Dystopian Literature is essentially a form of writing utilised to explore and display social and political structures in a world where the people are oppressed in some way. It is typically set in the future and aims to extrapolate current problems to raise issues around many aspects of life inclusive of society, environment, politics, religion and technology. Often beliefs of all kinds are questioned to highlight the flaws and potentially fatal errors in society. In some important way, it is undesirable or frightening, the opposite of utopia. Key characteristics include dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster or other things associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.
“A dystopian society dreams of improvement are overshadowed by stimulating fears of the ugly consequences of present-day behaviour.”
Some dystopian works emphasize the pressure to conform in terms of a requirement not to excel.
Concepts and symbols of religion may come under attack in a dystopia.
Fictional dystopias are commonly urban and frequently isolate their characters from all contact with the natural world.
The political principles on which fictional dystopias are based are flawed and result in negative consequences for the inhabitants of the dystopian world, which is portrayed as oppressive. Dystopias are often filled with pessimistic views of the ruling class or government that is brutal or uncaring ruling with an iron hand.
The economy often relates directly to the elements that the writer is depicting as the source of the oppression. The state controls the economy.
The advanced technology is controlled exclusively by the group in power. The standard of living among the lower and middle class is generally poorer than that of their equivalents in contemporary industrialized society.
Typically depicts events that take place in the future.
Dystopias seldom feature an outsider as the protagonist. The person who questions the society is from the inside and come to believe that escape or even social order overturn is possible.
Hero comes to meet a representative of the dystopia who articulates its principles.
CLIMAX AND DENOUEMENT:
Book often ends unresolved with a failure of change occurring.
COMMON TRAITS OF DYSTOPIAN FICTION:
- Caste system
- Upper class ruling
- State propaganda
- Strict conformity
- A fictional state figurehead
- Fear or disgust of the world outside of the state
- Common view of traditional life
- Penal system
- Constant surveillance
- Banishment of natural world from daily life
- A backstory
- A poor standard of living amongst middle and lower class
- A protagonist who questions the society
- Advanced technology
One other key trait is familiarity. The society must have echoes of today, of the reader’s own experiences.
- Assertive and violent – handmaid’s beaten
- They are ‘the chosen’ or ‘the saved’ on a ‘mission for god’.
- Public marks of distinction – women dressed in certain colours = social hierarchy. The Commanders are at the top of it.
- Only one religion and one correct way of life, and these must be defended. If you don’t follow the way, you will be persecuted (or worse).
- There is a holy book to which literal obedience is mandatory.
- Law and authority come from God.
- Female sexuality must be controlled and clear boundaries must be established between men and women (including marriage, reproduction, abortion and access to education).
- Sexual behaviour is a major concern – as well as women being controlled, homosexuality is outlawed
- Fundamentalism and nationalism converge – Gilead is the fundamentalist state.
References to other dystopian – 1984, George Orwell – A brave new world, Aldous Huxley
“HISTORY PROVES THAT WHAT WE HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST WE COULD BE AGAIN”