dystopian themes

All posts tagged dystopian themes

In Scholes and Ostenson’s article, the two identify the components which make up dystopian literature, and why the dystopian genre has become so typical in the young adult generation. In the article, Scholes and Ostenson make their work easy to follow along by recognizing which elements frequently appear in dystopian fiction and analyzing why these methods are significant to dystopian literature. The authors also include a chart of sixteen popular dystopian novels, and the characteristics which are key to the creation of the books. For example, in the row containing Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, the authors point out that the book contains elements of “Excessive Measures to Police Safety,” “Media Manipulation and Propaganda,” “Measures to Cover Up Flaws and Lies in Society,” and “Limited or Complete Lack of Individual Freedom.” The authors then proceed to describe which elements are used in order to catch young adult readers’ attentions.

This source was incredibly useful in looking for other features which seem to be essential to the development of the young adult dystopian novel. The authors convey solid points as to why dystopian novels have become so integrated into young adults’ reading habits and how a variety of components create enthusiasm and interest in the youthful crowd. I find it intriguing that the authors are able to explore what is going on the young reader’s mind as the children become introduced to the adult world and slowly leave their childhood behind. The authors point out the settings, themes and characters which also seem to be undergoing serious changes as the dystopian plot progresses which overall draws correlations to the young reader’s situation of growing older. Scholes and Ostenson argue that dystopian stories allow the young audience to become engaged with the author’s world of romance, fighting for freedom and manipulation which occurs in the dystopian novels. By presenting the young reader with a world wrought with unethical and immoral standards, the reader is able to address these types of problems, forming their own values.


Scholes, Justin and Ostenson, Jon. “Understanding the Appeal of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction.” The ALAN Review, vol. 40, no. 2, 2013, https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html.


A definite pattern of interest in dystopian literature can be seen over the evolution of novels throughout the years of humanity. Typically, popularity of such literature peaks following a tragic event in our history such as World War II, the Civil War, or 9/11. This theme raises questions about what exactly society gains from reading dystopia and how the younger generations might be affected by reading such themes of horror in their own literature.


A common concern that people share is the potential negative consequences of our youth being exposed to themes of disaster and oppression in dystopian literature. This thought process stems from the known stereotypes of a dystopia being a hopeless “hell-scape” with no hope of redemption. Although this may be the conclusion in adult dystopian novels, this is not the case in majority of the young adult dystopias. Instead of ending the book on a note of depression, showing no escape from the deplorable actions of humanity, authors in YA typically end their story with a touch of utopian hope. By leaving room for social change, the author prompts an active thought process in the reader that they too can make a difference in our modern society before it reaches the point of dystopia. The dystopian themes generate a response from the reader that could ultimately lead to change for the better in society.


The characters in a novel can also influence the reader for the better. Most YA dystopias share a common theme of the search for an identity. They follow along with a young protagonist that displays the all-important “coming of age” trope. Take Delilah Bard, a no-nonsense thief from A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab. Although she begins the book a little rough around the edges, when paired with a stable friend she ultimately displays loyalty, perseverance, and strength – all outstanding characteristics. As readers are exposed to positive role models that, like everyone else, are just trying to find their way in the world, they absorb some of these characteristics into themselves. Reading through the eyes of a strong, independent character can ultimately improve your own self and maybe even introduce you to qualities you did not know you could possess.

Overall, YA dystopian novels are popular following times of hardship for a reason: we look to them to better ourselves. Reading such literature can open your eyes to new ideas, help you discover qualities in yourself that you did not know existed, and prompt change in society before disaster strikes. Dystopian novels may follow along with certain stereotypes, but there is no doubting the effect they can have on a population.

Works Cited:

Schwab, V.E. A Darker Shade of Magic. TOR, 2015.

