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The Characteristics of Dystopia in American Literature – Free Essay Example

The Evolution of American Literature

American literature has been transforming since the early settlers came in to colonize the contemporary New England. Back then, deeply believing American authors were writing works which were about the consequences of witchcraft and Salem rituals. At that point there was a problem with practicing dark magic by witches and witch hunters were cruelly executing them by being set on fire. The only acceptable religion was Christianity, consequently many books were associated with Christian motifs, encouraging to obey the Great God. American literature has some of the greatest literal eras. Inter alia, there is the Colonial Period circled by the founding of Jamestown. This period was monumental, religious and started the beginning of publishing of many works that inspired future generations. There is the Revolutionary Period. This era was mainly dominate by political dissertations. “The Declaration of Independence” was created by the Founding Fathers. The next period considered as the greatest is the American Renaissance, which is also considered as Romantic Period and named as the “Age of Transcendentalism”. At that times the American Criticism was launched. I should be noted that The Beat Generation period played an important role, because the confessional poetry that was dominating, contributed to rebellion against the system is USA. And finally there is the Contemporary Period. One of the Fantasy subgenres of this period caught my attention and it’s called dystopia.

The origins and the development of the genre

The rise of literary dystopias, including the 1st use of the term , occurs in the late 19th century, coinciding with industrialization and automatisation. The term “dystopia” was first used in the late 19th century to describe the opposite of utopia. As Sargent points out- dystopian elements can be found in a variety of other categories linked to utopia, such as “flawed utopia” or “critical utopia” [flawed utopia] fits two categories of works. The first is more numerous and shows the ultimately dystopian nature of apparent perfection. Within this subset, a common trope is to demonstrate that the reason/perfection of computers/machines is anti-human. The other category, which is the focus of this essay, poses the fundamental dilemma of what cost we are willing to pay or require others to pay to achieve a good life.” (403)

The author claims that such dystopian tropes which show the “dystopian nature of apparent perfection” And are linked to a certain fear of mechanical or computerized (i.e, non-human, or de-humanized perfection would only be possible in the industrial environment.

Dystopia is qualifying as one of the fictional subgenres. It’s a fictional universe with society. It describes a far in the future reality which is dominated by toxic and other such extreme things as natural disasters and cataclysms, mastering diseases, poverty, toxic government and strict social division. It is perfect from the perspective due to maintained bureaucractic, moral, technological and totalitarian control. There is no independence or individuality. Citizens, are under constant surveillance. What is more usually, in a dystopian society there’s a concept or a particular God worshipped Dystopia is a negative term and is opposed to utopia. While the second term has only positive features, because it’s about the perfect world with a peaceful society and prevailing equal rights. One of main features of dystopia is often a modern hi-tech world presented as a result of technological progression. But as promising it sounds it is quite the opposite. Technologies are mentioned in a pejorative overtone as a harmful and damaging contributing to the slow destruction of the world and the mankind.

Dystopia itself recaptures rather alarming images. People associate it with ancient Greek myths and Bible’s Holy John’s Apocalypse. When we think about dystopia, the things that come to our minds are : destroyed buildings, dead bodies lying on the streets, remains of the city everywhere. The surroundings clearly scream one word “convulsion!”. There is no legislations anymore, there’s total disorder. The word dystopia derives from two Greek words, dus and topos meaning a diseased, bad, faulty, or unfavourable place. The word ‘dystopia’ is the antonym of ‘utopia’ which has a positive meaning and it is something that people imagine as a paradise or a good place.

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Science’s role in shaping dystopia

Overall, it has been proven that science played a huge role in the modern turn from utopia to dystopia. Some writers such as Jonathan Swift have already were been warning of the potential dangers especially spiritual of excessive entrust on scientific and technological methods of thought and problem solving. During the XIX century, , Bacon envisaged that many technological Improvements and achievements will be developed. But it was quite easy to say that all these achievements will have negative effects on the mankind. At the end of the XIX century there has been mauled a symbol of technology and science meaning human’s limitation and weakness.

Another great example of dystopian thinking is Nietzsche’s philosophy. He revolutionized the modern change to skepticism. Nietzsche says that there is no final truth and there should be the other science that would heep the strangenesss, excluding all the things needed to be expalinatory in logical way. Having analyzed some of the dystopian fiction works he mocks the advanced technology and the treating the life’s enhancements as Gods or even worshipping. When it comes to Freud, he includes a skeptical decripyion of society and it really well resembles the books of fiction genre – dystopia

Freud explain that human’s can be happy brcause the do not followling the rules. Even realizing some paternal strategies can’t allow them to achieve the desirable happiness. First of all- the overwhelming power of nature and the not eternal durability of human body. It is the undoubltful fact that we can not do much about it despite the technological improvements- nature is too powerful and humans are not gods, who can decide about the legacy .Generally, dystopian fictions contain facts that are the most relatable to the modern world’s problems and society.

