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A dystopia (from the Greek δυσ- and τόπος, alternatively, cacotopia, kakotopia, cackotopia, or anti-utopia) is the often futuristic vision of a society in which conditions of life are miserable and characterized by poverty, oppression, war, violence, disease, pollution, nuclear fallout and/or the abridgement of human rights, resulting in widespread unhappiness, suffering, and other kinds of pain.

Etymological origin of dystopia

Dystopia is formed by adding the prefix dys to the elided form of the word utopia, which was coined by Sir Thomas More, in his book of that title completed in 1516.

The first known use of dystopian, as recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is a speech given before the British House of Commonsmarker by John Stuart Mill in 1868, in which, Mill stated: "It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable." According to the OED, a "dystopia" is:"An imaginary place or condition in which hing is as bad as possible; opp. UTOPIA (cf. CACOTOPIA). So dystopian n., one who advocates or describes a dystopia; dystopian a., of or pertaining to a dystopia; dystopianism, dystopian quality or characteristics." The example of first usage given in the OED (1989 ed.), cites "1868" writing by John Stuart Mill: "1868 J. S. MILL in Hansard Commons 12 Mar. 1517/1 It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable." Other examples given in the OED include:
1952 NEGLEY & PATRICK Quest for Utopia xvii.
298 The Mundus Alter et Idem [of Joseph Hall] is..the opposite of eutopia, the ideal society: it is a dystopia, if it is permissible to coin a word.
1962 C.
WALSH From Utopia to Nightmare 11 The 'dystopia' or 'inverted utopia'.
Ibid.
12 Stories...that seemed in their dystopian way to be saying something important.
Ibid. ii.
27 A strand of utopianism or dystopianism.
1967 Listener 5 Jan.
22 The modern classicsAldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four are dystopias.
They describe not a world we should like to live in, but one we must be sure to avoid.
1968 New Scientist 11 July 96/3 It is a pleasant change to read some hope for our future...
I fear that our real future is more likely to be dystopian.


Distinctions between utopia, dystopia, and anti-utopia

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "People have been dreaming of a perfect city—and a perfect society—for thousands of years: In 1516 Thomas More of Englandmarker completed his book Utopia, in which the narrator-hero has the luck to find an island on which a city operates in perfect harmony, with tolerance toward a wide variety of people." Subsequent authors "have written about utopias as a way to criticize society and present possibilities for improvement," and while "Some modern science fiction writers continue this tradition," "Others … have chosen instead to write about dystopias, which are visions of dangerous and alienating future societies, often based on life in large cities."

According to Mary Ellen Snodgrass, unlike the fictional society depicted in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopia does not pretend to be utopian, whereas an anti-utopia appears to strive intentionally to be utopian—to be intended by its creators to be utopian—but a fatal flaw or another unanticipated factor has destroyed or twisted the intended utopian world or conception, resulting in its antithesis.

Common characteristics of dystopian societies

Dystopias share the negative characteristic of being undesirable societies Described as "dangerous and alienating future societies," a fictional dystopia serves to critique then-current actual cultural trends observed by its author.It is a culture where the condition of life suffers from deprivation, oppression, or terror.

Counter-utopia, anti-utopia

Many dystopias found in fictional and artistic works can be described as a utopian society with at least one fatal flaw, whereas a utopian society is founded on the good life, a dystopian society’s dreams of improvement are overshadowed by stimulating fears of the "ugly consequences of present-day behavior."People are alienated and mostly the individualism is restricted by the government.

Society

Fictional dystopias may impose severe social restrictions on the characters' lives, involving social stratification, whereby social class is strictly defined and enforced, and social mobility is non-existent. In the novel Brave New World', by Aldous Huxley, the class system is prenatally designated in terms of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. In We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, people are permitted to live out of public view for only an hour a day. They are not only referred to by numbers instead of names, but are neither "citizens" nor "people", but "ciphers." In the lower castes, in Brave New World, single embryos are "bokanovskified", so that they produce between eight and ninety-six identical siblings, making the citizens as uniform as possible.

Some dystopian works emphasize the pressure to conform in terms of the requirement to not excel. In these works, the society is ruthlessly egalitarian, in which ability and accomplishment, or even competence, are suppressed or stigmatized as forms of inequality, as in Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron. Similarly, in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the dystopia represses the intellectuals with particular force, because most people are willing to accept it, and the resistance to it consists mostly of intellectuals. Moreover, in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the protagonist Dagny Taggart struggles to keep Taggart Transcontinental (the railroad corporation where she works) thriving in a world that spurns innovation and excellence.

