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Dystopias and Utopian Literature

Dystopian Literature

Deborah Kitchell

on 22 September 2016

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Transcript of Dystopias and Utopian Literature


By Deborah Kitchell for English 211
Music Credit: "The boy in the bubble" Paul Simon 1986
Historical Context
Definitions Vary:
1. dictionary --a. Good or "no Place" or "other place" b. ideal place where perfection is maintained in policy, law, sociology, etc.;
2. George Orwell: universal dream of a just society
3. George Kateb: system of values placing harmony at the center of all human activity
4. Ruth Levitas: desire for a better way of living
5. Kumar: not universal--strictly Western Xtain idea (others: golden ages, paradise, age of justice/equality etc.)
Common Traits
Author Purpose
Topics and Current Trends
Brave New World
Industrial Revolution/Capitalism
mechanization = dehumanizing
labor problems (child, poverty, riots)
social probs, social darwinism
environmental degradation
advancing consumerism
equality & "sameness"
neg. effects of Russian Revolution; Chinese Cultural Revolution
strict conformity/ oppression
Socialism and Utopianism emerged as a way to counteract the increasingly technological and capitalist-run world
Aldous Huxley
Has a cool name
A humanist and pacifist
Was also a proponent of psychedelic drugs
The Hatchery, along with various scientific innovations in “breeding” and “reproduction” of individuals are introduced, along with a highly advanced futuristic society.
Bernard Marx, Lenina Crowe, Hemholtz, and other characters are introduced; Bernard is shown to be the most “unique” of all of them.
Bernard and Lenina travel to a Savage Reserve in New Mexico—they meet John the Savage and his mother, Linda.
Linda and John come back to London with Lenina and Bernard; John is both fascinated and horrified by futuristic London’s lifestyle.
John watches his mother die; combined with everything else he has had to endure since coming to London, he flees “civilization”. Bernard and Helmholtz are deported.
By the end of the book, John commits suicide after a riot at his new place of residence devolves into a giant orgy.
Acceptance of
Social Norms
Concept of family
Death and loss
Individuality and uniqueness
Major Themes
An all-powerful state is dangerous and will use all available technology to control society.
Dangers of an all-powerful state
The end
Thomas Moore coined term in 1516
-juxtaposed European factionalsm & strife with ideas about "monastic communalism"
This book was similar to
Moore's in structure...
Star Trek based on a Utopian ideal
1. Dystopia: A "Bad Place" Subgenre of speculative fiction presenting (usually) a futuristic, imagined society in which individuals are controlled by totalitarian, bureaucratic, technocratic, moral/religious regimes or a combination thereof. It can also be an unforbidding place following an apocalyptic event.

2. Anti-Utopia: There is an illusion of a Utopia (a utopian world w. dystopic implications)

3. Polemic -- strong/ controversial argument framed as refutation of opposing ideas regarding religion, philosophy, politics, & science.

4. THREE MAIN TYPES: Orwellian, Huxlian, and Apocalyptic
Brazil (1985) was concerned
with the negative effects
of bureaucracy on society. MIX of Huxley, Orwell
The Handmaid's Tale dealt w. the effects of a moralistic theocracy on society following a pandemic. Orwellian, Apocalyptic
BNW posits that it is pleasure that
can be used to control people
1984 posits that fearful/oppressive tactics are necessary to control people
Perfect society/Utopia is impossible, but can be improved!
As a cautionary tale: certain trends in society exaggerated and extrapolated into the future to create a warning about possible consequences
Asks reader to think about utopic vs. dystopic scenarios.

