All posts tagged utopia

The word “Utopia” to me means celestial, ideal and or means an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect . So, dystopia to me means an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad. Dystopia can be used in different ways and in different genres. In romance dystopias, the definition could mean once true love turning into sudden tragedies, or even into heartbreakers. Batman Forever and The Maze Runner are the first books that come to mind because both of the books talk on how one of the main characters are searching for “the truth” and “lost loved ones” that were taking from them and how they try to get back to their “celestial” lifestyle they had before being brought into a new lifestyle of displacement. As for apocalypse dystopias, that could mean life threatening and or world-ending incidents in a terrible place. The easiest apocalyptic dystopia that comes to mind is the movie 2012. This movie was the perfect example of apocalyptic dystopian literature because it starts out as a regular sunny day, then the world comes to an end with natural disaster, killing millions of people unexpectedly and at the end thousands of people find security on traveling boats and they look for new settling areas. The combination of dystopia and young adult literature can alter the genre by having action, horror, or suspense. The most common altered dystopian action, the violence and pinnacles of the reading manipulates the reader’s perception of the dystopian by giving subplots with the protagonist that catches the reader’s eye, for instance, chases, fights, battles, and races. Horror dystopian readings alter the genre, but not as much as action dystopias because dystopias are unpleasant and horror is scary and mainly gruesome which makes the dystopian more unpleasant and terrifying.

Webster defines a utopia as either a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions or an impractical scheme for social improvement. A dystopia, oversimplified to the extreme is a failed Utopia.

The mix of dystopian characteristics with other genres, such as, science fiction, romance, apocalypse, young adult, or any other do not work to diminish it as a genre. Each of these subgenres instead acts to expand dystopian characteristics. In the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, we look at the evolution of Utopian literature. The definition throughout it’s beginning with Thomas’s “No Place” has expanded to our perfect, advanced, futuristic society with unknown faults.

That being said, it is very easy to confuse dystopian literature with science fiction. They share some key characteristics: overly powerful governments, awesome technology, and the tendency to take place in the future. The constant overlap does not merge them into one genre however. Most dystopian novels may be science fiction but not every science fiction book is utopian.

Typically, in a Young Adult dystopian novel, we are introduced to a hero or heroine who is chaffing against the constraints of their too-strict , but otherwise ideal society. After their coming of age and joining the ranks of the society they live in, the protagonist then discovers some dark secret that makes them realize that their Utopia is in fact a dystopia and somehow they bring about it’s destruction.

The success of the YA dystopian genre can be attributed to it’s target group of 12-24. This is the group that identifies most with the want of rebellion. We emphasize with the lack of control the characters feel in their strict societies and when the protagonist takes the chance to rebel against their oppressors, we are empowered through. The message is sent to us that we, as young adults, can make the change we want in the world. This is especially important because we will be the architects of the future. This holds with the trend of Utopian writing being a warning.


Works Cited-

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

“Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia.



I always felt like I knew what utopia and dystopia meant and didn’t put much thought into either of them. However, after CCUL readings and class discussions I have come to realize the depths behind the words. While utopia describes an ideally perfect society, dystopia presents us with a broken social atmosphere where the government paints this seemingly perfect view of society through oppressive control; however both of them make a criticism of a current social system, political tendencies or trends. We live in a world where the analysis of societal norms is not a foreign concept, and our trending YA literature is apparently shifting towards dystopian novels.

While dystopian novels may range from science-fiction, horror, fantasy, post-apocalypse…; there are many elements that are common in the majority of examples of this genre that should not be overlooked:

  • Propaganda is a very iconic feature of dystopian literature. Advertisements, pamphlets, television, posters, flyers… they are specifically design to control society while depicting this utopian society.
  • It is not surprising to read about citizens who have been stripped of their freedom, independent thinking and access to information. We usually encounter with descriptions of characters who are under constant surveillance and cannot exercise their free will, having to conform to a government-set uniformity.

  • Natural environment seems to have reached a point of near destruction and is scarce. Many dystopian novels set their plots in futuristic scenery with barely any greens.
  • It is also worth mentioning the fact that control is not only exercised by the government (The Hunger Games), but sometimes corporations (The Maze Runner) and even technology (The Matrix).
  • The main character prototype of this genre tends to be an individual who questions authority and the existing regimes that are oppressing society. The protagonist is someone who tend to realize the negative aspects of their dystopian society. It is not uncommon to find novels where the population is drugged or brainwashed to the point they do not understand the reality of their situation and it is often the main character the one who wakes up from this state due to diverse reasons.

