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Dystopian Literature

By Arik Durfee

Sergio Yanes

on 19 August 2013

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Transcript of Dystopian Literature

Dystopias often focus on a current social, technological, or governmental trend and show us what would happen if this trend were taken way too far. It’s basically an exaggerated “worst-case scenario.” This allows the dystopian story to make a criticism of a trend in our real world.
Welcome to the future!
Imagine a world where…
Or where…
Love has been diagnosed as a disease!

Or where…
Humanoid robots have been invented to serve and protect humans...
Welcome to the world of dystopian literature!
Dystopias often start with an illusion of a perfect society, or UTOPIA. But as the story progresses, the reader and characters both realize that this fictional world is the opposite of perfect.
Since the beginning of the 2000s, dystopian novels have become one of the most popular and successful trends in young-adult literature.
Dystopian literature is not new.
One of the earliest well-known examples was H.G. Wells’ novel,
The Time Machine
, which depicts a distant future in which the human race has evolved into two species, one that herds the other like livestock. The Time Machine was published in 1895.
(Even before that, in 1835, a pro-slavery writer wrote a novel called
A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation
depicting a dystopian future in which—gasp!—black people and white people had intermarried and had children together. I know. Horrifying, right?)
In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, dystopian literature became a powerful way for American writers to criticize communism and socialism. These decades produced some of the most important dystopian classics:
In 1993, Lois Lowry published
The Giver
, a story about a “perfect” society where all important choices are made for you so that you don’t risk making the wrong choices. This was one of the first dystopian novels written specifically for young adults.

