History of the dystopia genre in literature

Recently, works such as “Hunger Games” have made a huge furor in society, especially among those who are interested in anti-utopia books. But we often read anti-utopias and before, besides, not all of them were distinguished by such a high level of technological innovations as in the above-mentioned book. Most often they are talking about enslaved societies, socially oppressed circles of people. One of the most famous examples of such a novel of anti-utopia is George Orwell’s “1984”, which gave life to the winged expression “Big Brother is watching you“, thus personifying life under a microscope. A similar story load can be found in the “Hunger Games”, which broadcast to the masses the attempts of some people to kill others. However, anti-utopia literature did not always seek such modernization: television and computers are just the latest additions to the genre. Actually, the roots of this trend go back to the beginning of the 16th century, when Thomas Mor wrote a book called Utopia, in which, paradoxically, the society described in its structure was very far from its name. In general, writers who create in this genre, in the concept of anti-utopia, first of all, put the meaning of a certain society, split and destroyed by social norms and attitudes.

An anti-utopia is a kind of society with perfect ideals, conceived, but fallen and destroyed in fact. Anti-utopia demonstrates a nightmarish picture of the near future. Typical themes of anti-utopia usually concern revolts, social pressure, revolutions, wars, overpopulation and catastrophes. Many people consider this genre relatively new in literature, but reality shows that it has a very long and fascinating history. Confirmation of this you will find in this brief excursion into the history of the genre of dystopia.

Functions of dystopia

Through the novel of the dystopia, the author demonstrates his own conviction about the problems of mankind and society, and also warns people about their weakness. Writers usually resort to the genre of anti-utopia to discuss reality and display problems that are very likely in the future. Despite the fact that the role of anti-utopia in literature is to educate and warn the audience, do not underestimate its influence on the coverage of pressing problems in the social, political, governmental sphere.

Structure of the anti-Utopia

Background: An anti-utopia is usually part of a fictional universe that tells how the world was formed, or how it evolved (or degenerated) in relation to our society. The background clearly demonstrates the process of changing the levers of control over society, changing social norms or the emergence of government power managed by individual corporations, totalitarian dictators or bureaucrats.

The main character: there are several types of protagonist, which can appear in the book dystopia. One of these is a character who at the level of intuition feels the problems of society and tries to correct them, frankly believing that it is really possible to throw off the dictator from Olympus power. Often the worldview of such a character is formed under the influence of his environment, also not indifferent to confrontation with the holder of power.

Another type of protagonist is an integral part of a society that perceives itself as utopian, but at some point it realizes how wrong this society is and attempts to modify it or destroy it.

Tie: often the protagonist meets a character with anti-utopian features, perhaps the leader of the whole society. There is a conflict in which the protagonist also meets or is supported by a group of people driven by the idea of destroying an anti-utopia. Sometimes these people were earlier part of this dystopia, but they managed to get wiser and throw off this burden.

The culmination: in the novel of the dystopia the problem often remains unresolved, in most cases attempts to destroy the dystopia are in vain. Sometimes the hero manages to destroy the vicious circle and break free, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, the protagonist (or the group of people we spoke about above) is defeated, and the dystopia continues.

Examples of anti-Utopias

Texts of revolutionary significance

Probably, in our days the development of the anti-utopian genre in art has received a second wind, however its activity has been traced since the 18th century. Perhaps at that time such creativity was a reflection of less fantastic utopian beliefs, rather a response to menacing ideals and political views. Thus, the anti-utopia novel uses its accusatory form of imposing a world outlook as a way of criticizing that ideology, in the abyss of which these really bold texts were created.

However, disgusting views on totalitarian regimes and scenarios of post-apocalyptic destruction are closely intertwined within the framework of the voiced genre, and in addition they have strong links with other literary trends, for example, with travel novels, satire and science fiction. Therefore, it would be erroneous to completely identify all these directions.

The primary impulse in the movement of anti-utopias belongs to the pen of Jonathan Swift, who in 1726 published the work “Gulliver’s Travels”. Many people can associate his story about the Lilliput with nothing more than an old-good “Disney” tale, but Gulliver’s story is much darker than one might think. The writer publishes a sharp criticism of contemporary society, enveloping his thoughts in the thick layers of metaphors. For example, in one of the lands Gulliver meets a nation for which science and rationalism stand above all, their senseless experiments deplete natural and human resources. In contrast, the author presents other settlements, bloodthirsty and wild by nature, which cannot fail to impress the traveler.

Upon returning to London, Gulliver comes to a deafening conclusion: having the opportunity to compare the polar ideologies in essence, he realizes that he is no different from the peoples he visited, and even more, his whole society is thoroughly impregnated with sinfulness.

Dawn of thinking machines

A little later, a no less significant novel of the anti-utopia of Samuel Butler, named “Edgin” (in the name hidden nothing more than an anagram of the word nowhere, which already unambiguously hints at the plot’s message of the work), was published in 1872 for the first time on behalf of an unknown author. In his novel, Butler plays all sorts of satirical tricks towards the Victorian society. His book “Edgin” could rather be classified as Utopian literature, although the common features of anti-utopia are also present in it.

During the life of the writer, technological progress has not yet had such a wide coverage as in the 20th century, but his reasoning about how a mechanized mechanism can penetrate consciousness is really grasping. Since then, the idea of the unquestioning danger that technological development brings with it has become an integral part of anti-utopian literature.

The Origins of Doublethink

Already in the first half of the 20th century two basic texts for anti-utopian literature were published. It’s about Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World” (1932) and George Orwell’s novel “1984” (written in 1949). The police of thought, Big Brother, doublethink and newspeak: all these concepts are firmly entrenched in our minds, but the ways of their arising have already been somewhat forgotten.

In the work of Huxley, the reader is immersed in an ideally formed world from an engineering point of view, in which man is artificially grown as a vegetable, and then seated at a pre-designated place in the structure of society; while no one shows discontent with their position until the debugged system fails. In the novel, Orwell is a character named Winston, who, under the onslaught of propaganda ideas, begins to ask inappropriate questions, but the social machine leaves him no chance of self-will. More details with the book can be found here.

Paradoxically, both books are not devoid of completely ordinary and familiar details in our lives, about which everyone has heard or seen: technology, television, drugs, etc.; all this in aggregate produces a deafening effect of rapprochement with the real world and detailing the danger that in theory all of us can expect.

In fact, the list of books of anti-utopias can be replenished for a very long time, and in every single work it is easy to find notes of anti-utopia, which is why all literature is intertextual, each new genre is inextricably linked with the other.

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