The Matrix

All posts tagged The Matrix

What interests me about dystopian novels is their tendency to create worlds in which people are controlled by technology intended to help them. It’s similar to the common science fiction trope of a robot revolution, but the fact that a small group of humans is behind the machines makes it more realistic and possibly more frightening. These technologies range from simple surveillance tools like cameras (and the software necessary to filter through all the information for anything relevant) to augmented realities in the most extreme cases which allow those with the authority to directly observe and change the worlds in which their users live. For my independent reading novel, Under the Never Sky, the latter is used to allow large amounts of people, known as the Dwellers, to live in a small space, while spending most of their attention and time in virtual realms created and monitored by the government.

The Matrix is another example of an augmented reality which is regulated by the Agents who have the ability to bend reality.

Even more interesting is the tendency of these novels to antagonize technology completely and have their protagonists revert to more primitive ways of life. In my experience, Marcus in Little Brother is the only protagonist I’ve seen try to use primarily technology to fight back against a dystopian government. Bows and blades are much more commonly used by protagonists, even in worlds where hovercrafts and other advanced war technologies dominate battlefields which is the case in Under the Never Sky. In this novel, the post-apocalyptic world outside of the pods in which the Dwellers live is ruined by war and Aether storms that set the ground ablaze. Savages and cannibals roam the lands unclaimed by tribes, and extreme mutations are not uncommon, yet the reader still gets the sense that this natural way of life is better than the artificial one in the Realms. To emphasize this, mutations in the novel often amplify human senses to superhuman levels, giving the author an excuse to explain how sensuously rich the real world is compared to any artificial one. I wonder why authors so often write stories that seem to suggest that primitive lifestyles are better than the lifestyles permeated with technology that we’re headed towards, rather than stories that show how we can fight to keep our rights as technology inevitably develops further which I believe Doctorow does very well in Little Brother.

Works Cited:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.

Rossi, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. Harper Collins, 2012.


It is a word that conveys many different thing, including the destruction of worlds, the fear of the many, and the power of the few. But beyond a mere glance of well-known science fiction dystopian works lies a web of characteristics that illustrate the darker aspects of society. Contrasting this is the term utopia, which references a location of good and perfection. But it does not reveal the happiness and joy that is present in society; rather, utopia illustrates the pinnacle of human existence that, while desired, can never be reached. So while both utopia and dystopia lie on opposite ends of the social spectrum, they share many similarities that only serve to heighten discontent and tensions within a society.

The word dystopia comes from the Greek prefix of dys, meaning bad or diseased. In particularly, this describes a place of darkness filled with despair and hardship. Typically, a small congregation of individuals amass enormous power and are able to subjugate the masses through a show of strength. That stratagem employs one of the most impactful emotional responses known to humankind: fear. And such a fear confines those subjected to the cruelty to salvage for scraps among themselves. As in The Hunger Games, a common misdirection of hate runs rampant between the poor, and the focus on who is the real evil there is lost. These negative emotions break down a society from within, and all good thoughts are abandoned.

The word utopia compounds the Greek prefix ouk, meaning not, and suffix topos, meaning place. In this instance, it is a description of nothing, or, to be more specific, a place that does not exist. Over time, this has translated into a sort of “good place” where you can search for in order to escape the horrors of society that someone is existing in. But the concept of perfection confines us in another way: hope. The partner to fear, it is potent in its own right. The potential to reach a kind of Elysium holds our hearts in a cage that is just as binding as before, as in The Matrix. And the entrance to such a location is a very selective path, with devastatingly few being able to set foot on those softer beaches. So where as dystopian rule destroys any ideas of hope, utopian societies elevate it into a plane that traps all who dare dream of a better life.

So where is the perfect middle ground? What qualities are necessary to allow society to achieve its full potential without overdoing it and leaving the majority behind? To be completely honest, we may never know. As a species, we are plagued with conflict and inequality. It is, quite simply, just how the world works. But when the dust settles, something is revealed. This is the fact that one cannot exist without the other. For humans have the power to hope in the darkest of places, and despair in the best of times. It is what makes us human. But as long as we accept our shortcomings and revel in our successes, we can truly find harmony in whatever disharmony the world decides to throw at us.


Works Cited-

  1. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  2. Henderson, Greg. “Futurespect: Utopia vs Dystopia – 10 Depictions Of The Future.” Rootnotion, 22 Aug. 2014, Accessed 22 Jan. 2017.

I originally defined a dystopia as a world in which the worst-case scenario became a reality. This definition is similar to how The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature defines a dystopia as a portrayal of “feasible negative visions of social and political development, cast principally in fictional form” (109). However, these definitions exclude much of science fiction due to its “extraordinary or utterly unrealistic features,” and I have come to believe feasibility is too subjective to be used to define a dystopia. To me, a dystopia is any fictional place in which the majority of people live in an undesirable condition and are relatively powerless to change it, often because they are kept unorganized, uninformed, and in fear.

The government in one of my favorite dystopian films, Equilibrium, maintains power by forcing people to take emotion-suppressing drugs and using an elite task force to further its own cause by any means necessary.

In The Matrix, a dystopia is achieved by keeping its people completely unaware of their oppression, and therefore unable to organize against it without being broken out.

I believe this broader definition allows dystopian literature to be more easily combined with other genres, especially science fiction.  Combining dystopian literature with YA literature brings interesting subjects of YA literature, such as growth and identity, into a dystopian world. In The Hunger Games, Katniss struggles with forming close relationships while also growing up with a single parent, which are issues many young adults can relate to or at least understand because of friends who may be in similar situations. I think relatability is especially important in dystopian characters because it allows readers to more easily put themselves in the characters’ shoes and understand life in a dystopia on a deeper level. The point of a dystopia is not whether or not the technology or apocalypse that created it is realistic enough, but how people in this fictional world live their lives in comparison to ours.

Works Cited:

Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2008.

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