You might have heard the word ‘dystopia’ before and know it to be a term with negative connotations. Perhaps you associate the word with ‘end of the world’ type scenarios, but it can be more nuanced than that – especially when it comes to its relevance in literature.
Dystopian literature seeks to examine hypothetical futures. These texts typically feature societies that are on the cusp of collapse (which can mean many things) with a downtrodden citizenry. Themes of political oppression, mass surveillance, environmental catastrophes, anarchism, and society-wide poverty will often feature front and centre. So, it’s not quite the end of the world in the literal sense.
Of course, if you’re studying for GCSEs and A-Levels, you may have grappled with some of these texts already. Perhaps they appeared to be so bleak that you might not choose to engage with them again in your personal time? If that’s your sincere preference, that’s valid.
However, we’d like to encourage you to delve deeper into the world of dystopian literature, whether you’re a newcomer to the genre or have rejected it outright already. Here’s why we think you should!
While one could argue that elements of our society have a dystopian edge to them, it would perhaps be a stretch to say the world has become wholly dystopian. So, we’re not trying to strike fear into you and tell you that these books are what society is or certainly will be. Remember, dystopian fiction is speculative fiction only.
That said, some people chose to read more dystopian literature during the throes of the pandemic, replacing their usual diet of lighter reading materials. They found that this world of cautionary tales became more relatable as they wrestled with lockdowns. It’s easy to see where comparisons might be drawn, as the characters in dystopian fiction are often deprived of their freedoms.
Obviously, covid is mostly over now, so you likely won’t be contending with further lockdowns anytime soon (pandemics tend to occur every 30-odd years). Still, it’s worth considering how dystopian fiction can resonate more when it appears to be more relatable. If you follow the news, you’ll know that environmental concerns, economic uncertainty, and corrupt politicians often dominate the headlines.
So, if you’re a teen that struggles to get immersed in a good book, dystopian fiction might jostle you awake quite abruptly. There are links to be made everywhere between reality and story, and you likely won’t be wading through reems of text wondering what on earth is going on. The text will speak to you now, and likely a few decades from now, too, should you choose to revisit it.
When you’re sure of what a book is saying, it’s far easier to talk about it. Dystopian literature rarely mixes its words and is often designed to be discussed both inside and outside the classroom.
In many ways, you can learn even more about a book when you talk about it with others. Because dystopian literature is purely speculative, these texts leave plenty of room for ambiguity and for key areas to be debated. Did you come away with the same thoughts and feelings as everybody else who read it? Has someone presented an interpretation you had not initially considered? These dialogues can be fascinating in their own right.
Additionally, many teens absolutely love talking about books – even if they haven’t read the text themselves. To speak of a dystopian novel confidently can help you seem insightful and interesting to your peers. If you frequently struggle with conversation (and we all do sometimes), having a great dystopian book to talk about can really help you have interesting things to say.
We’ve covered the themes of dystopian literature already, and in today’s climate, they’re likely to come up in conversation naturally, which means your reading can too. That means you don’t need to bring the mood down, but rather have a short wait for the opportune moment to discuss the dystopian text you’re reading.
While we all love an action scene in a movie, as you grow up, you should perhaps start to think about violence with a more mature and analytical mindset. Dystopian literature can help with that.
Violence is often present in dystopian literature, but it’s contextualised in a way that explores things like:
• The perspective and psychology of the attackers and perpetrators during acts of violence.
• The consequences of violence on a systemic level, or even the startling lack of them.
• The ease in which violence can become commonplace, and what the cause of such an epidemic might be.
Violence in dystopian literature is more weighted. It’s not celebrated or glorified (by the author, at least), but written with nuance and tact. By reading dystopian literature you’ll be equipped to view violence through a more grownup lens. You might better understand that it’s not a valid answer to any of life’s challenges, no matter how dire the situation might be.
Dystopian literature is more than just a story. These texts are packed with life lessons and don’t compromise in their investigation of humanity. It’s also intriguing to speculate how the future might be shaped, and what present influences may or may not lead society down a darker path. Ultimately, there’s plenty about dystopian literature that could well draw you in.
I'm a freelance copywriter with an undergraduate degree in English Literature. I've written for many different outlets, including but not limited to marketing agencies, graduate recruitment websites, and online training companies. I've even interviewed a few famous actors for student and arts blogs too! Covering a wide span of material has been incredibly rewarding, as I get to turn my experiences in the arts, education and careers into helpful advice. I sincerely hope you'll find something to your liking here!