The dystopic novel evinces a strong theme common in much science fiction and fantasy fiction, the creation of a future time (usually), when the conditions of human life are exaggeratedly bad due to deprivation, oppression or terror. This created society or ‘dystopia’ frequently constructs apocalyptic views of a future using crime, immorality or corrupt government to create or sustain the bad quality of people’s lives, often conditioning the masses to believe their society is proper and just, and sometimes perfect. It can provide space for heroism in disrupting the dystopian setting. Most dystopian fiction takes place in the future but often purposely develops contemporary social trends taken to extremes. Dystopias are frequently written as commentaries, as warnings or as satires, showing current trends extrapolated to nightmarish conclusions.
A brief note on the etymology of ‘Dystopia’
The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the term ‘Dystopia’ was first used in the late 19th century by British philosopher John Stuart Mill. He also used Jeremy Bentham's synonym, ‘cacotopia’. The prefix caco means ‘the worst.’
Both words were created in apposition to utopia, a word coined by Sir Thomas Moore to describing an ideal place or society.
dys-/dus- (Latin/Greek roots: 'bad' or 'abnormal') + -topos (Greek root: 'place') = 'bad place' eu- (Greek root: 'good') / ou- (Greek root: 'not') + -topos (Greek root: 'place') = 'good/no place' dystopia n. an imaginary wretched place, the opposite of utopia utopia n. a place or state of ideal perfection, the opposite of dystopia
Some writers see the difference between a Utopia and a Dystopia often lying in the reader/visitor's point of view: One person's heaven being another's hell.
The History of Dystopian Literature
The term "utopia" originated in the early 1500s as an idea created by Sir Thomas More and refers to a society where perfection and stability have been attained. Throughout history, though, many authors have taken that idea and used its exact opposite as a literary device to motivate their stories. The 'anti-utopias' or 'dystopias' take place in societies where the people live in constant fear and control of their governing body, live meaningless lives and have very little hope for any amount of change to take place. While dystopian literature really didn't come into the mainstream until the 20th century, the 19th also held a few stories of significant importance to the emergence of the genre. One of the most important was a novel written in 1863 by Jules Verne entitled Paris in the Twentieth Century. It tells the tale of a young man who has graduated college with a degree in literature; however all of the arts in Paris are government-controlled. Without being able to use what he learned in school to make a living for himself he finds he is running out of money and with no place to live. He is freezing to death at the end of the novel and walking the streets of Paris. There are mechanical wonders of all sorts, but nothing that will keep him warm and he becomes more and more delirious. He eventually dies after reflecting on how his society's lack of the arts ultimately led to the death of many innocent people. This dystopian epic paints the picture of a world without art and warns that it is a cold and mechanized future. In 1895, H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine. The story tells the tale of a 19th century inventor who discovers the secrets of time travel. While his travels take him to various times in the future and some are wonderful, he ultimately ends up in a future where humanity has devolved into horrid creatures called the Morlocks. There is an upper class of humans in this same future, but they seem to be desensitized and highly uneducated because of years without war or challenges. The lower Morlocks, however, have become violent and aggressive beasts who attempt to kill...