A utopia is defined as a perfect, unachievable society. All of the citizens are happy and it is typically an idealized version of our current state. Authors aim to improve upon the current state in which we live by offering subtle recommendations of change, either socially or politically. A dystopia is a society that has turned to the worst. Most often, dystopias are societies with little to no social justice and a general unhappiness among its citizens. Authors write dystopian novels to warn readers about the potential road to destruction they believe our society is on.
Dystopian novels often contain sub-genres such as science fiction or romance. Science fiction in dystopias reflects “our hopes and fears about the future, and more specifically, [links] those hopes and fears to science and technology” (Claeys 138). This is evidenced by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The main character, Montag, is a book burner for a society that’s increased its reliance on technology has killed free thought. As a direct result, books are banned and burned. Montag one day develops a curiosity about books and begins to read them. The thoughts provoked by his reading made him even more intellectually curious. He begins to subtly take more and more books from houses he is sent to burn. Montag soon realizes that society is slowly becoming mindless as the people around him fail to engage in meaningful conversation and quiver with fear at the sight of a simple book. In the end, Montag barely escapes from his former coworkers turned enemies and helps to rebuild the city with rebel book readers, restoring free thought in society.
When it comes to Young Adult dystopian novels, the authors are trying to achieve the same goal. YA dystopian novels are a warning to future generations. It is interesting to note that many dystopian novels are commonly on the banned book lists for public libraries. Parents believe their children are not old enough to cope with the violence commonly featured in such books, yet authors target a youth audience. Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games series is a perfect example of this. The entire series has remained in the top ten most wanted banned books lists for the past five years, yet it is one of the most loved YA dystopian novels today. This shows that authors are trusting in younger generations, and although the books are targeted towards young adults, the major themes are lessons for everyone.
Claeys, Gregory, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.