The magic of writing, literature and creativity is that we are able to create worlds far beyond the scope of what we can see and what we have experienced.
Some of the most popular books of all time center around dystopian societies — fictional and imperfect worlds. These worlds are so mysterious and I can only admire the authors that decide to take the journey of creating a whole new society filled with things that frighten and confuse.
In my mind, the best dystopian stories feature some of the following characteristics:
- A fall from grace,
- A conflict and
- A hero
Arguably the current dystopian society that everyone knows best is the nation of Panem from Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” This dystopian society arose from the rubble of the formerly technologically advanced and successful North America. Panem is split into 12 districts and each year children from each district must participate in the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the series, represents the hero of the society. She reflects the ideals that oppose the evil and oppressive society of Panem.
Flash back to 1949. One of the classic examples of dystopia is Airstrip One, from George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” When I first read this story my freshman year of high school, all I could imagine of the society was grey and white and a buzzing in the air of fear, insecurity, and vulnerability. What was formerly Great Britain is now a society of mind games. Winston Smith, the protagonist, falls in love with a woman and together they attempt to resist the claws of Big Brother. I like to consider this novel a tragic dystopia as in the end Winston gives into the brainwashing of the society.
“Nineteen Eighty-Four” influenced one of my favorite dystopian series growing up. The “Uglies” series by Scott Westerfeld happens to be one of my favorite novels featuring a dystopian society. On a smaller scale than the previous two books, “Uglies” takes place in the Washington state area a couple thousand years in the future when beauty takes precedence over all else. Very much the truth, the government pays for plastic surgery and societal rank is based on beauty. Tally Youngblood, the main protagonist, initially desires to become pretty until she falls in love with a member of the resistance.
Each story features society’s fall from grace, a major conflict (usually in values or beliefs) and a hero (though they may not act heroic right away, or at all).
Dystopian societies are reflective of the future, not often of the past. I love these novels because not only do they feature intense action, they also offer a chance to reflect. What if these societies were to actually come into fruition? What if those worlds are the actual “utopias” and what we are currently living in is the real “dystopia”?
I’d love to know your favorite literary dystopias! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @marie_eo.