I’ve been mulling the material for this post around for a while in my brain. What is it about dystopias that make them compelling? Why did I hate them in high school (no, they were not all required reading) but love them now?
Off the top of my head, the dystopian novels I read in my younger years were Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, and Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. I also read other works–lots of short stories by Bradbury, and several novels by Louise Lawrence, including Children of the Dust, which I remember enjoying very much. While reading many of these works, I focused all my energies encouraging the protagonist to GET OUT! It was easy to become caught up in all the evils or problems of the societies portrayed, and to feel as trapped as the character.
When I returned to these same books later on, I found that, instead of just the painful experience I remembered, reading dystopians had become a powerful experience instead.
I’m more aware of the imperfections of the world we live in now, and it is easy to see how someone’s well-intentioned changes or laws could end up being a living nightmare, a dystopia. Human nature is human nature. We all have tendencies towards light and dark that manifest themselves in our actions, whether we like it or not. Despite our best intentions, we make mistakes, are selfish, narrow-minded… So when a perfect society is created by humans, sooner or later it will become a dystopia.
What I like in dystopian fiction today is the ability to see the good side of human nature portrayed against the startling backdrop of the mess that comes from us trying to make everything perfect. No matter what decisions we make as a society or as individuals, people will always have the ability to make choices for good or evil.
What are your favorite dystopian novels?