Differences between the utopia and dystopia

When it comes to the difference between utopia an dystopia, utopianism is based on a critique of the ‘deficiencies of the present,’ while dystopian thinking relies on a critique of perceived ‘deficiencies in the future’ What is more, the times of dystopian novels is usually far-in-the future and usually differs from the author’s time set. Predominantly, dystopian fictions are concrete and within reach.

Usually, the plot is set in an unrevealed location. Furthermore, M.K Booker says that there could be observed some techniques in works about Dystopia. The main one is defamiliarization. Defamiliarization means that the critique is based on the fictional, non-existing setting. Dystopian works are very relevant to the modern world’s issues. The probems that are talked about are- society, politics. Some of them can definitely be considered inevitable. Booker says : “defamiliarization reminds him of the alienation effect of Bertolt Brecht in the way it denies this difference and links the emergence of new perspectives on literary themes to specific social and political issues in the real world. In this sense, dystopian fiction also resembles science fiction, a genre with which it is often associated.”

The relation between Dystopia and Science Fiction

One recalls, for example, Darko Suvin’s useful emphasis on ‘cognitive estrangement’ as the central strategy of science fiction (Metamorphoses 3-15).14 Clearly there is a great deal of overlap between dystopian fiction and science fiction, and many texts belong to both categories. But in general dystopian fiction differs from science fiction in the specificity of its attention to social and political critique. In this sense, dystopian fiction is more like the projects of social and cultural critics like Nietzsche, Freud, Bakhtin, Adorno, Foucault, Habermas, and many others. Indeed, a major thrust of this study is the exploration of dialogues between dystopian fiction and the work of such critics.

Struggles in defining dystopia

When it comes to the terminology, post-apocalypticism is considered as an obscure period of American literature. This science fiction area classifies as a minor sub-genre. There have always been struggles in defining post-apocalyptic/apocalyptic literature.

According to the Apocalypse group of the Society of Biblical Literature, apocalyptic genre has been defined as literature which is being revealed by an every-day person to others telling that the reality is short-term and it involves supernatural features. The Apocalypse motif derives from the well-know fear of the end of the world that has always been there for centuries. The reason why it has become very profiting is that it derives from illogical assumptions which are linked to the cause of many inspirations.

It should be pointed out that the concept of the world ending it really old and had been revolving since a very long time. It probably will be revolving in the future.

About modern dystopia

There is one of the defining features of modern dystopia is secrecy there is something about these societies that cannot be admitted, something inhabitants are not supposed to know (Brave New World by Huxley) There is also a loose narrative formula five features of the experience of liminality as outlined by van Gennap on Turner. Protagonist’s separation from the structure of his society leading to isolation or denial od the claims of others. Narrator must pass a forbidden boundary, a portal which marks the end of the world and the beginning of the new (world?) “If dystopia always sets us a riddle, its authors normally make sure that it’s one we can solve”

When utopia is glorifying all technological inventions and improvements, quite the opposite applies to dystopia. Dystopia is focusing on the bad results of completely relying on technology.

Rosenbaum claims that technology spoils relations between people. Addictiveness to such inventions as computers, tablets and social decrease the amount of time spent with relatives and isolating from society. He also says that it is shrinking the economy. For example, nowadays in order to get something translated, they do it online. Before the Internet when someone needed an music album, they would just go to the store, and now every type of software content can be downloaded online. This is way the economical level is being ruined.

Nature is being neglected. People are isolated from the natural part of the world.

American authors on Dystopian sub-genre

There is this misconception connected to dystopia. As Ruth Levitas said. This term is used equally with dystopian works. But the truth is that Dystopias are not necessarily fictional in form. Neither natural disasters such as the earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclonic storms are things that are considered as fictional or not really. Quite the opposite. The word ‘dystopian’ hints a future where the disarray and destruction abounds. (Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Syracuse University Press, 1990), p. 195.)

It is hard to determine what is distinctive about dystopian notion. There are many variations of that literal genre. Part of them are not really specific and contain only the talks and monologues of main protagonists. Where another part of dystopian novels have richly constructed world, character about what we learn a lot since the beginning.

