The Rising Popularity of Dystopian Literature
Dystopian fiction has grown as a genre and continues to evolve today. One of the first dystopian novels to become famous was George Orwell’s 1984, which is still one of the top-selling dystopian novels today. Recently, there has been a rising popularity of dystopian novels. These novels have been transformed into popular movies that have made millions of dollars. There is a uniqueness to these novels that made them immensely intriguing to people and famous in today’s society.
The concept of dystopian literature is to not only entertain readers, but to let them understand the ideas and characteristics of a dystopian society. These characteristics are shown through our own society but at a more drastic level. The reader gains more knowledge by finding ways in which the topics the author writes about is relevant to today’s society. This style of writing is so popular because it makes readers think of interesting topics that seem realistic, yet fictional. The rising popularity of dystopian literature among adolescent audiences is prominent in today’s pop culture due to its relevance in young adult’s lives, its direct comparisons to current events in today’s world, and its originality in relation to other genres.
The relativity of dystopian literature to young adult’s lives is a component to why the genre is so popular. The reasoning behind this is how the stories are written. Young adult dystopian literature today is mostly in an adolescent’s perspective. For example, The Giver by Lois Lowry published in 1993 was one of the first dystopian novels written in a teenager’s perspective. Most of all dystopian novels are now written in this style, such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. No one knows why there was such a gap between the dystopian novels from Lois Lowry’s The Giver to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Lowry is honored to think that she was one who started this fad, but she now says, “Dystopian fiction is passé now.” (Lowry). Dystopian literature dates back much further than 1993 with George Orwell’s 1984 being written in 1949.
One component to the relativity of young adult dystopian literature is that they are written in a teenager’s perspective, which is unusual for traditional literature. Young adults, with the drama and the hormones, are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be in life. With dystopian novels, the character is perceived as someone with independence and ambition. For example, “So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts” (Collins 6). This explains Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and how she understands herself as an individual. This gives reassurance to the reader who is at similar age to the protagonist of the story. They admire how the author shows the protagonists insecurities and concerns such as their love interests and body image. The readers, especially in young adult dystopian literature, can take themselves to an alternate universe in which the character lives and feel like they are in the story. This concept makes it easy for them to relate to the protagonist.
Societies within young adult novels and how they are structured connect to the universal high school experience. The Hunger Games is about the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, who fights to the death against other adolescents in an arena due to the government creating life or death game situations in order to control society and its actions. The Hunger Games can be compared to high school as a “…cutthroat race for high-school popularity becomes an annual televised fight” (Stevens). Readers may see high school as a dystopian society because of the political stigmas that could possibly exist. There are social classes, upper class being the popular kids and lower class being everyone else. The “popular kids” run the school and mandate the status quo. This assumption is made for the stereotypical high school student. young adult dystopian novels can give young readers different types of advice whether it is love, conflicts with the school, or other classmates.
Divergent written by Veronica Roth is another dystopian novel that can be compared to a high school environment. Divergent is about a teenager protagonist, Beatrice Prior, who faces the faction Erudite to prevent them from overtaking the government. She is Divergent, a person who has the characteristics of each faction. This is perceived by other citizens as dangerous because it is rare and is considered a threat to society. In the young adult novel, there are groups of people called factions. There is Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the peaceful), and Candor (the honest). These factions can be compared to cliques within a high school like the jocks and nerds.
For example, “Beatrice Prior… is a lifelong Abnegation who chooses at the last minute to become a Dauntless—basically, an Amish girl gone Goth” (Stevens). This idea sends a negative message until readers meet the main protagonist, Beatrice Prior. Beatrice is born with a gift that makes her fall under none of the categories of these factions. She represents all the factions because she shares each of their characteristics. The government disapproves of this society of people because they do not fit neatly into a certain faction and could convolute the entire social system. She teaches the reader that it is okay to be different from everyone else because it brings out the beauty in people when you understand who they really are. There is a moral to the story in many of the young adult novels. In Divergent the underlying moral is to be oneself and show that it’s acceptable to be different from those who feel they must hide who they truly are.
Young adult dystopian novels are known for their metaphors such as comparing the issues within the book to the current affairs in our world. Dystopian themes touch many controversial issues we face today, from school shootings to Middle Eastern women challenging cultural gender norms. The most covered subject in this genre is the government and its corrupted ways. In young adult dystopias, the problems are more recognizable and easily solves by the reader compared to real world issues. For example, “…it introduces…the problems of today’s society and allows them to escape to a world where good and evil are more black and white than our own” (Khood). Though a majority of the young adult population knows almost nothing about current events, these dystopian novels put them in a frame of mind conducive to thinking critically about current events. Dystopian novel authors make this concept intriguing by adding love interests and drama. Teenagers are not interested in what goes on in today’s world because much history needs to be factored into each problem in order to understand the predicament. With dystopian novels, the problem is clear and needs almost no information to be explained.