Social Groups

In a fictional dystopia, there is most often a total absence of any social group besides the state, as in the novel We; or such social groups are subdivisions of the state, under government control, such as the Junior Anti-Sex League in Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Notably, religious groups independent of the government are absent in many fictional dystopian societies. In Brave New World, the establishment of the state included lopping off the tops of all crosses (as symbols of Christianity) to make them "T"s, (as symbols of Henry Ford's Model T). The state may stage, instead, a personality cult, with quasi-religious rituals about a central figure, usually a head of state or an oligarchy of some sort, such as Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four, or The Benefactor of We. In explicitly theocratic dystopias, such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the State's fundamentalist religion governs, enforcing its laws and regulations with the same vigor as those of any secular dystopia; there are no social bonds outside the State.

Even more than freedom of religion, the concept of the family is under attack in fictional dystopian societies. In some of them, the family has been eradicated and continuing efforts are deployed to keep it from reestablishing itself as a social institution. In Brave New World, where children are reproduced artificially, the concepts "mother" and "father" are considered obscene. In other fictional dystopias, the institution of the family exists, but the State deploys great efforts to keep the family in its service. In some novels, the State is hostile to motherhood: for example, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, children are organized to spy on their parents; and in We, the escape of a pregnant woman from OneState is a revolt.

Nature

Fictional dystopias are commonly urban and frequently isolate their characters from all contact with the natural world."Avatism and Utopia" 4, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. They generally require their characters to avoid nature, as when walks are regarded as dangerously anti-social in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. In Brave New World, the lower classes of society are conditioned to be afraid of nature, but also to visit the countryside and consume transportation and games to stabilize society. A few "green" fictional dystopias do exist, such as in Michael Carson's short story "The Punishment of Luxury".

Political

Fictional dystopian politics are defined as types of governments and political systems such as: bureaucracy; socialism; communism; capitalism; fascism; totalitarianism; dictatorships; and other forms of political, social, and economical control or lack of control; in the absence of such a clearly-defined political system controlling the world, chaos may occur. These governments often assert great power over the citizens, dramatically depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four as the authority to decree that Two + two = five.

In When the Sleeper Wakes, H. G. Wells depicted the governing class as hedonistic and shallow. George Orwell contrasted Wells's world to that depicted in Jack London's The Iron Heel, where the dystopian rulers are brutal and dedicated to the point of fanaticism, which Orwell considered more plausible.

Whereas the political principles on which fictional utopias (or "perfect worlds") are based are idealistic in principle, intending positive consequences for their inhabitants, the political principles on which of fictional dystopias are based are flawed and result in negative consequences for the inhabitants of the dystopian world, which is portrayed as oppressive.

Dystopias are often filled with pessimistic views of the ruling class or government that is brutal or uncaring ruling with an "iron hand" or "iron fist". These dystopian government establishments often have protagonists or groups that lead a "resistance" to enact change within their government.

Dystopian political situations are depicted in novels such as Parable of the Sower, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and V for Vendetta and in films such as Fahrenheit 451, Brazil, THX 1138, FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions and Soylent Green.

In some dystopian societies, such as the fictional world of Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange, there is little government control and the people themselves cause chaos. .

Economic

The economic structures of dystopian societies in literature and other media have many variations, as the economy often relates directly to the elements that the writer is depicting as the source of the oppression. However, there are several archetypes that such societies tend to follow.

A commonly occurring theme is that the state is in control of the economy, as shown in such works as Ayn Rand's Anthem, Lois Lowry's The Giver, and Henry Kuttner's short story The Iron Standard. Some dystopias, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, feature black markets with goods that are dangerous and difficult to obtain, or the characters may be totally at the mercy of the state-controlled economy. Such systems usually have a lack of efficiency, as seen in stories like Philip Jose Farmer's Riders of the Purple Wage, featuring a bloated welfare system in which total freedom from responsibility has encouraged an underclass prone to any form of antisocial behavior. Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano depicts a dystopia in which the centrally controlled economic system has indeed made material abundance plentiful, but deprived the mass of humanity of meaningful labor; virtually all work is menial and unsatisfying, and even very few of the small group that achieves education is admitted to the elite and its work.

Even in dystopias where the economic system is not the source of the society's flaws, as in Brave New World, the state often controls the economy. In Brave New World, a character, reacting with horror to the suggestion of not being part of the social body, cites as a reason that everyone works for everyone else.

