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.