Dystopia deals with problems of: dominating poverty, the struggle to control the society by the government. Dystopia is a result of the excess usage of goods in utopia. “”Dystopia was the ‘form specifically concentrating on the alienating effects of science and technology’. It aimed ‘to critique the scientific world view which stimulated its Utopian predecessors and upon which Utopia, “the dream of reason”, was built’. (Alexandra Aldridge, The Scientific World-View inDystopia (UMI Research Press, 1978), pp. 1, 79.)””

The portrayal of a tragic hero in dystopian fiction

Utopia is opposed to dystopian fiction a genre that describes a society characterized by not only occasional errors in the execution of justice, but machinery for the deliberate miscarriage of justice. There are visible parallels between the tragic hero and protagonist of dystopian fiction. It could be observed that things are as they are- unrelenting and absurd

Also, the next imperative thing in his matter are trials and retributions. Gottlieb suggests that there’s a significant structural- thematic connection but also a difference between tragedy and modern dystopian fiction Trials and retribution also take pride of place in dystopian fiction For example- In Zamiatin’s “We”. Orwell’s “Nineteen-Eight-Four”, and Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” the narrative is “framed” by two trials.

There’s a significant difference between the role of trial and punishment in tragedy and dystopian fiction In dystopian fiction the protagonist’s trials results not in the post-ponement but in the denial of justice, its deliberate miscarriage. the central character with whom we tried to identify is an individual courageous enough to stand up against an elite ruling through a semi-divine leader, who is responsible for the enslavement of the population, for a deliberate conspiracy against the welfare of his own people The dystopian ruler makes sure that the protagonist’s revolt is defeated and his name erased from the memory of the enslaved, benumbed population. When it comes to the massage of Dystopian satire it has primarily social one, a didactic intent to address the Ideal Readers Moral Sense and reason as it applies to our place in society Satire makes a more direct appeal to rational thought-process than does tragedy and the readers catharsis must be appropriate to the cerebral nature of the genre

“We still have a freedom to shape the future according to our higher understanding and choice” (czyj to cytat jest?) Such a distancing mechanism between the protagonist and the reader maey take a variety of forms but is equally important in all dystopian novels that follow the classical western culture.

Apocalypse in American Culture

Lately in U.S culture there seem to be an increasing number of films, books set in post-apocalyptic. After thirty years, thankfully for the domination of catastrophcism, which is a utopian subgenre has transformed into a dystopian/utopian mix, or even forming into a complete dystopian. Among successful movies, best-selling books of fictions , the future has been considered eventually as post-apocalyptic. The plot or action is set in the time that is not revealed to the reader where the world had been thorugh natural disasters, social collapse, damage caused by excessiveness of use of high-technology, dominated by people in hunger who are struggling to survive.

Nevertheless, Buell points out that there’s a major difference between previous apocalyptic works. First of all- the used to be very bad and not well-known . Now everybody are familiar with it, because it is mainstream. Also, Buell adds that: “[…] the new wave post-apocalypse has lost its all predecessors impact as critical-prophetic intervention into social debate.” Apocalypse has become an every-day setting/background for books and movies, because it suited well for TV-shows, action-movies and also young adult and children’s fiction. Nowadays, apocalyptic background are created in order to interest and to entertain people around the world, but not to create awareness of the possible consequences technological revolutions.

Questioning Dystopia

Generally speaking dystopian literature which in context is an portrayal of a place which is away and place is even worse and differs from the actual presence. Although it is possible to perceive dystopia as an futuristic universe satire. Quite the opposite applies to utopia, because aiming towards parody. Another crucial thing it that- narrated utopian literary works may be interpreted in a dystopian fashion. For example, part of B.F. Skinner’s “Walden Two” after analyzing this work from different perspective- such world presented might not be such a perfect place to live.

According to D. Suvin- utopian fiction can be relative only to the author’s view point based on the “radically different principle “Eutopian, “radically more perfect” or dystopian “radically less perfect (ibid.:188) He also describes utopian fiction as “both independent aunt and a dependent daughter of sf” There have always been existing a link between between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction and it sparkled debates about another genre bounds. Curtis says that there is a combination of subgenres: “post-apocalyptic fiction exists at a genre crossroads between science fiction, horror and utopia/dystopia” (cytat )

Curtis is also adding that it should be allowed to say that among dystopian, post-apocalyptic and utopian post- apocalyptic the first mentioned is the one that this gaining more popularity and thriving. There are some differences between these subgenres, to wit- some of the text are more ranking as a science-fiction. For example some of them are “Blade Runner”, “The Matrix”, barely defined as science fiction – for example “Never Let Me Go” and “Lord of the Flies”

