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What is dystopian fiction

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Dystopian fiction, habitually envisions elements of contemporary society, the issues they hold and how they might perturb or affect the future. Often, dystopian literature highlights political structure and signifies a warning for the current, existing world. A dystopian civilisation is often instigated by a terrible event, for example a natural disaster or war. A dystopian novel may be post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic, usually referring to an unpleasant or agonising forthcoming eventuality.

In ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy we are uncertain of the prospects the future holds, the world they live in is described as “godless”, and doesn’t seem suggestive of any kind of hope or life. The conditions are harsh and the protagonist “hadn’t kept a calendar for years”, as he saw no purpose for having one seeing as it would be futile to keep a calendar as in his world. Life is unfulfilling and time in effect stands still, in the aspect of recreation and enjoyment, yet ‘survival’ appears to be their primal focus and instinct.

Frequently, there is an illusion of the perfect world, a utopia, but the reality is a place of discordance and hostility. Society’s intention and longing might be to emulate the stability of a utopia, through the extreme social and political structure. The sophisticated housing of ‘Victory Mansions’, in 1984, promotes a utopian society, through a name of grandeur. Essentially, society is established through the form of control and restriction of freedoms.

Oppression of the inhabitants in the society permits the establishment or the governing superior to possess authority and dominate over the people. The society is the driving force to both characters and the plot. We hope for the protagonist to possess some oppugnancy; to disregard the current system or establishment in society and succeed in overthrowing the external force, acting on the free will of its citizens, for a more hopeful, optimistic way of life and prospect for the future.

Some dystopian novels adopt the idea of totalitarianism and the concept of a ‘Big Brother’ society, such as 1984 by George Orwell. 1984 is reminiscent of Stalin, “a face of a man about forty-five with a heavy moustache and ruggedly handsome features”, has an uncanny similarity to the dictator. “Big brother is watching you” is captioned under the gargantuan image of the man, and the fact the phrase is capitalised stresses the reality of the society. The society emits constant paranoia, the protagonist, Winston Smith, can’t seem to get home quickly enough.

It is as if he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, trying to ‘slip quickly through the glass doors’, he just wants to avoid any trouble and return to his home like everyone else. His life seems to lack a sense of purpose, as he has to conform to society’s expectations. The fact no one questions ‘Hate Week’ suggests they have accepted the totalitarian regime and this reinforces the strong element of control and for the dystopian establishment to remain unchallenged.

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