While dystopian literature is a criticism of society, sociology is the study of society. Specifically, sociology is the study of individual experiences in relation to broader issues in society. It can be used as a tool to help us understand why dystopias are inherently problematic.
I am interested in examining dystopian fiction through a sociological perspective. I would like to explore how characters in dystopias have been molded by society, and how their actions and thoughts are driven by their experiences in predetermined (and often inflexible) social structures. I am also interested in analyzing the interactions between characters, and how those interactions might reflect norms and values of that particular society.
In my independent reading book, Legend, for example, there are divisions between the wealthy and poor, very few opportunities for economic mobility, and conflicting interests between different groups of people. The two protagonists (June and Day) are closely matched in intelligence and physical ability. However, both are positioned very differently in a society that is hierarchal and stratified. While June was sent to a prestigious college and trained under the best minds, Day was separated from his family and sent to a labor camp. In the Republic, the dystopian society in Legend, a person’s whole life is determined not by merit, but by a biased system that favors those who were born a certain way. I am interested in researching how such a system would affect characters differently, and the importance of these effects in shaping the trajectories of their lives and their views of the world.
The Ruby Sector (wealthy) vs. The Lake Sector (poverty-stricken) in Legend
Another potential area of interest is the discussion of diversity. Mainly, I am interested in exploring the roles of race, ethnicity, and gender in dystopias and how they might influence decision making. In Little Brother, the author did a good job of illustrating internal and external conflicts in relation to identity. In one chapter, the protagonist, Marcus, was upset and bewildered that his good friend, Jolu, decided to stop participating in the rebellious Xnet movement. Jolu then explained his decision as one not of cowardice, but of self-protection, one that results from being a minority. Ultimately, Marcus understood “what Jolu was saying. Whatever risk [he] ran, Jolu ran more. Whatever penalty [he’d] pay, Jolu would pay more” (Doctorow 160). I thought this was an important moment in the book that explains why certain characters behave the way they do. It also sheds light on engrained issues in society – the consequences of which are magnified and are especially prevalent in dystopias. Hopefully, after weeks of research, I can formulate a better answer to the question: What social issues are brought to the forefront through dystopian literature, and how are individual lives ultimately connected to these issues?
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tor Books, 2008.
Lu, Marie. Legend. Penguin Books, 2011.