Thanks for a good first class today. I know it was a short one but things will pick up as we move into the text of the novel. Keep in mind the features of dystopian fiction and the context in which this genre was created. This will be a key part of our reading and analysis of this text.
- Catastrophic event: There is a past event such as a war or natural disaster that has resulted in dramatic changes to society.
- Societal control: Dystopian narratives are characterized by strict governmental control over society. The way in which control is exercised can be an explicit police-state (like 1984 or The Hunger Games) or it can be more subtle (The Giver).
- Reduced standard of living: The middle and lower classes experience a far more limited standard of living than the reader expects. The populace may lack one or more of: material wealth, political representation, social mobility, freedom of expression and movement.
- People outside the system: There is usually a group of people who are not under the control of the government. They may or may not be working to bring down the government but they serve as a contrast to the majority of the citizens.
- Extrapolation of current conditions: Dystopian novels are set in the future. The conditions that make the novel’s setting so awful are an extrapolation of the social conditions when the novel was written. So for example, if someone was writing a dystopian novel today, they might envision a future world where people lose their vocal cords because they only ever text each other.
- The dystopian genre was created during the 1920s and continued to develop through the 20th century. Some of the social forces that drove this type of writing include:
- Class struggle: Prior to the 20th century, the world was run according to fairly rigid class structures. Even in Ancient Greece, which is viewed as the birthplace of democracy, you could only vote if you were a male citizen who owned a certain amount of property. This ensured that the rulers of the country, the top generals in the army, or the bosses of any company were always drawn from a certain social class. In the 20th century, this all began to fall away. All of a sudden, there was the possibility that babies born to the poorest of mothers could rise to the top of society. This led to a backlash from the “ruling classes” to try and maintain the status quo. They didn’t want poor people running things!
- Industrial militarism: Prior to World War I, the primary effect of the Industrial Revolution was an increase in manufactured goods and standard of living. World War I took the increased efficiency of industry and applied it to mass slaughter. This fundamentally changed the way in which many people viewed industry and it only became worse after World War II.
- Global consumerism: The technological advances from WWI and II made manufactured goods cheaper and more readily available across the globe. The advent of mass media (newspapers, radio, and movies; TV came later) created the business of advertising and driving people to be consumers.
- The police state: WWI and II saw governments interning or deporting their citizens on a mass scale. Canada and the U.S. both interned their citizens of German ancestry during WWI and their citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Of course, Germany detained their Jewish citizens during WWII with disastrous results. Again, technology played a role in allowing governments to surveil their citizens with greater efficiency.
- The danger of science: In Social Studies, we usually view developments in science as a positive. During the first half of the 20th century, scientists discovered antibiotics and insulin, child mortality dropped, life expectancy grew, and they created airplanes, blimps, and spacecrafts. However, not everyone saw this as a net positive for society and worried about what scientists might discover next.