The Giver
opened a floodgate.
Most dystopian stories share several common elements or ideas.
Citizens of the dystopian society live under harsh control—usually the control of government, a corporation, technology, or religious or philosophical ideas.
The truth about the world is often kept a secret from most of society.
Citizens are expected to conform strictly to society’s expectations. Individuality is seen as a bad thing.
In general, fictional dystopian societies usually form in one of two ways:
1. Society adopts a new form of government, or gives power to a corporation or technology or system of belief, in order to create a better world or to solve real problems and create a perfect society; but the new government, corporation, technology, or belief system is taken too far and becomes oppressive, unjust, and inhumane.
Fahrenheit 451
2. 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 humanity’s survival.
The Importance of Humanity
Most dystopian stories share common themes, or messages. And you'll notice that how the dystopia was originally created usually affects the eventual theme of the story.
The Danger of Technology
The Danger of a Particular Policy
The Danger of Human Nature
The Danger of Allowing One Group to Have Too Much Power
The Importance of Knowledge and Truth
A DYSTOPIA is an imaginary futuristic world in which society lives under the oppression and control of a totalitarian government, a repressive society, a force of technology, or a corrupt business corporation.
The society tends to dehumanize its citizens.
The next few decades saw many more dystopian novels--
A Clockwork Orange
Logan’s Run
The Running Man
V for Vendetta
--but up until this point almost all dystopian novels were written for adults.
Every year, the government selects twenty-four teenagers
and throws them into an arena to fight to the death.
But thankfully a cure has been found, and all young people are required to get this cure when they turn eighteen.
which works out great until the robots decide that humans would be easier to protect if they had no freedom.
The Danger of Desensitization
The History of Dystopian Fiction
Common Story Elements
There is often an illusion of a perfect society covering up how horrible things really are. Sometimes the story’s oppressors truly believe that they are doing what’s right; but often the illusion of a utopia is merely propaganda meant to keep the citizens under control.
The main character of a dystopian story is often one of the few (or one of the first) to question the goodness of his or her society. He or she recognizes how wrong this society is, and this character’s perspective helps the reader recognize the negative aspects of this world.
Creating a Dystopia
Themes in
Dystopian Stories
The Giver
The Maze Runner
The Hunger Games
The City of Ember
The Danger of a Particular Type of Government
The Importance of Free Will and Individuality
The story sometimes takes place after an apocalyptic event that ends the world as we know it and gives rise to a new world and a new way of life.
The Giver
, they try to create a perfect world by eliminating all pain--physical pain as well as the emotional pain that comes with bad choices, sad memories, and failed relationships. But by eliminating all sources of pain, do we also eliminate all sources of goodness and happiness?
, they try to create a perfect society by making everyone carefree and beautiful. This solves the problem of low self-esteem, eating disorders, and racism or prejudice. But can you live a carefree life and also be free to think and feel what you want?
In the movie
, society uses genetic diagnosis to make sure children are born with the best possible genes. That means everyone has an equal chance of being great because everyone is born with great genes!
But it also means that people who were born naturally, without any scientific help, are discriminated against even if they have more drive and talent than their genetic superiors.
Books are such a pain! Seriously, think about all the violent disagreements people have had throughout history just because of ideas. But if you get rid of books, you can get rid of thinking, which would end different ideas and everyone would get along, right? In
Fahrenheit 451
, society has decided to keep the peace by burning books and the houses that store them (and sometimes the people that read them.)
The government, technology, or corporation given control after the disaster usually begins with a genuine desire to save the world, but it either becomes corrupt and oppressive or it goes about saving the world in such a bone-headed way that it ends up threatening humanity's survival.
In the
Maze Runner
trilogy, sun flares have destroyed most of the earth. Then, in an attempt to control the population to make sure everyone doesn't starve to death, the government releases a virus that accidentally turns most of the remaining people into cannibal zombies. And their attempt to find a cure for the disease only make this dystopia even scarier.
The City of Ember
, a nuclear war forces survivors underground for hundreds of years. To maintain order in their underground city, the leaders choose everyone's jobs and make sure everyone has enough. But those in charge didn't bother to remember how to get out of Ember. What happens when the supplies and electricity run out?
The Hunger Games
, after natural disasters and wars destroy most of the world, the new country of Panem rises from the ashes. They try to create a perfect society by dividing the country into 13 districts (plus a Capitol) where everyone can specialize in a specific industry. That works out great until the citizens realize that the people in the Capitol don't actually do anything--they just live off of what the people in the districts produce. A rebellion against the Capitol leads to this dystopia becoming even more cruel and unjust.
In the movie
, when the world becomes too polluted to sustain life, a big corporation saves the day by sending the rest of humanity into space where people can live in peace without needing to work or learn or DO anything. Sounds pretty perfect, doesn't it?
But what happens when the people decide that they'd rather not spend the rest of their lives doing absolutely nothing on a space ship that's going absolutely nowhere?
We all love the internet and texting on our cell phones. But what if we took that technology way too far?
Would it be cool if our brains were directly connected to the internet?
What kinds of problems could this level of "connectedness" cause?
It would be a lot easier for the government to find terrorists and criminals if only they weren't limited by people's desire for privacy!
But what if the government monitored everything we did and said and punished individualism as a crime?
Overpopulation could become a big problem with too many people competing for a dwindling supply of resources. If only there was a fair way of limiting the population!
But what kind of problems would it cause if the government went so far as to make it illegal to have any more than two children?
What if a bunch of teenagers were left to themselves on a deserted island? How awesome would it be if you didn't have to deal with adults anymore?
But what terrible things might some teenagers do if there were no adults around to enforce any kind of rules?
Wouldn't it be convenient if you could make all your purchases and keep track of all your personal information with a simple tattoo on your arm?
But what problems could come with giving every piece of personal information about yourself to one business corporation?
Wouldn't it be intense to watch a reality TV show where real people try to hunt one another down and kill each other?
But what would that kind of entertainment do to our humanity?
Wouldn't life be easier and less painful without sad memories and difficult truths? What if we could dump all of that knowledge and all of those memories on one person so the rest of us didn't have to deal with them?
But what problems could come if most people in society knew nothing about the past?
Wouldn't life be better and happier if everyone were equally beautiful? No one would judge others, there would be no jealousy, and everyone would get along.
But would you be okay with giving up your individuality?
If humanity's very survival were threatened, we would do just about anything to guarantee our own survival.
But are there some lines we shouldn't cross, some things we shouldn't do, even in the name of saving the world?
Is this a perfect world?
Or a dystopia?
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