My topic is YA Dystopian governments and how their actions are social criticisms of political issues today. The governments I studied and researched were those in my independent reading book, The People of Sparks. Along with the Hunger Games and Little Brother. My hypothesis states that the themes most common in YA dystopian literature as it applies specifically to the governments in each novel, reflect a real world event and showcase the debate and conflict in that issue. Each of these social issues: Immigration, Censorship and Surveillance are explored through the themes and conflicts of dystopian governments. The social and political issue of immigration is tackled in YA dystopian literature through the theme of the manipulation of resources; censorship is tackled in YA dystopian literature through the theme of the power and control and surveillance is tackled in YA dystopian literature through the theme of theme of law order. I’m relating The People of Sparks to the social criticism as the conflict is reminiscent of the debate on immigrants today. One side says that immigrants are subjected to high danger and low skill work, where they are subjected to terrible working conditions. However, the other side believes that immigrants “distract and take resources” and therefore should work for their fair share. I see this debate in the Sparks government where one faction believes that they should care for the refugees from the city of Ember as it is the right thing to do. While the other faction counters saying that doubling the population of Sparks is unsustainable and the people of Ember must relocate. The heated debated in this dystopian government shows the DuPrau utilizes the dystopian theme of resource manipulation to bring up the social and political issue of immigration. I’m relating the book The Hunger Games to social criticism because of the theme of control and power in the media. In society today, there is a conflict between the Executive branch of government and the free press. One side claims that the media is creating fake news and is therefore sensationalizing inaccurate stories and targeting subjects with an inherent bias, while the other side believes that the Executive branch is attacking the freedom of the press by banning them from press conferences and describing work that the branch doesn’t like as “fake news” therefore trying to delegitimize the media and create a government controlled press. The conflict of censorship in The Hunger Games shows that Collins writes with a purpose and utilizes themes of the Capitol’s dystopian government to warn of the effects of censorship. While not written in the same time period as the recent administration, Collins social commentary relates to many governments throughout history and her commentary is used a tool of foreshadowing and warning. Finally, I’m relating the social issue of surveillance to the book Little Brother due to its theme of law and order. Today, the social issue of surveillance is an important and volatile topic. One side believes that surveillance is a necessary evil to protect and defend the freedoms of the American people, while the other side says that all personal freedoms are compromised and disregarded. The hyped-up surveillance in the novel was stemmed from the panic and fear in the DHS over the imminent threat of terrorism. In the same likeness, the debate of surveillance came to a climax after the events of 9/11. Author Cory Doctorow utilizes the theme of freedom and control to conduct a social criticism on the hyper vigilant government surveillance of today.
Incarceron, written by Catherine Fisher, is a YA dystopia about a world divided into two worlds. One is during the Era. The Era is basically similar to living during the 18th century. There is a hierarchy consisting of monarch, elites, and commoners. Technology, such as cell phones, computers, and even modern medicine, is banned because it is non-Era (meaning it came before the switch to the “ideal” society). The Era is set above ground in the natural world.
Opposite the Era, there is Incarceron, a giant living prison. When the kings created the Era, they took half of the population, for example the undesirables, the criminals, and the ill, and locked them in Incarceron. To the people in the Era, the prison is supposedly a paradise, and according to the elites it is. In reality though, it is a nightmarish landscape. Since the only contact between Incareron and the people in the Era is through the Warden, no one is aware of this.
One of my favorite things about dystopian literature is its criticism of a social ideal. One of the ideals being criticized in this book is “the good ol’ days,” and how even though things may have seemed perfect in the past, they are not actually perfect. Trying to recreate them, as one can see in Incarceron, creates more problems than benefits.
This criticism of social, cultural, and political ideas is present in every dystopia. Through them we can form an opinion of a piece of one’s own society or society as a whole. Sometimes this spurs within each individual a spark and one thinks “Wow, I never even thought about that before”. Or maybe the reader has thought about the criticisms but is now able to see it from a new perspective. The point is, readers are able to draw parallels between the traits of the fictional world in the dystopia and use them to critique their own society.
So how has dystopia literature influenced the views of readers? How will the criticisms of these book, particularly those brought up in YA dystopia, affect the future political and social climate?
Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron. Penguin Group, 2007.