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