopias usual occur in the future where some sort of disaster or uprising occurs that causes the community/society to be pervaded with characteristics like poverty, an evil government or power, hunger, and just basically unfavorable circumstances. They usually are hopeless throughout the literature they are in and the stories usual focus on someone or some people who challenge the way the society works or who refuses to put up with their current conditions.

When integrating dystopia with another genre, the basic characteristics remain, but some other characteristics specific to this addition genre come to light. For example, when combining dystopia with sci-fi, usually we see how humans have used technology to advance in society but such advances have caused unanticipated circumstances. These types of literature form as a cautionary tale to those who mess with things like artificial intelligence, interstellar travel, etc. When combining dystopia with a genre of something apocalyptic though, some traits you may find are hunger, lack of resources and safety, and a broken-down society. While the core elements of dystopias remain constant, the addition of other genres alter the features of the literature.

YA literature targets a younger audience. Due to this, by integrating dystopic literature with YA literature the author tries to appeal to what they believe intrigues those from 12-18. To appeal to them, usually these dystopic novels have main characters in the same age range to add a sense of relatability and connection. It also uses language and concepts that appeal to young adults and that they understand well. For example, in The Hunger Games the novel has young main characters who while dealing with the dystopic problems, also deal with things like young love, difficult parents and siblings, and a yearn for adventure and fun. It also contains a lot of action to appeal to the youth’s need for something exciting to keep their attention. Together, these are the defining feature of a YA dystopia.

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

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.