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Introduction to Dystopian Literature
Transcript of Introduction to Dystopian Literature
Dystopias often start with the illusion of a perfect society, a UTOPIA. As the story progresses, the reader and characters realize that this fictional world is the opposite of perfect.
Dystopias often focus on a current social, technicological, or governmental trend and show us what would happen if this trend were taken way too far--a slippery slope perspective. This way, the dystopian story can criticize the trend in our real world.
Dystopian fiction is not new. One of the earliest dystopian novels was The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Published in 1895, the novel depicts a society in the distant future in which the human race has evolved into two species, one that herds the other like livestock.
Even before that, in 1835,
a pro-slavery writer wrote
a novel called A Sojourn
in the City of Amalgamation.
The novel depicts a dystopian
society in which black people
and white people intermarried
and had children together!
Communism and socialism
were the subjects of dystopian
criticism in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s,
decades which produced these
The next few decades many more
dystopian novels, and so far, they
were almost entirely written for
In 1993, Lois Lowry published
The Giver, a story about a "perfect"
society in which all important
choices are made for you so you
don't risk making the wrong choices.
This was one of the first dystopian
novels written specifically for young
The Giver opened a floodgate.
Citizens of a dystopian society live under the harsh control of a government, technology, a corporation, or religious or philosophical ideas
The TRUTH about the world
is often kept a secret from
most of society.
The story sometimes
takes place after an
apocalyptic event that
ends the world as we
know it and gives way
to a new way of life.
Individuality is discouraged or prohibited.
citizens are expected to strictly conform to
The dystopian society
tends to dehumanize
There is often the illusion of a perfect society
covering up how horrible things really are.
Sometimes the story's oppressors
truly believe they are doing what
is right; but usually the illusion of
UTOPIA is PROPAGANDA meant to
keep the citizens under control.
The main character of the
dystopian story is often one
of the few, or one of the first,
to question the goodness of
the society. He or she recognizes
how WRONG the society is, and
helps the reader see it, too.
Generally, dystopian societies
form in one of two ways:
Society adopts a new form of government or gives power to a corporation or technology or system of belief, in order to fulfill a vision of a better world. But, the new government, power, or belief system is taken too far and becomes oppressive, unjust, and inhumane.
Other dystopias are created after
an apocalyptic event destroys most of
society as we know it, and those left
alive are forced to adopt extreme
policies in order to ensure society's
The new government, technology, corporation given power after the disaster usually begins with a genuine desire to save the world, but it either becomes corrupt or oppressive, or it goes about saving the world in such a bone-headed way that it ends up threatening humanity's survival.
Themes in Dystopian Literature
How the dystopia was created usually
creates the eventual theme of the story.
The danger of a particular kind of government.
The Importance of Knowledge and Truth
The danger of a particular policy
The danger of allowing one group to have too much power
The importance of free will and individuality
The danger of technology
The danger of desensitization
The importance of humanity
The danger of human nature