There seems to be a common theme across utopian literature centering around the concept of interpretation, particularly pertaining to the fact that a work may be considered a utopia to one person but a dystopia to another. I find this idea fascinating, specifically with how it relates to history, both within and outside of the work. Therefore, the question I am hoping to be able to research is: Without history proving human failures in properly organizing society, would utopian literature be as realistic/probable?
It is widely understood that people relate to other people, movies, novels, etc by comparing them to their lives, through past experiences, historical events, and general knowledge about the world, developing an opinion based on this process. Due to this, many utopian novels choose to omit, or revamp, history in the minds of the characters, as if one has nothing to compare their life to, or only horrible events to compare their life to, they are likely to feel content. The Hunger Games, for example, utilizes this, as the history of the districts is characterized as a time of tragedy, war, and poorer than current conditions, quelling the ideas of rebellion and revolution in most characters, by convincing them that it could be worse, and has been.
On the other side, history can also play a part outside of the novel, as once again, people compare things to what they know to be true. Historical implementation of utopian ideals has shown the world that these societies are not merely daydreams, but are to be taken seriously; the world can, and will be pushed to, improve, whether its inhabitants like it or not. In response to this, and the horror associated with the planned societies of communism, utopian works not only took a more dystopian turn, but also took a more serious turn. In my opinion, these works are now less philosophizing and more of a call to action. The authors do not want us to simply ponder their articulations of society, but to change to reflect the issues they address. With each novel, the idea of a non-existent society with a “happy-ever after that always eludes us” develops into realistic societies with issues eerily parallel to those of the real world, as if the authors seem to have grown irritated with trying to creatively and cleverly hide their commentary (Claeys 154).
Therefore, I think the most important aspect of a utopian novel is the history, both inside of the novel and in regards to the outside world at the time it was written. Through analyzing the history, the author’s message can be clearly discovered, with no room for misinterpretation or disregard of its importance. For example, for the novel Candor by Pam Bachorz, the history within the book is cleared from the town inhabitants’ minds, leading them to accept their society how it is and not strive for change, proving that history is important for future advancement, as the best predictor of the future is the past. In addition, the time period this book was written in is the twenty-first century, lending to its focus on the control that technology and routine can have on life, along with how even perfectly-planned and organized societies do not go as planned. The commentary of this book directly relates to the importance of history, since without it, the human race would all be robots in a sense, fitting a perfect mold for how we are supposed to be, void of art, beauty, etc, and merely accepting this fate.
In lieu of this, I desire to uncover the impact history can have on the message of a novel, and the interpretation of a novel. I want to look at trends among certain time periods, and the relationship between the main commentary of the utopian novels and the main issues of real-world societies. I think it is very easy to read a utopian novel for pleasure, becoming captivated by the characters and the story, rather than to take the work at face-value for what it really was written to do, change a defective part of society.
Bachorz, Pam. Candor. Egmont USA, 2009.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.
“The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games”. Goodreads. 21 Mar 2012.
The Hunger Games. Directed by Gary Ross, Lionsgate Films, 2012.
“Utopia and Dystopia”. SlideShare. 21 Feb 2011.