two opposing cultures are
depicted--one is anarchistic,
the other a plutocractic: which
is the dystopia or utopia?
1921 book sees trends following Russian Revolutionn & forsees Stalinist perscecution & oppression
(will drive how you approach your final paper!)
In this post-literate near future, a sterile world of media, gadgetry, and meaningless sex serve to create a morally bankrupt society
As a consequence of global warming, Washingon D.C. is underwater and war-torn as warring factions create a culture more akin to 3rd world scarcity & war-lordism than 1st world prosperity & defense.
Cancer is cured, but following a catastrophic earthquake in L.A., scarcity and government bankruptcy pits the old vs. the young when the younger generation refuses to pay for old age entitlements.
An engineer must try to live in a fully automated world controlled by a supercomputer and run by machines.
In this classic polemic against socialism, a rebel falls in love and fights against evils of collectivism while virtues of individualism are explored
This polemic against the evils of unfettered capitalism concerns a brilliant but poor revolutionary's fight against the tyranny of the plutocrats.
Ironically, towers are frequent symbols
in dystopias. Represent man's folly as a
result of advanced civilization and
In the novella, If This Goes on
found in Heinlin's Revolt 2100) the U.S. is run by a brutal theocracy that places superstition & supernatural belief over
according to literary elements
In "Feed", not only is the POV of the affluent characters that of teenagers more concerned with being trendy than intelligent, but the style of dialogue renders language at its most inarticulate--a result of a distracted and exaggerated consumerist/ acquisitive society.
Robber Barons/Captains of Industry
oppressed workers
various railroad, banking panics
Totalitarianism (control all aspects of life)
Technological Advancement--?ing ot tech benefits
technology out of control
television/screens - diversion of populations
used as control (surveillance)
rise of the Technocrat (specialized experts)
fear of technological singularity (thinking robots)
Effects World War I, II, Cold War, Vietnam, etc.
huge civilian casualties/arms races
more hierarchical systems
anxiety, fear, alienation
threat nuclear war (apolcalyptic dystopias)
The Uglies concerned a society
where everyone had to undergo plastic
surgery to become beautiful but with
negative consequences. HUXLIAN
The Road is a survival story about
a father and his son living in a post-
apocalyptic age following either a
nuclear holocaust or environmental
disaster. APOCALYPTIC.
In the Hunger Games, society is comprised
of a minority of the affluent and everyone
else kept living in poverty. ORWELLIAN.
(books, ebooks, graphic novels,
films, & tv shows)
Atwood creates a post-apocalyptic
world where GMAanimals and
people survive alongside few "natural
human beings.
Organ harvesting!
Mary Piercy creates a world
where corporate technocrats
rule in protected pods and
talking houses and robots
show more humanity than
many human beings.
In this famous novel about an America ruled by extreme Judeo-Christian-based fundamentalism,
women are either breeders, outcasts, or wives of powerful men.

Dystopias look at various aspects of society and their effects on the quality of life for people
Economics/Monetary systems/policies -
capitalism, marxism, etc. false equality, profit, scarcity, consumerism, class stratification, globalism, ETC.

Control by ideological systems: single parties, democracies, oligarchies, plutocracies, monarchies, republics, dictatorships, anarchies, theocracies, bureaucracies,"kleptocracies," police or totalitarian states.

Environment/Resource Depletion
Many dystopias characterized by a lack of nature (animals, trees, clean waterways, etc.) often as a result of global warming and over exploitation of natural world. Similar topics alluded to include energy (oil, solar, gas, nuclear, etc.), water, farming, GMO food, environmental disasters...
Social Structures
families (extended, nuclear, institutional, etc.), gender roles/status, aging, relationships, class stratification (usually see minority of wealthy juxtaposed with a majority of the poor) longevity, fertility, education, law/order, sexual promiscuity vs. religious puritanism.
Science, Technology, Media:
Effects of AI/robotics, Singularity; privacy issues (surveillance, data mining, drones, etc.) reactions to pandemics; use of technology as tool for oppression, alienation; negative use of medical advancement (organ harvesting, cloning), apathy, entertainment and advertising as tool for distraction from reality...
Use as control device for groups via rampant fundamentalism, theocracy, strict moral codes (particularly for women)


features artificial environments, advanced technology with a minority living well and a majority in poverty. Apocalyptic settings. often features people surviving off the artifacts of a prior time.


are frequently dynamic and once exposed to flaws in the society or fall in love with a rebel, they become doubters then rebels who try to escape, reform, or subvert their dystopic society

are framed by a lack of humanity (love often considered subversive--family as threat to state or corporate loyalty) & assume a man vs. society or authority: the community, the collective, the corporation, the bureaucracy, the machine, the master/dictator, economic system, etc.

Also, psychological or physical punishment often thwart protagonists.

include senses of alienation, despair, frustration, futility, blase conformity, satiric sarcasm, but also irony, absurdity, humor, romance, and MORE.


feature distorted diction to represent the subversion of language to the will of particular regime or character POV. EX: Orwellian Newspeak/doublespeak primary example.

include messages and observations about human behavior/culture as they relate to chaos vs. order, individualism vs. collectivism/corporatism, media and technology control devices; privacy, creativity and agency exchanged for security, conformity, and helplessness. Also: control of society by technology; faulty bioethics, caste systems based on class, gender, race/nationality, effects of environmental degradation, economic collapse, and MUCH MORE!
will drive the argument the story is making and determine
Hunger Games's Katniss begins as simply someone tying to survive her fate but later becomes a rebel against her dystopic society.
In Super Sad Love Story, the romance fluctuates between superficial concerns with media and consumerism and despair--characters live in a world of constant distraction as people use their apparats (cell-phone-like devices) to purchase goods, gain info. on others and where people hook-up for casual sex (and speak profanely).
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