utopia/dystopia.

| Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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Once upon a time, I took AP English in high school and my teacher had a unit on utopias and dystopias that has stuck with me ever since. He actually divided the section into three parts:

Utopia: An idealistic society where there is socio-politi-religious harmony and very little suffering.

Anti-Utopia: A society that seems ideal at the surface, but is masking at least one fatal flaw. Think A Brave New World - the various classes seem happy and satisfied on the surface, but really they're just doped up and/or complacent.

Dystopia: A visibly flawed society, usually presided by a fascist or totalitarian government that rules its people via tyranny. Think 1984 or V For Vendetta.

I am a huge dystopian literature fan. Huge. Many of my favorite kidlit and adult lit books feature a desperately broken society. One might assume that this means I'm some sort of jaded misanthrope that enjoys a depressing novel, but I'm actually quite the optimist. A somewhat cynical optimist, but an optimist nonetheless.

So what does someone like me possibly find to like about the bleak cruelty of a dystopian novel?

I'll tell you: HOPE.

That's right - hope. Not every dystopian novel displays this theme (1984 specifically is pretty brutal), but many do, especially the middle grade and young adult versions. Yes, dystopian worlds are tragic, ruined, even horrifying, but the human spirit can never be destroyed. The protagonist always fights on, always rails against the tyrants, always seeks love and beauty.

Creating a terrible society is obviously a great way to give your protagonist instant obstacles, but it's also a very fertile ground for showing both the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights to which it can soar. There is one true goal for anyone mired in such a desperate situation: rise above. Strive to be better. Go, fight, win.

Picture Jonas from The Giver, struggling through extreme weather and hunger with his small companion, and the glowing light waiting for them at the end of their journey. The crowd at the end of V For Vendetta coming together to show the government that they will no longer stand for its tyranny. Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, allowing love, and later rebellion, to fuel her every action.

These characters show us that even in the most dire straits, even when all hope should be lost, the fire of the human spirit refuses to be extinguished.

And that's why I dig dystopias. Just, you know, FYI.

4 comments:

{ Simon C. Larter } at: May 26, 2010 at 8:09 AM said...

Holy crap, I LOVE V for Vendetta! That is SUCH an awesome flick.

Y'know what else is pretty awesome? This post. There's something about the human spirit that shines brighter when faced with terrible odds. Was it Eleanor Roosevelt who said, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness?" Yes, I think it was.

Dystopian worlds are the darkness to the protagonists' light of hope.

Nicely done, good lady.

{ Bossy Betty } at: May 26, 2010 at 8:27 AM said...

Nice. Love that ray of hope breaking through. The Giver--loved that book.

{ jjdebenedictis } at: May 26, 2010 at 12:29 PM said...

Simon C. Larter, get thee to a comic shop and buy the graphic novel. It's SO much better than the movie (which was also great, I agree.)

V For Vendetta is one of my favourites as well, and you're right--it's the hope that draws me in. Evie's determination to build a better world, and her excitement and pride at being able to do so, was more powerful to me than the crowd scene.

{ JustineDell } at: May 26, 2010 at 5:49 PM said...

Hey you!! Are you all settled into the new abode? ;-)

~JD

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