It is human nature to strive for a perfect society. That is why the interest of today’s youth in dystopian novels is so fascinating. A dystopian novel is a book about a society characterized by human misery, oppression, disease, overcrowding, and political unrest.
The students at The Gregory School have been particularly intrigued by these types of stories. School librarian Laura Calverley said, “Especially over the past five years or so, there has been an increase in dystopian novels, mostly in Young Adult literature.”
On the popularity of dystopian novels among younger readers, English teacher Mike Mann said, “I think the label is trendy, but lots of literature throughout history contains utopian strains.”
The idea of a world that is filled with strife is not an uplifting topic, but English teacher Mike Mann said, “Perhaps they articulate an anxiety many people feel about our culture, society, and world.”
Calverley added, “I also think that the subject matter speaks to the readers. It’s a way to critique society and to create heroes who look critically at their worlds and stand up for the greater good.”
However, the idea of a utopian world can be just as disappointing, Mann said. “You know, utopia, which literally means “no place,” is really not a desirable goal either, and is, in fact, always some version of a dystopia. So I think what has happened is that we have replaced utopia with dystopia, but they are both failed states in the sense that they are too fixed and rigid, too perfect and sterile, overdetermined and un-free.”
This topic of a dystopia disguised as a utopia is shown in the book (and later the movie) The Giver by Lois Lowry. The society in The Giver is by all accounts a utopia. However, after the protagonist, Jonas, is given the ability to see memories of the current world, he becomes desperate to leave his utopia. The supposed utopia in The Giver shows the blurred line between utopias and dystopias.
In the past 10 years, dystopian novels have rapidly gained popularity. Because serieses like Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins have gained enough notoriety to become movies, these dystopian themes have become the hip reading lately.
Due to the popularity of these serieses, sales in dystopian novels have jumped about 150% within the past 8 years, according to The Daily Mail.
While these books can contain advanced themes, Mann doesn’t believe his middle schoolers can’t handle them. He would like to add some to the curriculum, including Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Utopian and dystopian themes appear in many novels, including those that are not considered dystopian or utopian novels.
Mann said, “Are those utopian or dystopian novels? And what is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (a story that follows the more traditional definition of dystopia, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world)? What is The Giver, which younger readers typically read?”
Whether it is following traditional plots of dystopia, or the popular way of dystopian utopias, this category continues to be hugely popular, especially with teenagers.
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