eutopia

All posts tagged eutopia

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No matter who you are, everyone longs for a better society, and a better life. This is why people push their children harder than they themselves were pushed. This is why schools push students harder, and why the bar to get into college is constantly rising. This is why people protest, and scream, and write about policies and programs that they feel threaten their chance at a better world. Out of this desire to make a better life comes the hope and longing that gave birth to the idea of a utopia.

 

Utopia means “not place” according to its etymological roots. Eutopia means “good place.” So, how do two words that sound the same yet have totally different meanings overlap and interconnect? When Thomas More came up with the word Utopia, a name for a society he had written about in his book Utopia , he made sure it meant the ‘not place.’ But through the use of the word eutopia, a permanent tension has been  created over the meaning of utopia. So, is a utopia a perfect, good, praiseworthy place society should attempt to mirror? Or is it an imaginary goal that can never be achieved?

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When combined with science-fiction, utopian literature often focuses on the ease of life created by technological advances. However, some argue that since life is so easy, there would be no room for further technological development. A great example of this is the spaceship featured in the movie WALL-E, where humans don’t have to lift a finger for anything.

If you were to combine a utopian work with the romance drama, you might get a utopia that focuses on how everyone is matched with the perfect partner and has virtually no issues in their love life. In a post-apocalyptic utopian literary work, the utopia presented might be the only truly safe place, so its citizens would be praising the security of the state they live in. When a utopian theme is mixed with fantasy, it often features humans and fantastical beasts, things that might otherwise make appearances in our worst nightmares, living harmoniously side-by-side.

The collection of all of these different dreams and hopes, along with the fact that people are willing to imagine new lands and new worlds, is what has brought the utopian genre into being. Since they are imaginary, therefore only real in their literary works, they are all a “not place.” However, since the utopia projects hopes, dreams, and goals, it is also a eutopia, the “good place.”

 

References

Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge companion to utopian literature. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Even though dystopias are commonly confused with science fiction or apocalyptic novels, it has its own deep meaning that makes it very specific. In my eyes through reading so many especially Young Adult dystopian novels, they almost always have three completely different mindsets based on the setting or problem at hand. These three views shape the level of interaction and connection between the different sides of the world, for example Panem in The Hunger Games.

There is always one side that fully supports the new created world, or rules. In The Hunger Games, the Capitol is consumed with the games and their “forgiveness” to the districts. They think that the games are a “compromise” and that they are keeping the districts happy. Their narcissistic belief overshadows the underground communications of an uprising that is discussed throughout the entire series.

                 

On the other side, there are the people who hate the rules, but learn to live with it because they believe they cannot do anything to change it. In almost every YA dystopian novel, these are the normal people living out their common lives dealing with the situation.

                 

And the third group, is the rebels. They are the ones who realize that the world is wrong and unfair and try to fight back and change it, or defy the rules completely and do whatever they want, trying to not get caught. In The Hunger Games series, this is Katniss, and eventually all of her followers as the series progresses, who try and overthrow the Capitol and President Snow. Also, in every YA dystopian novel I have ever read, these rebels are always the protagonists or main characters, because their journey is followed in the main plot line.

These three groups of people combined show the different elements of a dystopian novel. They also show how a dystopian is another person’s utopia. The Capitol people believe that their world is perfect; the hunger games solved the rebellion problem within the districts, and now everyone is happy. In their minds, the world with the revolting, and war was the dystopia, and the “new and improved” Panem is the utopia. Of course this is the exact opposite for the districts because their life has always been horrible since the natural disasters destroyed Panem and the Capitol went into power.

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So you’ve decided to go out and construct your own utopian society. You have the money, the power, and any other means necessary to do whatever you want with some remote, undiscovered island (which is sure to be the focus of a classic novel in the near future) and some eager followers. Now the only problem left is figuring out what a utopia actually entails. You could ask your future subjects what their vision of a utopia is, but this will lead to thousands of unique answers. Can any one of them be correct?

Picking apart the name seems to be of little use. Thomas “More created a tension that has persisted over time and has been the basis for the perennial duality of meaning of utopia as the place that is simultaneously a non-place (utopia) and a good place (eutopia).” (Vieira 3) The name itself maybe once provided a definition, but so much time has passed that the name no longer holds any true definition. We live in a completely different society from that of Thomas More, and therefore each of us probably defines a utopia differently from him. For example, most people use the words utopia and eutopia interchangeably, yet some argue that these words are eminently different.

A broad definition for utopia is only somewhat satisfactory. On the one hand there exists the simplest definition: a good place. It is even widely accepted that a utopia is inherently a better place than one’s current society. These definitions mostly speak about the social and technological settings of the “better place.” Yet with such a simple definition one person could envision nearly infinite social settings and another person may envision exactly none. On the other hand, the more complex one’s specific definition of a utopia becomes, the fewer people will agree. Eventually, only the person who has created that definition will agree.

Personally, based on the fact that each person has their own version of utopia, my definition is as follows: A society in which each person believes wholeheartedly that their lives could not get any better without putting strain on someone else’s life. Thus, each person would need the society to be tailored specifically to suit them, which makes such a place nearly impossible.

Utopia as a concept can exist in any other genre of literature. All that a story in another genre needs is someone wishing for a better life, which can typically arise out of nearly any conflict. In this way, sci-fi is a twin to utopian stories. Technology is central to both sci-fi and many authors’ utopian societies. Yet technology is just a means to achieving the state of utopia, and does not affect my definition of the genre or the concept.

Utopias written for young adults are not really very much different from others, except that they are typically dystopian with a push towards a utopian society. Dystopias are easier to make interesting, and in my opinion young adult literature is a money-maker at the moment. There may be secondary goals to implant ideas about perfect societies, as well as societies to avoid, but I believe these are secondary goals.

So, is your definition of a utopia any stronger? Or is it just more befuddled and unclear? Good luck building that society!

 

Works Cited

Vieira, Fátima. “The Concept of Utopia.” Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 3-4.