The idea of rebelling against the government to teenagers is quite outrageous until they see how it is done in dystopian literature. Though this genre is fiction, the situation seems realistic because the problems within the novels can be compared to problems within our own country or world. These ideas give hope to young adults to think that they can speak up for what they believe in whether it is in school or about the government. For example, “… they reflect the economic unrest in America today and allow teenagers to believe that they can make a difference.” (Khood) These brave characters in these novels are admired by millions of adolescents and they want to be like them with their heroic courage. This mind-set gives them confidence that their voice matter no matter what the topic is over.
Young adults now do not comprehend the idea of government and how powerful it can be especially in America because of our democratic government. We are not enlightened in how cruel governments and militaries are around the world. By reading these kinds of novels, we get a main idea of how insane some societies and governments can be. Parents might have a problem with this concept because they do not want their children to be exposed to these extreme ideas. Teenagers like how dystopian novels are honest with their readers and they treat them like adults with the ideas they display. An example of this is, “…politicians, military people and corporate moguls are capable of doing awful things – meaning dystopian novels feel kind of honest” (Astor). The bluntness given from these authors is attractive to the reader because teenagers do not enjoy things that are sugar-coated. They want honesty and to be treated like adults so they enjoy reading this sort of writing style.
With everything that is happening in young adult’s lives, young adult dystopian novels are an escape from reality. Teenagers are forever known for their “best and worst” years of their lives. From high school parties to girls’ first love heartbreak, teenager’s lives are like a rollercoaster. These novels parallel to teenager’s moods in how they escalate situations in an instant, and then a completely different mood is set up while reading. Young adult dystopian novels are known for their intense plot twists. These twists make these novels intensely popular because it causes adolescents to engage themselves into the book. The characters are so well liked and “we’re fascinated by the terrible things these characters face, and by how some react bravely and some react cowardly or with resignation” (Astor). Dystopian novels are much more than just books; they are problem-solving situations. All these combined intriguing components have greatly escalated the allure and popularity of this genre.
One of the most interesting parts of the most popular dystopian novels is that the protagonist is a female. Though the main character is a female, she has a powerful male presence in the story and takes on stereotypical male obstacles. This is because the authors of these books want to make the character relatable to both genders or want to make strong female characters as a challenge to society’s gender norms. An example of this is, “…readers can experience a level of freedom from oppression and freedom to play with gender not possible in the real world.” (Smith). This is a good way for male adolescents to see a female’s perception in a male fitted situation. With these roles, a male or female could play both roles and there would be no need in changing any part of the book.
This makes it attractive for both genders to read rather than a specific one. Young adult dystopian novels “…encourage different ways of thinking about gender and sexuality, departing from what is normal and teaching acceptance of varying forms of identity and self-expression” (Smith). The idea of a female playing a non-feminine role has instantly attracted a huge audience and made this genre extremely popular among all ages.
Some of these dystopian novels have such an influence on women’s lives because it introduces to them the idea of females playing a non-feminine role. The female roles in these novels are masculine to some degree, but they also have feminine characteristics. All of these concepts are so popular because it causes such controversy. This includes males and females who are on the fence about these ideas that this controversy caters to. The authors create a good balance of making sure the character is not too masculine or feminine so that the protagonist can be relatable. For example, “Her comfort with her masculinity is assumed, and her transgression of traditional femininity is in fact not transgressive at all.” (Smith) The protagonist is pleased with who she is and this is symbolic to independent women. They learn to be their own individual and do not depend on other people for happiness or survival.
Given all of these examples of the rising popularity of dystopian literature, there are many purposes to this original genre. One purpose being that it is more relatable to the audience. This genre of books has an emotional effect on people and how they feel about the world and on different issues they face. The basic focus of dystopian literature is to make readers think about how these dystopian societies relate to the real world.
In the end, the dystopian genre has been alive and thriving for many years. Teenagers’ love for dystopian novels have created a whole new business for movies, merchandise, and more. No one can predict whether this genre will continue its popularity but it will allow our present generation more open-minded due to the ideas these novels share on government, military, society, and culture. The real question is will young adult dystopian literature continue it’s popularity or slowly disintegrate and begin another fad in literature?
Astor, Dave. Why Do We Like Dystopian Novels? Article Byline Information . 19 October 2012. 25 October 2014 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-astor/why-do-we-like-dystopian-novels_b_1979301.html>.
Collins, Suzanne. “Chapter One.” Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008.
Khood. The Hunger Games and Importance of Dystopian Literature . 28 April 2012. 25 October 2014 .
Lowry, Lois. The Giver Author Lois Lowry Says Dystopian Fiction Is Passé Janey Tracey. 13 August 2014.
Smith, Hannah. “Permission to Diverge: Gender in Young Adult Dystopian Literature.” University of Puget Sound Sound Ideas (2014).
Stevens, Dana. “Why Teens Love Dystopias .” Slate (2014).
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