Dystopia is yet another theme of science fiction that intrigues me (and if you’ve been following along with the posts so far, you may have guessed – and quite rightly guessed – that there aren’t many themes I don’t like).
According to the Oxford dictionary, a dystopia is ‘An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of utopia’ (Oxford Dictionary – online)
In terms of science fiction, a dystopia has got to be the ‘perfect’ society for characters to rebel against. The Hunger Games and Divergent are two of the most recent books to use this theme, but in literature, it goes much further back;
Published by George Orwell in 1959, this novel paints a grim presentation of 1984. An atomic war has resulted in the world being divided into three states: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.
Winston Smith is a bureaucrat, living in London (Oceania). He works for the Ministry of Truth and is responsible for rewriting history, as and when the ruling party require it.
‘As the novel opens, Winston feels frustrated by the oppression and rigid control of the Party, which prohibits free thought, sex, and any expression of individuality. Winston dislikes the party and has illegally purchased a diary in which to write his criminal thoughts. He has also become fixated on a powerful Party member named O’Brien, whom Winston believes is a secret member of the Brotherhood—the mysterious, legendary group that works to overthrow the Party‘ (Sparknotes)
It introduces the theme of ‘Big Brother,’ the faceless leader of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes there are posters announcing that ‘Big Brother is watching you.’ While the citizens have been told he is their leader, Winston isn’t sure if he is a real person or just the face of the totalitarian party. Some find his face a comfort, as no matter where they are, he is watching, but to some – such as Winston – he is a threat.
As if that isn’t enough to contend with, Winston makes the mistake of falling in love. Public displays of affection (and free will) are not permitted. He and Julie live in fear of being caught and punished by the Big Brother…
My thoughts on Dystopia
Control seems to be the key to having a dystopian environment – whether through fear, medication or psychology. By keeping low ranking individuals where the leaders want them, by weeding out anyone who might be deemed as troublesome, or incompatible with their chosen method of control, the members at the top of the food chain should be able to enjoy a worry-free life.
Except… an inciting incident is nearly always enough to get a downtrodden character to open their eyes. To move beyond accepting their position in life and see the world for what it is. Discovery of the truth can fuel a character with passion, with the desire to live, as opposed to merely surviving, and they will fight for that freedom.
Sometimes these lowly characters can make it – avenues of escape materialise through a series of discoveries and they exit the book victorious. Other times they do not. The dystopian environment is all there is, but by the time they’ve realised that it’s too late to go back to how things were…