This column is the start of something I am going to call “genre of the week.” Quite literally, I am going to discuss what that genre entails from my perspective, and I am going to recommend a few books from that genre that I have enjoyed reading.
This week, I am going to discuss dystopian fiction. If you are thinking to yourself, “I’ve never heard of that,” then ask yourself if you have ever read or heard of The Hunger Games? If so, you have read a dystopian fiction book. The word dystopia comes from Ancient Greek, literally meaning “bad place.” In literature, this is often portrayed through an undesirable setting and society that as readers, we do not want to ever exist. Dystopias are often guised as utopias, the idea of a good place, but as the novel progresses, it is clearly unveiled that the “perfect” society in the novel is actually a dystopia. Many dystopian novels feature major themes such as dehumanization, oppression, social hierarchy, privileged knowledge, totalitarian government, loss of individuality and freewill, and most importantly, relevance to our own current society.
Dystopian fiction attempts to serve as a warning to the readers, demonstrating what could happen if certain events occur, such as climate change, overpopulation, and loss of autonomy. Fear is used as the main element of control in these dystopian societies causing conformity, dehumanization, and a sense of “sameness.” There is almost always a protagonist who discovers that the sense of “perfectness” is not actually as it appears, and the novel centers around that character trying to unveil what is going on to the masses, in an attempt to override the totalitarian government or form a resistance.
In the past few years, there has been a noticeable rise of dystopian fiction novels, suggesting that as a society we are interested in these notions of a possible paradise and are aware there is a possible end at some point in the future. If you look closely at any dystopian novel, you will quickly be able to parallel the events to events that occur in our reality. It is this that has always fascinated me and scared me about dystopian worlds, because you can clearly see the connections from our own world.
Here are four dystopian novels that I believe are worth a read and that cover the themes I have mentioned in this article. I challenge you to read one of these novels and try to pick out certain elements that are eerily similar to our society or world today.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
Set in a supposed “utopian” world, The Giver illustrates what would happen if pain was eliminated from society at the loss of individuality. Instead, all emotional depth has been eliminated and the community members are selected for certain positions that dictate their futures. When a young boy named Jonas is selected for the position of the Receiver, he slowly begins to realize just how much the community is missing out on. This novel is set in a world without color and morals, instead, there is “sameness.”
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This novel is set in a totalitarian society where women are treated as property and there is a slowly dying population. In an attempt to repopulate the world, women are forced into sexual servitude and have very limited human rights. The novel follows the women’s journeys to gain back their independence and individuality from a patriarchal society, while proposing what could happen if our world was overtaken by such a government.
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The popular young adult novel follows a group of young men and one woman trapped in a maze with no memory of their previous lives trying to find their way out of the maze despite all of the obstacles placed in their way. The novel reveals what could happen in an apocalyptical world where the population is desperate to find a cure.
- 1984 by George Orwell
This classic novel focuses on government control in an imagined future that is experiencing continuous war, surveillance, and propaganda. 1984 demonstrates what could happen in a totalitarian government where freewill is unthinkable and those who don’t conform simply disappear.
I apologize if your favorite dystopian novel hasn’t made the list, I am in the process of reading a lot more. Feel free to send me some recommendations if you have a favorite!