Formally, young adult novels are generally categorized as novels written toward a target age group of 12 to 18 years; however, in the past decade, loads of novels have been written under the “young adult” novel genre gathering an audience from the range of 15 to 25 years of age. When looking specifically at young adult dystopian novels, the same trend can be observed, with novels like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth gathering a massive fanbase from an older age group. In order to do this, young adult dystopian novels seem to have sub-genres of recurring themes–romance, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic–that appeal more specifically to modern-day interests of young adults. The idea is to find a present-day fascination or issue facing the millennial generation, and building around it as a common theme throughout the book to make it more engaging and ‘relatable’ to the reader; however, more sensitive subjects are not necessarily always discussed in novels.

One of the biggest issues facing the current generation of young adults is depression, a common cause of suicide. In fact, in the
United States in 2015 alone, the suicide rate among 15 to 24 year olds was 12.5%, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. The sensitivity toward the topic and the social blacklist surrounding its connotations has made it a topic difficult to discuss, despite the importance of understanding it and the ways to combat it. As a result, despite parenting books and psychological journals, there is a lack of written works about teen depression; however, Suzanne Young manages to expose the dangers of teen depression and our societal neglect of its importance in an interesting way. Published in 2013, The Program follows the life of Sloane Barstow, a teenager living in a dystopian, suicide-ridden society. Essentially, in this society, students are closely monitored for depression; once any signs of it are detected, they are flagged down and sent to “The Program,” where their memories are erased and the person is returned to their family without a trace of the memories that triggered the depression. However, as seen in the book, this program backfires; not only do students lose a part of who they are, but they are so terrified by the thought of The Program that they hide their sadness even further to avoid being sent off. Not only does this shed a light on the dangers of repressing depression, but it exposes the other factors that make younger people susceptible to suicide, including the lack of understanding from adults. Additionally, Young integrates other thematic elements more characteristic of young adult dystopias, including romance, which makes the novel even more appealing to her targeted audience. Overall, although a sensitive topic, teen depression and suicide is a huge and recurring issue of everyday life–so why isn’t it a recurring theme in young adult literature?

Work Cited:

Young, Suzanne. The Program. New York, Simon Pulse, 2014.

Me, About. “The Program by Suzanne Young.” The Program by Suzanne Young, 18 Jul. 2o13, librisnotes.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-program-by-suzanne-young.html. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

“Suicide Statistics .” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

The world operates on order. Who makes the rules? Who decides consequences derived from said rules? Who holds the power? It seems that the conflicts inside many young adult dystopias follow along the same principles: a domineering authority consuming the few scraps left in some desolate landscape. My independent reading book, A Darker Shade of Magic, is no exception to this theme. Victoria Schwab’s masterpiece features overblown palaces filled with so-called royalty, an impressive array of magic wielding villains, and a dark stone that could destroy all realities.


Instead of adhering to the standard overbearing government in need of a rebellion plot, Schwab created a universe with omnipotent magic that, depending on the realm, could be used to claim power. What interests me are the correlations that can be made between the illusion of control and those that accept the magic’s existence in their world. Take “White London”, a realm where magic has absorbed all form of color and life from the city. The only form of leadership comes from a bloodthirsty throne that is open to be conquered by anyone who is willing to prove themselves superior through a battle to the death with whoever currently holds the title. The common people who lack magical talent believe they have no control over this process so they simply accept it as the natural order of things. By strategically demonstrating their power to the magicless, the top magicians gain authority that can then be used to control the populations. Instead of igniting rebellion, the commoners fight amongst themselves for crumbs of leftover magic. This enables the victors of the throne to maintain control by keeping the individuals separate, paranoid of one another, and fearful of their overlords.

The impossible artifact that conveniently crosses paths with the main character, Kell, represents a disruption in the order of the realms. The user of the stone has access to dark and unbelievable magic that can actually breaks existing laws by creating things out of nothing. Although the stone creates a sense of control, wielding its power comes at great cost to the user. This illusion makes the stone all the more dangerous in the hands of an eager but inexperienced human. I see this plot thread as a warning to the readers in the typical dystopian fashion. To me, Schwab is drawing a connection between those who can control themselves when given responsibility, and those who become drunk with power. It is easy to be influenced by the power you wield and only you can control what you become as a result.


Works Cited:

Schwab, Victoria. A Darker Shade of Magic. Tor, 2015.