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.
Dystopia is defined as an idea in which a society does not function well1. A dystopia depicts negative traits and describes a flawed system; often, authors create dystopian worlds to highlight what they believe is wrong with their society. Margaret Cavendish discusses women’s education and gender in The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666) while Gabriel de Foigny’s La Terre Australe connue concerns the topic of colonization2.
Dystopia is commonly misunderstood as science-fiction or apocalypse or horror, and it may have some similarities with these other genres, but dystopia is a completely separate genre. I think dystopia and science-fiction are related to each other; they both tend to contain characteristics of similar nature. However, I feel like dystopia is a genre whose focus is on social aspects, and science-fiction delves into deeper detail about the “how” the environment evolved into the scene they are setting up. Additionally, science-fiction does not necessarily describe an alternate world, but a situation made possible by science, not by social constructs while dystopias emphasize on the inner workings of a society.
When I think of dystopia, the Hunger Games trilogy, Uglies series, and Divergent books are my first thoughts. Some common themes include a setting in a futuristic time period, drastically different social norms, and a hidden discontent among the population. There is also an element of the prominent presence of order, whether it be government, a police force, or the social expectations. The protagonist in these YA dystopian books typically is someone who doesn’t really fit in with others; they may also be questioning the world they grew up in. The dystopia often collapses because of the actions, intentional or unintentional, of the main character. Perhaps the protagonist represents hope or change for a better way of life. Young adult literature has incorporated many themes of dystopia while also adding a modern twist to appeal to their target audience and to set a scenario appropriate to the current time period.
Overall, dystopian literature has effectively captured the main essence of the definition of dystopia, the addition of young adult literature broadened the audience spectrum and evolved the topics that are suitable for the appropriate time period.
- “Dystopia Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Dystopia Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
- Claeys, Gregory, ed.The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. Print.