Why We Read Dystopia

Written by Ian Kimbell

Dystopian novels are all the rage these days. The genre has blown up since the 2000’s, with books like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Don’t get me wrong, though, because dystopian novels are anything but new. If you read my article earlier this week about George Orwell, you know that although the genre of dystopia is booming nowadays, it is not a genre that just started developing. George Orwell wrote satirical novels about corrupted governments, such as 1984 and Animal Farm. Some other old yet popular dystopian novels include The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Now, if you are a reasonable person who reads titles before articles, you may be wondering when the question of why people read dystopian literature will be answered. Well, you see, before we establish why we like dystopian novels, we need to ask ourselves what dystopian novels really are. What are dystopian novels? The definition of the word dystopia is “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or emotionally degraded one.” Dystopian novels show a very terrible society, and we as the readers get to see what would happen in this horrible place. A common part of dystopian novels is a government that denies its citizens basic freedoms and withholds the truth from citizens. Many dystopian novels take faults or trends in real life governments and exaggerate them to create an extremely unpleasant society- a dystopia. Take Animal Farm, for example. Animal Farm’s ideas of rebelling against tyranny and evolving into a dictatorship that is even worse were inspired by Russia under Joseph Stalin’s rule. George Orwell used dystopia to make points politically.

Another common theme in dystopia is the fact that many dystopian societies start out as utopian societies. With utopia, everything is exactly how it should be, and everyone is happy. However, in dystopian novels, the main character is usually the one that sees through the illusion of perfection and tries to defy the government. This is where the story begins.

You can’t have a good ol’ dystopian novel without a terrible government. Dystopian governments can be formed in many ways. One way a dystopian society can form is a government or business trying to solve a problem or create a perfect society, then the principles or technology they used is exaggerated and twisted to the point where society is ruined. For example, in I Robot, robots are created to serve people, and then grow to enslave people. The robots were originally created to make a perfect society, and then backfired. In Uglies, the government makes most people beautiful to avoid low self-esteem. However, when the majority lives without a worry, normal people are perceived as ugly. Also, when the majority is beautiful, then people are no longer individual.

Another way that a dystopian government can be formed is when an apocalyptic  or disastrous event happens, and the government does something rash to fix it. For example, in The City of Ember, people are sent to live underground in order to escape a nuclear war. The underground city is a place called Ember, and instructions are given on how to leave in many years. After many generations, the instructions are lost and people forget how to leave Ember. Supplies run low, and the mayor starts to think only for himself. Another example lies in The Maze Runner. In this trilogy, the Earth is partially destroyed by solar flares. The government tries to control the population by creating a fatal disease. However, the disease has an unintended side effect- turning victims into cannibalistic zombies.

Now, you must have a pretty good idea of what a dystopia is. Now, it is time for what you have all been waiting for. Why do we read dystopia? Well, have you noticed that dystopian novels have recently been popular among teenangers and are also centered around teenagers? Think about it. The Hunger Games stars Katniss Everdeen, Divergent revolves around Beatrice Prior. Both of these popular books are starring teens and are popular among teens. Experts say that books like The Hunger Games and Divergent are so popular partially because these books show teenagers rebelling against figures that hold authority, such as President Snow and Jeanine Matthews. Facing against authority is an idea that appeals to teenagers, and this may be a large contributing factor to recent dystopian success.

Another reason that dystopian novels have recently had booming success is the fact that dystopian literature shows a morbid future that answers to a sort of “what if” scenario. What if people were forced to live underground? What if a disease turned people into zombies? What if the government had complete control over people’s thoughts? These questions get people thinking, and dystopian novels show an author’s interpretation of these questions. It gets pretty interesting to see what would happen if a certain fictional event occurred in the real world.

Since three is a magic number, I suppose I owe you three reasons. The last reason is the fact that many dystopian novels show a political message that applies to the time period. I have already used the example of Animal Farm being related to communist Russia, but there are many other examples of dystopian novels relating to real political policies and events. Many dystopian novels show people how terrible a totalitarian government or a dictatorship can be. Dystopian novels can present an extreme situation of what it would be like if we kept using a corrupt government system in the world. Dystopian novels send important messages.

Let’s go over the main points. Dystopian novels have recently become very popular, but are nothing new. Some reasons people read dystopia are the fact that dystopian novels send important political messages, show people rebelling against authority, and show a “what if” scenario.

Well, there you have it. I hope this article has been a fitting end to dystopia week. Dystopia week has been written by Ian Kimbell, Neel Jain, and Percy Fowl. Thank you, loyal readers, for participating in this exciting school week of articles.