In my opinion, the combination of dystopia with another genre definitively means a shift in the topics covered and how the plot unfolds, adjusting literature towards these other subgenres. I however do not believe they immensely change the definition because its basic traits continue to be present, mildly affected, but still there and creating the atmosphere previously discussed. Combining dystopia with YA literature probably means adjusting the context to a younger audience and making sure the reading is appealing to the younger generations that are picking up the book. One can notice the trends in slightly younger protagonists and the frequent apparition of young romance that tend to attract the public they are targeted at.

So, why is it that such a perfect word describes such an imperfect reality?

The “formal” definition of a dystopia according to Merriam-Webster, is “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Although this is correct, perhaps a better way to look at a dystopia is the opposite of what one would include in a utopia, which is why the definition of dystopia is open to interpretation.

“Utopia,” written by Thomas More dating back to 1516, created the ideal society of perfection–for the year 1516. Over time, our values and policies have changed, and with it, what we view as an “ideal” society. In fact, with this change in ideologies came the existence of the “dystopia,” and as such, authors utilize the concept of dystopian society to express their personal views on the worst version of society and humanity.

Although classic dystopian novels do exist (e.g.  Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, etc.), most modern day novels are written in the young adult genre. A simple Google search of “young adult dystopian novels” will yield 33 different titles, all written within the past decade.  In modern times, dystopian novels seem to reflect the fears that the current generation may anticipate for the future–hunger, depression, end of the world, etc.–so most current dystopian novels are written in the young adult genre to reflect growing concern and appeal to the audience that would relate to it the most. Furthermore, combining dystopian literature with young adult content allows for a larger fanbase of young adults that can take their appreciation with them as their generation grows older.

Most dystopian novels have another genre combined with them–horror, sci-fi, romance, apocalypse–that allow for an appeal to a certain audience. Some readers enjoy romance, so having a dystopian world where everything goes to hell except for the love of a couple is appealing and appreciated. For example, the popular series The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins holds many themes, but the overarching characteristic of it is the love between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, and we follow their ups and downs as lovers which seems to be the only aspect of the dystopian society that remains consistent. Other genres combined with dystopias allow for the double-appeal to young adult readers: 1) the appeal to a generation with fears of a dystopian world, and 2) the appeal to fans of other, more specific book varieties. In general, the success of a dystopian novel rides on its ability to appeal to the audience it was intended for.



Definition of a Dystopia: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia

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



No matter who you are, everyone longs for a better society, and a better life. This is why people push their children harder than they themselves were pushed. This is why schools push students harder, and why the bar to get into college is constantly rising. This is why people protest, and scream, and write about policies and programs that they feel threaten their chance at a better world. Out of this desire to make a better life comes the hope and longing that gave birth to the idea of a utopia.


Utopia means “not place” according to its etymological roots. Eutopia means “good place.” So, how do two words that sound the same yet have totally different meanings overlap and interconnect? When Thomas More came up with the word Utopia, a name for a society he had written about in his book Utopia , he made sure it meant the ‘not place.’ But through the use of the word eutopia, a permanent tension has been  created over the meaning of utopia. So, is a utopia a perfect, good, praiseworthy place society should attempt to mirror? Or is it an imaginary goal that can never be achieved?


When combined with science-fiction, utopian literature often focuses on the ease of life created by technological advances. However, some argue that since life is so easy, there would be no room for further technological development. A great example of this is the spaceship featured in the movie WALL-E, where humans don’t have to lift a finger for anything.

If you were to combine a utopian work with the romance drama, you might get a utopia that focuses on how everyone is matched with the perfect partner and has virtually no issues in their love life. In a post-apocalyptic utopian literary work, the utopia presented might be the only truly safe place, so its citizens would be praising the security of the state they live in. When a utopian theme is mixed with fantasy, it often features humans and fantastical beasts, things that might otherwise make appearances in our worst nightmares, living harmoniously side-by-side.

The collection of all of these different dreams and hopes, along with the fact that people are willing to imagine new lands and new worlds, is what has brought the utopian genre into being. Since they are imaginary, therefore only real in their literary works, they are all a “not place.” However, since the utopia projects hopes, dreams, and goals, it is also a eutopia, the “good place.”



Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge companion to utopian literature. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Before this course, I had minimal knowledge of dystopia and utopia. The only dystopia book I had read (at least from what I remember) was The Hunger Games. When I heard utopia, I thought of perfection; when I heard dystopia, I thought the opposite.

There is much more depth to the definition of dystopia, as there is for utopia though. In the CCUL, Fatima Vieira argues that “the study of the concept of utopia can certainly not be reduced to the history of the word coined by Thomas More […]” (1) Utopias are generally defined as paradise-like universes or societies with no flaws. Dystopias, on the other hand, are infested with flaws. For instance, in The Hunger Games, the Games are a result of the thirteen districts’ rebellion against the government. While the government believes that it is doing right, the districts and we, the audience, know that such a method is wicked, terrifying, and inhumane. The Games are only one of the many flaws in the book; some others are government corruption, unequal distribution of wealth, and a lack of individuality amongst the majority of the characters.

