All posts tagged literature

My definition of the word ‘dystopia’ is defined by the word’s history and roots. According to The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, the first use of the word, ‘dystopia’, dates back to the 1860s. It is in this era that ‘dystopia’ is distinguished as “the idea of utopia gone wrong” (Viera 16). The prefix “dys” derives from a Greek word dus, which “means bad, abnormal, diseased” and reverses the good nature in the meaning of the word, utopia (Viera 16).  In literature, dystopias and utopias are both imagined places, which are too evil or pure to exist. I believe that the difference between dystopia and utopia in literature thus lies in the underlying mood. Fátima Viera says, a dystopian literature “predicts that things will turn out badly; it is thus essentially pessimistic in its presentation of projective images,” in contrast, utopian literature follows a more optimistic point-of-view (Viera 17). Furthermore, I believe the core of dystopian literature lies in the imperfection nature of the environment. Therefore, the “moral, social and civic responsibility of the citizens” are imperfect elements (Viera 17). This idea is the reason why many scholars and I believe that a dystopia is an anti-utopia.

Through the introduction of sub-genres like science-fiction, romance or apocalypse, the definition of a dystopia doesn’t change drastically, rather the practice of dystopian literature changes from writer to writer. Each literary sub-genre when used in a dystopian novel strengthens a different core element of dystopian literature. For instance, Suzanne Collins utilizes romantic elements in her acclaimed dystopian novel, The Hunger Games. According to Fátima Viera, “…although the images of the future put forward in dystopias may lead the reader to despair, the main aim of this sub-genre is didactic and moralistic…” (Viera 17). The romantic elements of Collin’s book humanize the main character Katniss Everdeen and through this allows her to become a moral character and symbol. For instance, when Katniss falls in love with Peeta during the Games, she begins to protect, trust, and care for him. It’s through moments like this that Katniss becomes the symbol for morality because it so vastly contradicts the actions and emotions of the other members of the Games and the Capitol people.

When geared toward young adults, dystopian literature can hold a much more powerful message. Gregory Claeys says, “‘Dystopia’ is often used […] to describe a fictional portrayal of a society in which evil, or negative social and political developments, have the upper hand, or as a satire of utopian aspirations which attempts to show up their fallacies” (107). The youth of today hold the power to change the world tomorrow. Therefore, if literature geared toward them is social commentary on the world, it can be very impactful. As dystopias tend to point out the “fallacies” of the writer’s present, the literature is a call to action, a call for change (Claeys 107). By highlighting the wrongs of today in Young Adult literature, it can persuade a generation to change tomorrow.


Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. ” The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 107. Print.

Vieira, Fátima. “The concept of utopia.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 16-17. Print.


The term dystopia is a derivation neologism, meaning that it evolved as a variation of another word used to name a newly synthesized concept or idea (Claeys 23). Dystopias were originally created to contrast the pre-existing concept of utopia, a term coined by Thomas More that alluded to an imaginary paradise-like place that focused on non-existent social organization that is better than reality (Claeys 20). The concept of dystopia rejects that utopias can exist, discarding any possibility of mankind achieving perfect equality, stability, and peace. However, analyses of different dystopias result in various interpretations of what a dystopia can be. Many literary dystopias have very obvious negative connotations, but others may have only underlying implications of dystopian elements. Personally, I define dystopia as any place or state that reflects an unpleasant social, political, or economic tension in the way the society is structured. Dystopias may also critique contemporary societies by hiding underlying messages about current issues and events, possibly implying fault in how modern society is structured. Dystopias do not have to be a society that is completely overtaken by misery, oppression, totalitarianism, and dehumanization; they are often simply a society that highlights a few aspects of the common dystopian definition.

