Tuesday, January 7, 2014


1984, by George Orwell, is one of the most famous depictions of dystopian society. A huge trend lately, dystopian novels show a society that advertises itself as utopian, but is very far from it. (An interesting side note: "utopia", by using Greek roots, is translated directly as "no place".) These novels today, however, have created a new connotation for dystopia: a female protagonist, with at least one love interest, who helps to bring down the regime and/or spearheads a rebellion. Unbeknownst to me until this year, this is not the traditional dystopian form.

Don't misunderstand me: I enjoy the modern dystopias. You've seen me rave about The Hunger Games and Divergent and Enclave. They are generally suspenseful and entertaining, with no lack of sweet romantic moments; they are generally rather well written and planned. These books, however, have changed quite a lot between the 20th and 21st centuries.

In 1984, the protagonist a man in his thirties. There is absolutely nothing "special" about him- no incredible abilities, no superpowers. And, most importantly, there is nowhere he can go to escape the government; there is no opportunity to be like Katniss and sneak under a fence. There are "telescreens" and microphones everywhere, and one has to assume that the government is looking in at any given moment. Brief respites are possible among the proles (the mass population of the poor, regarded as animals), but these are still not safe. As the posters on every wall say, "Big Brother is watching you."

And, while the ideas of love and lust are exercised, they are used to prove a point about the Party (the government, where one works is s/he is not a prole). The "romance" is not for the sake of sighing teenagers. It is important not because it is a relationship, but because of the things it sets into motion.
Also, 1984 does not leave the reader guessing about the rest of the world, as most modern book do. (We know Panem is in trouble, but what about the other five inhabited continents?) The world contains three empires: Oceania (the setting, with the protagonist, Big Brother, and the Party), Eastasia, and Eurasia. Oceania is constantly as war with one, and at peace with the other; this chances at intervals.

Orwell's novel is only one novel that contains the previous view of dystopia. It is expressed in films like Metropolis, and books like Fahrenheit 451 and Thomas More's Utopia (one of the very first). Modern dystopian novels are in no way bad, but they are not likely to become classics, either. Reading both old and new installments of a genre is helpful to see its progression, what has been improved, and what is now lacking.

No comments:

Post a Comment