In addition to the flaws that distinguish dystopia from utopia, there are some recurring themes that we observe in the former that are absent in the latter. Hope and fear are the two major themes I’ve picked up on in The Hunger Games so far. Despite the oppression endured by the oppressed, they hope for something better in the future. Actually, it seems like fear directly induces hope. Whereas the flawlessness of utopias prevents such themes to arise, the imperfections in dystopia allow them to develop.

Finally, in order to etymologically define dystopia, we must take into consideration the where the word comes from. The prefix “dys” comes from the Greek origin, and it means “bad, ill, abnormal.” Dystopia itself is a neologism, as it derives from the original word, utopia. After scrutinizing the arguments presented in the CCUL, the major themes in The Hunger Games, and the etymology of utopia, I have come up with an improved definition of dystopia.

So, simply put, yes, dystopia is the opposite of utopia, but it is important to note why/how it’s the opposite.

Amazing visual representation of the relationship between dystopia and utopia.

Finding utopia.

The Greek, as seen above, can be translated (by Google Translate), “Dystopia, the opposite of a utopia. Where the future is worse than the present.”  This was the thought of many people when the use of dystopia began in the 1800s.  It was the imagination of darker times ahead versus the good times that the utopian literature focused on.

To the writer of The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, dystopia can be defined as world that is “too bad to be practical” (Claeys 16).  Or at least that is what he argued John Stuart Mill believed in his speech in 1868; it was the opposite of utopia.  To understand dystopia, we need to understand utopia.  The definition Claeys presents is that a utopia “is seen as a matter of attitude, as a kind of reaction to an undesirable present and an aspiration to overcome all difficulties by the imagination of possible alternatives” (Claeys 7).  The key difference seen between a utopia and dystopia is the hope and aspiration of a better future;  Claeys believed that the root of a utopia is the energy of hope (Claeys 7).

This is the 1932 movie Freaks. It was considered a horror film because of the strangeness of the characters. We now know that each of the characters had some form of special need, but in 1932, special needs was not diagnosed.


Now that we know what a dystopia is, we need to dig a little deeper before we compare dystopia and horror.  The reason I included the Greek text as the title was because when dystopia is broken down into its root words, one finds that dys comes from the Greek word dus, and means “bad, abnormal, diseased” (Claeys 16).  The great thing about the Greek language is its ability to add more meaning to English words.

When thinking dystopia and its definition and what other genres are similar to it, I immediately think of horror.  My English 1101 class was focused on horror and how the abnormality found in movies and books is what creates horror.  This is directly tied to the definition of dystopia; as seen by Claeys, a dystopia can be defined as an abnormal world.  That is what a horror film or book does to the audience; the producers and authors take what a society shuns or finds weird and makes that strangeness the horrifying element of a story.  This dynamic parallel between weirdness and horror is what captivates audiences into believing that the undesirable element of the story is horrifying.

In the end, the understanding of a dystopia from its Greek lineage can help illustrate the connection between the dystopian genre and its relative, the horror genre.


Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge companion to utopian literature. Cambridge, Cambridge                   University Press, 2010.

Freaks. Dir. Tod Browning. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1932. Film. Web. 18 July 2016.

Before I explain what a dystopia is I must first explain what a utopia is because dystopia emerges from utopia. Utopia comes from the two Greek words “uo” and “topos” together meaning not place, talking about not the place that we are in now on earth, but instead an imaginary other (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utopia). Utopia is an imaginary place where all is right. There is no crime or suffering, and it is kind of like heaven on earth or the Garden of Eden. Being that utopia is almost impossible and the only way to even have a utopia is to have complete control over civilians and to install fear into them that is where utopia turns into a dystopia. Dystopia is “an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly” (http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/dystopia). Unlike utopia where people govern themselves, dystopia is a place where there is a demanding government who is usually totalitarian.
If we added another genre to a dystopian world, like apocalypse which refers to ending times, the definition would change. Instead of a government suppressing people or group of classified people a single person would have full command of the world and have legions to call on. For example, the movie the book of Eli which was a movie was about the future thirty years after a war turned the world into a wasteland, a lone warrior named Eli, marches across the ruined landscape, carrying hope for humanity’s redemption. Only one other man understands the power of what Eli carries, and he is determined to take it for himself. Though Eli prefers peace, he will risk death to protect his precious cargo, for he must fulfill his destiny to help restore mankind. In the movie the other guy was the ruler over the land calling on his army of thugs to get the book Eli was carrying.
Combining a dystopia book with a Young Adult literature will change the genre because young adult are in a different stage in there live then a grown adult. A young adult will probably not have finish the book if it was talking about something grown adult have to worry about. For example look at the hunger games children were selected in the reaping through the ages of 12-18 year old. This book would have directly affect us if the situation was happening today, so the book will be more interesting.

