I originally defined a dystopia as a world in which the worst-case scenario became a reality. This definition is similar to how The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature defines a dystopia as a portrayal of “feasible negative visions of social and political development, cast principally in fictional form” (109). However, these definitions exclude much of science fiction due to its “extraordinary or utterly unrealistic features,” and I have come to believe feasibility is too subjective to be used to define a dystopia. To me, a dystopia is any fictional place in which the majority of people live in an undesirable condition and are relatively powerless to change it, often because they are kept unorganized, uninformed, and in fear.
I believe this broader definition allows dystopian literature to be more easily combined with other genres, especially science fiction. Combining dystopian literature with YA literature brings interesting subjects of YA literature, such as growth and identity, into a dystopian world. In The Hunger Games, Katniss struggles with forming close relationships while also growing up with a single parent, which are issues many young adults can relate to or at least understand because of friends who may be in similar situations. I think relatability is especially important in dystopian characters because it allows readers to more easily put themselves in the characters’ shoes and understand life in a dystopia on a deeper level. The point of a dystopia is not whether or not the technology or apocalypse that created it is realistic enough, but how people in this fictional world live their lives in comparison to ours.
Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2008.
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