As stated in my previous Trend Spotlights post, I’ll be looking at dystopia oriented books for the next month or so periodically and will be trying to understand why we’re so gosh darn crazy about them. As part of my gripping analysis on the subject, I’ll be looking at the origins of utopian/dystopian literature. Yes, I said origins which probably has a lot of you shaking and saying that this blog is turning into an English lecture. Never fear, I wouldn’t do that to you dear readers. I had enough of lectures like this to last a life time:
Be that as it may, understanding some literary history behind utopia/dystopia literature is important in uncovering why the trend is popular today. Which is why I have essentially lifted parts of my essays on utopian/dystopian societies from some of my courses and have reworked them into hopefully a slightly more entertaining blog entry.
Utopia Origins or Dystopia all the Time: Sir Thomas More
Obviously, utopia is the opposite of dystopia. While a dystopia novel or story has to deal with a distorted view of the world. A utopian society deals with an ideal world. The most notable piece of literature that has to deal with utopian society is Sir Thomas’s More’s work simply titled Utopia.
More’s Utopia offered an interesting perspective on social class. Even though More’s work preached a perfect classless society, there were fundamental parts of this organization that caused Utopian society to be hypocritical. For example, the Utopians relied heavily on slaves in order to maintain their society. At one point in the text More wrote, “Generally, the gravest crimes are punished by slavery, for they think this deters offenders just as much as instant capital punishment, and is beneficial to the commonwealth.” . Utopians used slavery as a form of punishment and that slaves were treated differently from the rest of society; thus, there was a separation of class in Utopia. While it was true that slaves were not considered Utopian citizens, they still lived under Utopian law and played a prominent role in society. Could one make the presumption that More’s work on a Utopian society was really a work on dystopia in disguise. Maybe?
After all, there are several elements that were seen in Utopia that seem more dystopian than utopian. Arguably, it could be said that this novel about a perfect society wasn’t about an ideal world at all.
Straight Up Dystopia: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I remember when I had to first read this book. It caused me more nightmares than 1984 and Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever did.
Unlike More’s Utopia, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World doesn’t even try to disguise itself as a utopia. Sure, the never takes place in this “perfect” society, but it’s obvious from the get go that it’s whacked. I honestly sometimes wonder how I got away with reading this book in high school considering how conservative my school was. Case in point, they put John Grisham novels in the restricted section. The stuff that goes on in Brave New World is a lot more graphic and bizzaro than anything you’d see from some legal thriller that gets turned into a movie starring Matthew McConaughley. Grant it, Brave New World is considered a classic and Grisham novels aren’t.
Huxley wrote Brave New World in the interim years between World War I and World War II, many of the concepts that are dealt with in the novel are in regards to industrialization. And unlike More’s world where you get an idyllic world that only seems to be bat shit insane for a few citizens, Huxley’s world is entirely bat shit insane. I kid you not.
Here is just a partial list of some of the craziness that goes on in Brave New World: Henry Ford is considered a god (the worship the T instead of the cross), people are divided into classes at birth, drug addiction is encouraged and supported by the government, and for that matter so is sexual promiscuity.
After considering all the aspects of Brave New World, I really,don’t know how this book and for that matter anything else by John Grisham got put on the restricted list. Because when it comes to horrible crimes/Samuel L. Jackson with a machine gun vs. test tube happy drug addicted/ orgy loving babies, I think it’s a little obvious which novel is more deranged.
Once you get over all the crazy stuff that happens in Brave New World, you realize just how scary the novel is. How Huxley essentially just barely twisted society to make this freaked out world. And once again, like More he was affected by society. Which brings us today….
Modern Society: Dystopia
Today dystopia themed novels are present more than ever. Particularly in the YA genre. As previously stated in part one of this discussion, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games
is being turned into a movie and the press is making it out like it’s the next Twilight or Harry Potter
Like it’s predecessors these novels deal reflect on society. But why are they popular now? I had a hard time suffering through Brave New World in high school-though now, I find it sort of interesting to read only because how crazy it is. And More’s Utopia is hardly interesting unless you teach early British literature and want to torture (err…enrich your students’ minds) by forcing them to read Utopia. Perhaps, I will come to more conclusions in coming weeks. Though here are my guesses now. In the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring each of these so called theories a bit.
A) Teens/anyone else who reads YA are just dissatisfied with society
B) They make a good story
C) It’s popular because it’s being overly marketed
C) Dystopian boys are just hot
Anyways, feel free to comment on your thoughts. I hope this blog entry wasn’t too boring/school like and gave you some insight on the origins of this sub-genre.
 More, Thomas. Utopia. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume B The Sixteenth Century/The Early Seventeenth Century. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and M.H. Abrams. 8th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006) 571.