Other works feature extensive privatization. In this context, big businesses often have far more control over the populace than any kind of government and thus act as governments themselves instead of businesses, as can be seen in the novel Jennifer Government and the movie Rollerball. This is common in the genre of cyberpunk, such as in Blade Runner and Snow Crash, which often features corrupt and all-powerful corporations, often a megacorporation.

Characteristics of dystopian fiction

As fictional dystopias are often set in a future projected virtual time and/or space involving technological innovations not accessible in actual present reality, dystopian fiction is often classified generically as science fiction, a subgenre of speculative fiction.

Back stories

Because a fictional universe has to be constructed, a selectively-told back story of a war, revolution, uprising, critical overpopulation, or other disaster is often introduced early in the narrative. This results in a shift in emphasis of control, from previous systems of government to a government run by corporations, totalitarian dictatorships or bureaucracies.

Because dystopian literature typically depicts events that take place in the future, it often features technology more advanced than that of contemporary society.

Caste systems

In dystopian literature the advanced technology is controlled exclusively by the group in power, while the oppressed population is limited to technology comparable to or more primitive than what we have today. In order to emphasize the degeneration of society, the standard of living among the lower and middle classes is generally poorer than in contemporary society (at least in United States or Europe).

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, for example, the Inner Party, the upper class of society, also has a standard of living lower than the upper classes of today.

In contrast to Nineteen Eighty-Four, in Brave New World and Equilibrium, people enjoy much higher material living standards in exchange for the loss of other qualities in their lives, such as independent thought and emotional depth.

Hero

Unlike utopian fiction, which often features an outsider to have the world shown to him, dystopias seldom feature an outsider as the protagonist. While such a character would more clearly understand the nature of the society, based on comparison to his society, the knowledge of the outside culture subverts the power of the dystopia. When such outsiders are major characters—such as John the Savage in Brave New World—their societies cannot assist them against the dystopia.

The story usually centers on a protagonist who questions the society, often feeling intuitively that something is terribly wrong, such as Guy Montag in Ray Bradbury's novella Fahrenheit 451, Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, or V in Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. The hero comes to believe that escape or even overturning the social order is possible and decides to act at the risk of life and limb; in some dystopias , this may appear as irrational even to him, but he still acts.

Another popular archetype of hero in the more modern dystopian literature is the Vonnegut hero, a hero who is in high-standing within the social system, but sees how wrong everything is, and attempts to either change the system or bring it down, such as Paul Proteus of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Player Piano.

Conflict

In many cases, the hero's conflict brings him to a representative of the dystopia who articulates its principles, from Mustapha Mond in Brave New World to O'Brien in 1984.

There is usually a group of people somewhere in the society who are not under the complete control of the state, and in whom the hero of the novel usually puts his or her hope, although often he or she still fails to change anything. In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four they are the "proles" (Latin for "offspring", from which "proletariat" is derived), in Huxley's Brave New World they are the people on the reservation, and in We by Zamyatin they are the people outside the walls of the One State. In Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, they are the "book people" past the river and outside the city.

Climax and dénouement

The hero's goal is to either escape from or destroy the social order. However, the story is often (but not always) unresolved. That is, the narrative may deal with individuals in a dystopian society who are unsatisfied, and may rebel, but ultimately fail to change anything. Sometimes they themselves end up changed to conform to the society's norms. This narrative arc to a sense of hopelessness can be found in such classic dystopian works as Nineteen Eighty-Four. It contrasts with much fiction of the future, in which a hero succeeds in resolving conflicts or otherwise changes things for the better.

Destruction of dystopia

The destruction of dystopia is frequently a very different sort of work than one in which it is preserved. Indeed, the subversion of a dystopian society, with its potential for conflict and adventure, is a staple of science fiction stories. Poul Anderson's short story "Sam Hall" depicts the subversion of a dystopia heavily dependent on surveillance. Robert A. Heinlein's "If This Goes On—" liberates the United States from a fundamentalist theocracy, where the underground rebellion is organized by the Freemasons. Cordwainer Smith's The Rediscovery of Man series depicts a society recovering from its dystopian period, beginning in "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" with the discovery that its utopia was impossible to maintain. Although these and other societies are typical of dystopias in many ways, they all have not only flaws but exploitable flaws. The ability of the protagonists to subvert the society also subverts the monolithic power typical of a dystopia. In some cases the hero manages to overthrow the dystopia by motivating the (previously apathetic) populace. In the dystopian video game Half-Life 2 the downtrodden citizens of City 17 rally around the figure of Gordon Freeman and overthrow their Combine oppressors.