The terms ‘utopia’, and especially in the past few years, ‘dystopia’, have been come almost buzzwords of American literary culture due to the genre’s sudden popularity in young adult (YA) fiction and the global success of The Hunger Games series. However, by no means are utopias and dystopias a modern age phenomenon. Man has always been fascinated by reaching an ideal state or community. Utopias date back to ancient Greece and Plato’s “Republic” and his philosophical discourse on how he envisioned the ideal society would run, but by no means did Plato refer to it as an “utopia” because the word was not coined until 1516 when Thomas Moore wrote Utopia. The word utopia is Greek, stands for “non-place” and hints at the reality that the perfect society or state of government cannot be achieved. Throughout history, authors saw this as a basis for utilizing Utopian Literature as satires for criticizing contemporary society and bureaucratic struggles. Just as a man’s heart reflects his life, so is utopian literature used to reflect the essence of society.

A utopian story was considered to be a ‘dystopia’ if readers were meant to perceive the described society as inherently much worse than the one that they were living in. Author’s utilized Dystopian Literature as forewarnings of the dangerous direction society is headed in, and the times to come. Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four are as Gregory Claeys put it, warnings of “the quasi-omnipotence of a monolithic, totalitarian state demanding and normally exacting complete obedience from its citizens… relying upon scientific and technological advances to ensure social control (Claeys 109).

The heavy influence and almost saturation of the modern day YA Fiction genre by dystopian works is vital to understanding the authorial critiques of today’s culture. The best way to teach someone something new is when they are young. The adolescent stage is an important stage of one’s life because that is when they become aware of the dangers, joys, successes, and short comings of contemporary society. They are able to formulate their own opinions about right and wrong, and what should be done about the challenges our society faces each day.

If authors want to see change, or leave society in good hands when they pass, then gearing their satirical works toward the post millennial generation is the prefect strategy. As their readers grow up to become the next politicians, public figures, and business leaders of the world, the themes they read about, and characters they looked up to, will still be playing in the backs of their minds and will influence the decisions they make, which will have lasting ramifications for years to come. And honestly, in an egocentric, consumeristic, and secular culture, may the odds be ever in our favor.







Works Cited:

Claeys, Gregory, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge, 2010.

picture: http://chapterbreak.net/2016/06/23/whatbooks-taught-us-apocalypse/

The definition of dystopia hovers around the idea that everything is bad. However, “bad” exists as a relative term, varying for each person and for every time period. With this being said, human fears tend to be fairly homogenous on average, like fearing death, starvation, oppression. When examining dystopias, I tend to find that utopias and dystopias are not mutually exclusive; they exist within each other. One of my favorite movies, Pleasantville, exemplifies this perfectly (no pun intended). In their society, basketballs go in baskets every time, everyone makes straight A’s, and couples sleep in separate beds. But the very idea of a society rid of thrills, excitement, and rebellion screams oppression – something heavily associated with dystopia. On the flip side, every dystopian society has a ruling party or oppressor, living their best life in power and watching the “others” as they live at their mercy. Trying to separate an ideal society from its counterpart is almost impossible as long as some peoples’ dreams come at the expense of others’ nightmares.

In making dystopian literature more interesting, it is often combined with other genres to add another dimension to the context and plot. Science fiction is what reminds me most of a dystopia, capitalizing on our natural fear of the future and what is unknown. These books show us a world we would rather live without, often taking a current issue and launching it 20 steps forward. This is seen in Fahrenheit 451, where Bradbury creates a world ruled by technology and void of the deep thought that comes with reading. People fall asleep with tiny ear buds adorning their ears, and spend their days in salons walled with viewing screens. Books and reading are illegal. Describing a dystopia in the scope of a science fiction novel does not change the definition of a dystopia, but instead relates it to the specific fear of technology, and its potential to make us lose our character by being able to do, think, and create for ourselves.

Beyond concentrating on a specific genre, the idea of a dystopia can be targeted to young adults; this implies zooming in on the relative “bad” for young adults. Oppression of character, lack of freedom, a predetermined future – these are all fears of the general population, but are especially amplified in the younger generation that have yet to experience their full potential in their lifetime. The Hunger Games is a modern classic for YA dystopian literature, encompassing all of these “bads” in the society of Panem. It is very much still a true dystopia by genre and definition, but becomes centralized on the fears of the young adult population.


photo- https://www.pinterest.com/pin/451767406345406958/ (Poachedmah.com)