Dystopian fiction has always been one of my favorite concepts in literature. Ever since reading Orwells’s 1984 in high school, followed by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I developed a slight, SLIGHT, obsession. A dystopia, for those of you who don’t know, is basically the opposite of a utopia. It’s an idea proposed to challenge the concepts used to achieve a utopia. For instance, Judge Dredd (super-future-cold-hearted-etc cop) does a hell of a job enforcing the law and minimizing crime rates, but does so at the cost of impoverished citizenship with leaps and bounds of social prejudice. For the rich this might seem like a utopia, but even from that perspective, I doubt you could argue against the derelict living conditions of 90% of the population. Some other fun dystopian universes I enjoy (Yay!):
- The Matrix
- Clockwork Orange
- Lord of the Flies
- Blade Runner
- Animal Farm
- I, Robot
- Hunger Games (Not a favorite but there may be consequences if it goes unnoticed!)
Anyway, these fictional representations were created to convey the important alternative to over controlling attempts toward utopian conditions. The term was coined by John Stuart Mill in 1868, but took off in the fictional world in the 20th century, fortunately for us. The underlying theme is built upon current/future political and cultural concerns. George Orwell wrote 1984 shortly after World War II in response to the rise to totalitarian governments such as Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. They are usually directed at current social, political, and economical trends that are exaggerated to create satirical alternate universes.
Here’s an excellent slideshow explanation by Arik Durfee on Prezi
So why do we enjoy this genre?
Powerlessness. The world is constantly changing around us, environmentally, politically, socially, and we often have no control over these changes, leaving us feeling powerless. Much like the heroes and heroines in dytopian stories, we feel oppressed, monitored, and controlled. Dystopian stories offer a surreal escape from the numbing world we live in. So why don’t people look toward optimistic stories of love and happiness for their escape? An article by Lauren Sarner of the New York Daily News states it well:
Dystopian realities tend to come with incredibly high stakes. Government oppression and corruption is a common trope, as well as wars, forced conformity, religious fanaticism, and heroes facing odds that are incredible to the point of hopelessness. Most of all, they feature heroes fighting against those odds. Dystopian heroes typically suffer more than ordinary heroes, and not all of them make it out alive, but they all put up a fight.
Read more: Dystopian Fiction and its Appeal
I think people reflect themselves in the story. They want to be the character who has the courage to stand up against an overpowering force. Stand up for what’s right, and persevere against the immense hardships they endure. So, why do you think people, YA and adult, are so interested in dystopian settings?