In addition, combining dystopia with other literary genres often opens up a new level of depth to interpretation and analysis. Dystopian scientific fiction, for example, exploits possible faults in technological advancement and scientific discovery. As a rapidly evolving civilization, innovative research is always encouraged, yet commonly feared. Dystopian sci-fi literature often embodies this fear, illustrating scientific discovery that goes wrong, with technology dehumanizing civilization. Therefore, dystopias don’t only critique current society, but they also predict future conflict between ethical morality and scientific discovery, altering the definition of dystopia itself.

The dystopian genre can also be changed when comparing adult dystopias and young adult dystopias. Young adult literature uses simpler diction and relatable examples, often alluding to parental restrictions, fleeting romances, teenage hardships, and developing a unique identity. Incorporating the concept of dystopia into a genre for teens alters the way the message is told. For example, in Brave New World, an adult dystopian novel, science molds a perfect society through a totalitarian societal structure and a caste system that eliminates class mobility. This is illustrated through the normalization of sex, the use of in vitro fertilization to control genetics, and psychological conditioning (Huxley, 1-18). On the other hand, in The Hunger Games, a young adult dystopian novel by Suzanne Collins, governmental and societal issues are portrayed through heartbreaking romance, clique-like friend groups, and young characters that are relatable to the audience, such as the teenage heroine, the heart-throb love interest, and the nostalgic friend back at home. Both of these novels exemplify dystopias and a critique of modern society, but in two completely different ways, leading to various interpretations and analyses of the intended message.


Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Chatto & Windus, 1932.

Just as the United States’ Constitution is referred to as a “living document”, I believe the English Dictionary can be placed in the same regard, since awareness of the meaning of a word can adapt and develop due to a plethora of factors, such as expansion of knowledge, historical events, technological advancement, etc. This is especially true when pertaining to the word “Utopia”. Originally, Thomas More constructed this neologism to represent a place that is no place, a desired end that is unattainable, a dream that cannot exist; however, this paradoxical, vague definition sparked contention and controversy over what constituted a utopia. Was it all up to the interpretation of the reader? Or are there certain elements required? Over time, literary philosophers, as they do, continued to throw in their perspective on the definition, developing more and more criteria and signs that indicated a utopia. These philosophers were aiming to construct boundaries for this term, but in my opinion, the opposite actually occurred. They facilitated the use of the word in a generic, household setting, as the criteria and signs applied to a multitude of works and societies. Today, as shown below, defines the word Utopia simply as “an ideal place or state”. Then, could simple daydreams and wandering imaginations be referred to as utopian thought?

In my opinion, Utopia is a term that cannot be strictly defined, rather it applies to any work of literature or thought provoking introspection in the reader or thinker. By that, I mean it initiates reflection of current societal practices and organizations as well as what could be improved or scrapped altogether in the future. Essentially, it is a process with an end goal of constructing a better world. However, it is important to note that this “better world” is highly subjective, depending on each individual’s mindset in regard to the world around them. For example, as portrayed by the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, there are a plethora of works classified as utopias, regardless to the subject matter or particular aspect of society each are addressing. There may be “primitivist and nostalgic utopias, sentimental individualist utopias, voyage utopias, satires, anti-utopias”, and more, depending on the society that the author is a part of (Claeys 51). Due to this, Utopia is an extremely malleable, adaptable term, not limited by one definition or set of expectations, but able to be molded into the time and audience for which it is written. Then,Utopian literature will always present itself as relevant, as it is at it’s core a medium through which beliefs, hopes, dreams, and guidelines can be expressed and developed upon, independent of the factors influencing their creation.

In response to this versatility of the concept of Utopia, Utopian literature and thought is commonly mixed with other genres of literature, including sci-fi, romance, etc, as the author so desires. To me, this acts as a tactic to tailor their critiques and comments to particular audiences, ensuring that the point they are trying to instill resonates with their readers. Recently, Utopian literature has taken a turn towards the Young Adult genre, modifying itself to apply to this age group. Therefore, Utopia is still its own separate genre, but it does blend with other genres in order to solidify its commentary.

Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. “The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” The Cambridge
          Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

“Utopia”. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 21 Jan. 2017.