YA Dystopian novels don’t teach you how to live in a dystopia.
One thing that aggravates me most about YA dystopian novels is the amount of angst and edginess. It makes sense, however, since the novels are written for a young audience…
After reading a few dystopian novels from this class, I started paying more attention to what these books, and what popular media teaches it’s audience. In this blog, I want to discuss how YA dystopian novels teach teenagers the wrong values. I will be looking The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to exemplify a typical popular YA dystopian novel.
I am the main character.
YA dystopian novels are reflective of teenage fears regarding our society and our own lives. The fears come with feelings of being misunderstood as a teenager. As we grow and experience new emotions and new problems, we believe that no one else shares the same struggles, so we believe that we are misunderstood. These characteristics of being alone, misunderstood, and different is what forms the main character of most dystopian novels. We feel like we are the protagonist in our own lives.
The truth is, there are no antagonists or protagonists in this world: just people. Though we may be the main characters in our own lives, we shouldn’t always be so focused on our own struggles. Of course, America was designed to be a country that promotes individualism, however we shouldn’t forget that everyone has their own struggles, have similar life experiences, and interact/work together. When we recognize the entire world and realize that you are not only the main character of a single story, but a also a character in 8 billion other stories, we might become more aware of our true purpose and role in this world.
The world is against me.
In The Hunger Games, we see a world filled with violence. In the Arena, you have to fight, to put on a good show, and to kill in order to reap your rewards. If you don’t, you die. The world is against you (because you are misunderstood). The Hunger Games also teaches that your freedom and long term happiness comes from a romantic relationship. Much of the plot revolves around Katniss’s interaction with Peeta.
In my opinion, I believe that the world is not against us. The world works simple whatever way the world works, regardless if it’s in your favor or not. Our government does not intentionally want to make it’s people suffer. Your liberty and long term happiness also does not have to come from a successful romantic relationship. If you take a look down below at the video I posted, it discusses more about happiness, and how your environment will always work against you. The world isn’t necessarily against you, it’s just the way it is. Your happiness does not depend on what you do and do not possess.
The hero is chosen.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss has to volunteer as tribute in order to save her little sister. She doesn’t have much choice but to become the Hero. Peeta is also chosen. In a dystopian novel, the hero is often chosen, or becomes a hero due to a stroke of good or bad luck. What this teaches us is that regular folk can’t do anything unless they are called upon.
In reality, there is no guarantee that someone will ever be called upon to change their social environments. If you continue to play the victim due to your environments, you will only continue to be the victim. A hero doesn’t have to be chosen: a hero only needs to take initiative.
In conclusion, I don’t believe that dystopian novels teach great values for maturing teenagers. There are probably healthier messages that a dystopian novel could convey.
My ideas stemmed from this book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. It’s a self-help book that teaches about how much the environment can affect your behavior. In the video below, Marshall explains that happiness doesn’t come from achievement: that’s called a TV commercial. Happiness is a process, not a result. Many of the messages conveyed in dystopian novels go against what Marshall tries to make his audience understand.
During the research process, I managed to come across an article that was published on January 27th by the New York Times. It is called “Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics”. This article should be a good resource for some of my peers who are interested in drawing parallels between real-life and fictional dystopias.
The article begins by talking about the recent Women’s March on Washington, which took place on January 21. Thousands upon thousands of people rallied in Washington to express their feelings about the recent presidential inauguration. According to the article, some of the protestors held up signs that expressed concerns about the United States becoming an actual dystopia. In protest primarily for women’s rights, some of these signs alluded to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.
The article argues that an increasing number of US citizens are growing uneasy about the current state of the country, and are turning to dystopian literature in response to find frightening similarities. This is evidenced by the sharp spike in book sales just after the election of Donald Trump. According to the article, books like 1984 by George Orwell and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis gained popularity on several bestsellers’ lists. The author of the article makes use of statistics (logos) to indicate this trend.
For the next few paragraphs, the article incorporates brief snippets from several sources. These sources include reader reviews, interviews with English professors, news hosts, and novelists. By explaining the recent surge in sales and increasing interest in dystopian literature, they add credibility (ethos) to the article’s central argument.
The article also claims that “these [dystopian] stories offer moral clarity at a time when it can be difficult to keep up with… the firehouse of information and disinformation on social media” (Alter). In short, people do not know what to make of the news that is perpetuated by media outlets, and the conflicting news that is being perpetuated by the President himself.
This article could be used to enhance the argument that we are not far away from becoming a dystopia in real life. The fact that books like 1984 are seeing rises in readership is indicative of an eerie trend: that elements of a fictional dystopia have already manifested or are starting to manifest in the United States.
The article is also important to my own research project, since it reaffirms that many elements we see in dystopian literature (stratification based on race, gender, and economic status) are already reflected in society today and might only get worse.
Alter, Alexandra. “Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics”. The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 27 Jan. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/business/media/dystopian-classics-1984-animal-farm-the-handmaids-tale.html?_r=0.
Dystopian literature consists of many books that are very dissimilar but at the same time very alike; some examples include The Hunger Games, Gulliver’s Travels, 1984, or Matched. These books were all published in vastly different time periods yet they all depict a dystopian future with varying qualities. It would be interesting to determine if there were any parallels between the books and the time period in which they were published. The novels could be based on the atmosphere of that time, and the negative attributes of society are reflected in the dystopia.
Orwell’s 1984 was published in 1949, at the start of the Cold War. Orwell wrote the political novel to warn against totalitarianism and the upcoming rise of communism. He was concerned about the possibility of technology being used by the government to monitor the activities of its citizens; this concern is shown by the Party’s ultimate and unyielding control. The Party even manipulates history to be aligned with their needs, a characteristic found in today’s society with biased “historical” texts. Today, this book is still mildly popular and can still be relevant as a warning about the government and the future.
Whereas Matched and The Hunger Games appeal to a younger audience, they are still novels containing concern for an authoritarian government. The Capitol’s brainwashing propaganda, President Snow himself, certain attitude towards life partners in Matched, and censorship are just some similarities these books have with reality today.
Evidently, there are many more connections between historical and present events and the characters and plots of the dystopian books. Authors such as Orwell are using their novels to depict a dystopian future to caution society about negative qualities and to prevent catastrophes. Conducting more in depth research about specific novels and certain time periods will hopefully show how the reality affects the characters and
plots of dystopian books.
- Flaneur. “1984 – George Orwell.” 2013. JPEG file.
- SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on 1984.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2007. Accessed 18 Feb. 2017.
- Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008. New York.
- Condie, Allie. Matched. Penguin Group, 2010, New York.