Destruction of the fictional dystopia may not be possible, but—if it does not completely control its world—escaping from it may be an alternative. In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the main character succeeds in fleeing and finding tramps who have dedicated themselves to memorizing books to preserve them. But ironically, the dystopian society in Fahrenheit 451 is destroyed in the end--by nuclear missiles. In the book Logan's Run, the main characters make their way to an escape from the otherwise inevitable euthanasia on their 21st birthday (30th in the later film version). Because such dystopias must necessarily control less of the world than the protagonist can reach, and the protagonist can elude capture, this motif also subverts the dystopia's power. In Lois Lowry's The Giver the main character Jonas is able to run away from 'The Community' and escapes to 'Elsewhere' where people have memories.

Sometimes, this escape leads to the inevitable: The protagonist making a mistake that usually brings about the end of a rebel society, usually living where people think is a legend. This concept is brought to life in Scott Westerfeld's novel Uglies. The main character accidentally brings the government into the secret settlement of the Smoke. She then infiltrates the government to escape, but chooses to join the society for the greater good.

Works with dystopian themes in various media



See also



References

  1. Cacotopia (κακό, caco = bad) is a synonym used by English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer Jeremy Bentham (15 February 1748 – 6 June 1832) in his 19th-century works.
  2. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dystopia Dictionary.Reference.com
  3. Cf. "Dystopia Timeline", in Exploring Dystopia, "edited and designed by Niclas Hermansson; Contributors: Acolyte of Death ('Gattaca'), John Steinbach ('Nuclear Nightmare'), [and] David Clements ('From Dystopia to Myopia')" (hem.passagen.se), Niclas Hermansson, n.d., Web, 22 May 2009.
  4. See also Michael S. Roth, "A Dystopia of the Spirit" 230ff., Chap. 15 in Jörn Rüsen, Michael Fehr, and Thomas Rieger, eds., Thinking Utopia, Google Books Preview, n.d., Web, 22 May 2009.
  5. "City Life - Future Cities: Utopia or Dystopia", Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, Student edition, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2009, Web, 22 May 2009: This article concludes that "It is debatable whether the rapid growth of cities will lead toward utopia or dystopia. More certain is that future cities will continue to house a mixture of privileged groups and impoverished, powerless groups on the margins of society, with all of the promise and potential conflicts this involves. Regardless of the urban realities to come, cities will no doubt continue to affect nearly every facet of human life."
  6. Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Encyclopedia of Utopian Literature, ABC-Clio Literary Companion Ser. (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio Inc, 1995) xii. ISBN 0874367573 (10). ISBN 9780874367577 (13).
  7. "dystopia", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., Dictionary.com, Web, 22 May 2009.
  8. "Science fiction", Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2009, Web, 22 May 2009.
  9. William Matter, "On Brave New World" 95, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  10. Jack Zipes, "Mass Degradation of Humanity" 189, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  11. William Matter, "On Brave New World" 94, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  12. Gorman Beauchamp, "Zamiatin's We" 70, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  13. ISBN 0809311135.
  14. Tom Moylan, " 'Look into the Dark': On Dystopia and the Novum," Learning from New Worlds, ed. Patrick Parrinder (Durham: Duke UP, 2001).
  15. Carter Kaplan, "The Advent of Literary Dystopia," Extrapolation 40.3 (1999): 200–212.
  16. William Steinhoff, "Utopia Reconsidered: Comments on 1984" 147, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  17. William Steinhoff, "Utopia Reconsidered: Comments on 1984" 153, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  18. "Utopia", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2004, Dictionary.com, Web, 11 Feb. 2007.
  19. Jane Donawerth, "Genre Blending and the Critical Dystopia," in Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination, ed. Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan (New York: Routledge, 2003).
  20. Howard P. Segal, "Vonnegut's Player Piano: An Ambiguous Technological Dystopia," 163 in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  21. William Matter, "On Brave New World" 98, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  22. Gorman Beauchamp, "Zamiatin's We" 62-63, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  23. Gorman Beauchamp, "Zamiatin's We" 57, in Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, eds., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. ISBN 0809311135.
  24. John Clute and Peter Nicholls, "Dystopia", The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1995) 361. ISBN 031213486X.



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