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A Brief Introduction to YA Dystopian Fiction

ENGL 3422, 1 November 2017

Victoria Smith

on 4 November 2017

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Transcript of A Brief Introduction to YA Dystopian Fiction

A Brief Introduction to
Young Adult Dystopian Fiction
ENGL 3422: Young Adult Literature
7 November 2017
Matters of definition: what is a dystopia?
From the
Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
, 3rd edition, ed. Chris Baldick
What is the relationship, then, between utopia and dystopia?
one theory:
Dystopias represent a
reductio ad absurdum
of utopian worlds. In other words, dystopias push seemingly utopian societies to their logical limits to caution against the destructive politics or culture.
To make sense of this: look at the "turn" to dytopias in the early 20th century:

Enlightenment and Victorian sense of progress: things are looking UP!

Scientific and technological invention will lead to prosperity.

Social and political structures can transform human behavior, tending toward perfection.
-– WORLD WARS I and II ––

Scientific and technological progress lead to destruction and make clear not our noblest but instead or basest instincts.

Social and political structures are flawed and may in fact tend toward totalitarianism. Leaders will seek to control all aspects of public and private life.
challenge to optimism respecting the

progress of reason and science
Aldous Huxley,
Brave New World
George Orwell,
Dystopia as CRITIQUE
Although the images of the future put forward in dystopias may lead the reader to despair, the main aim of this sub-genre is didactic and moralistic: images of the future are put forward as real possibilities because the [author] wants to frighten the reader and to make him [or her] realize that things may go either right or wrong, depending on the moral, social and civic responsibility of the citizens... [A]lthough the writers of dystopias present very negative images of the future, they expect a very positive reaction on the part of their readers: [who] are to understand that the depicted future is not a reality but only a possibility that they have to learn to avoid.

-- Fatima Vieira, "The Concept of Utopia"
Before Titus: Early YA Dystopias
William Sleator,
House of Stairs
Robert C. O'Brien,
Z for Zachariah
Lois Lowry,
The Giver
Consistencies: themes YA dystopian literature share with the larger tradition
threat of ecological destruction
post-apocalyptic scenarios
danger of science/technology
sexuality and reproduction
information and privacy
Variances: why YA dystopias aren't your everyday dystopias

Kay Sambell argues that “the narrative closure of the protagonist’s final defeat and failure is absolutely crucial to the admonitory impulse of the classic adult dystopia.” [...] The more utterly the protagonist is crushed, the more urgent and forceful the message. Because authors of children’s fiction are “reluctant to depict the extinction of hope within their stories,” Sambell writes, they equivocate when it comes to delivering a moral. Yes, our errors and delusions may lead to catastrophe, but if—as usually happens in dystopian novels for children—a new, better way of life can be assembled from the ruins would the apocalypse really be such a bad thing?
from Laura Miller, "Fresh Hell," The New Yorker (14 June 2010)
Variances: why YA dystopias aren't your everyday dystopias
Scott Westerfeld
The system is asking a lot of teenagers and not giving them much respect in return, so it's no wonder that stories about that system exploding, breaking down under its own contradictions, or simply being overrun by zombies are so beloved of teenagers. What is the apocalypse but an everlasting snow day? An excuse to tear up all those college applications, which suddenly aren't going to determine the rest of your life?
For young adults, dystopias might:
liberate teens from existing value systems
remove the obstacle of adult surveillance
empower teens, who are often powerless
idealize the outsider or outcast
Day, Sara, Miranda Green-Barteet, and Amy L. Montz.
Female Rebellion in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction
. Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2014.

Hintz, Carrie, Balaka Basu, and Katherine R. Broad.
Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers
. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Hintz, Carrie, and Elaine Ostrey.
Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults
. New York: Routledge, 2009.
The utopian or dystopian qualities of a particular society depend on perspective -- because one person's utopia is another's dystopia
John Wentz,
The Ever-Changing Spectrum of Light
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