The post-apocalyptic era was influenced by the technological development and mechanism since the 1980s. Technology- robots, computers and nanotechnology were getting rid of the borders between the living ones- people, animals and in addition some other living forms. What is more, humans show affinity towards connecting with these technological inventions to made everything smarter and easier for the overall welfare of humanity to co-exist,

According to Jacques Ellul, he proves that the humanity was forced to live and be surrounded everywhere by technology. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian universes are dominated by dystopian-technologies pessimistic atmosphere indirectly. It also contains satirical subtext. The worst part is that exclusively a a human and the technology, but a human within technology, All of the sudden some books such as Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik” started to be a possible case scenerious describing in-the-future t happen high-tech realities. Technological catastrophism became a dominant part. The prominency of vast dystopian risk made people aware. Climate change also played a role in human’s fears of the plausible upcoming apocalypse. These all circumstances contributed to the issue of many works.

The increasing popularity of young adults dystopian novels

Dystopian fiction has been written specifically for young adults since at least the 1970s.

The reason why this type of subgenre fiction is getting more and more popular is that the young audience is used to fast progress of science and technology. Moreover, this kind of fiction makes them conscious about the development of machines and technology. Lastly, it educated the young readers who are starting to function in the world on their own, trying to achieve autonomy. There is a discrepancy between old dystopian fiction and the newer one. The later one contains a huge amount of ideas about liberty.

In the beginning of the 20th century something unanticipated occurred. Harry Potter series started the phase for reading. Despite the other rivals such as video games and TV-shows, reading was re-invented among young people. There started to be a need for more young adult novels similar to the famous Harry Potter series.

Alex Campbell in the article for the Guardian created this theory, that the reason why young adult dystopia became so popular than ever before. The answer could be- social media. It is something that is able to monitor its users to great extent. Due to visible parallels between the watching “Big Brother” from Nineteen-Eighty-Four and the nowadays phenomenon known as the Internet and its vast spectrum of possibilities. We sort of might consider current times as dystopian.

Eventually, Campbell sums up that the number of factors redounding to the final success, at the end of the day what means the most is a good and pleasant read. A great serve of entertainment.

(Sparafrazować) Earlier dystopian writing used to have more focus on single minded stories of survival. This saw a rapid change in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City which brought a new focus on both personal and social change. Stories like The Hunger Games follow suit with the sort of dark, dystopian setting that young readers have come to expect. The YA genre of books would usually serve educational rather than entertaining purposes. These type of stories evolved, however, especially after World War II, from moral stories to more entertaining ones. This so called “dystopian misuse of science” is an important ingredient for many YA novels. Laura Miller claims that in novels such as

The Hunger Games the focus is on the struggles of relatable teenage characters: “Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that’s routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart.” Another factor in the success of YA dystopian literature is the portrayal of adults being indoctrinated, while teenagers are often the ones who see the world for what it truly is

Comparing the different novels

Dystopian literature for teenagers became incredibly popular around the world in the 2000s, following the release of Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, which broke all sorts of records. Even though parents might have felt concerned over its grim themes, including the drastic effects of global warming, gene splicing and children fighting among themselves for survival, it has nevertheless been welcomed as the successor of wizards and vampires, namely Harry Potter and Twilight.

The three listed novels, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale and Nineteen Eighty-Four are dystopian novels which draw inspiration from prior works. Notably, The Handmaid’s Tale draws heavy inspiration from Nineteen Eighty-Four, which comes as no surprise as it was written that year although published in 1985, while also focusing on the suppression of women in a dystopian society.

Summing up, dystopia is, simply put, defined as the opposite of a utopian society in which everything is largely better than the normal world we know. Literature written about dystopian societies tends to serve as certain warning manuals for people, in order to prevent them from creating this sort of society. Utopian literature has been different in this regard.72A very recurrent theme in many dystopian novels is a focus on the consequences of ignoring environmental issues, along with other factors like plagues, a third World War or more.

These types of stories have been well received and relatively popular throughout the 20th century. Their overall popularity has increased greatly during the past three decades. Younger readers were no exceptions when it came to Such anxieties and would therefore be drawn to stories that explored such ideas. Studies have shown that there are, in fact, a lot of factors that make dystopian literature appealing to younger generations, such as recent generations growing up with a rapid technological and scientific progress and the novels’ capability of providing their readers with a chance to reflect upon themselves.

Works Cited

  1. Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. Routledge: New York, 2002.
  2. Mullich, David. “The Complete List of Film Changes for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.” The One Ring. Access: 12 Feb. 2017.
  3. Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy. An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational. Trans. John W. Harvey. London: Oxford University Press, 1923.
  4. “Paradoxa Interview with Peter Beagle.” April 1999. Peter Beagle. Access: 9 May 2016.

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