Utopia vs Dystopia in Literary Fiction

YA fiction has become a fast-expanding category of contemporary fiction since the start of the 21st century, with this genre gaining momentum and popularity as readers, both young and old, hasten to be engulfed in the fantastical and much entertaining world that the YA authors are masterfully weaving. To be precise, most YA and other contemporary fiction have taken on not just a fantastical approach, but have also welcomed and lingered on the tempting idea of an alternate future, a world far different from the world we live in today. This idea is what we have come to recognize as Dystopian and Utopian realities. 

These two alternates, both on different sides, take us to either our worst nightmare or our most pleasant dream of what our world might be like some day. Either way, there is always an awakening at the end, a resolution that shows that the real world can never really fade; there’s always a semblance of it left, no matter which alternate reality our world might end up being in. 

As much as these two sub-genres seem to almost blend as one due to their similar contexts, there are a few peculiarities that separate one from the other. The word 'Utopia' is literally described as: 'an ideal place or state', 'paradise', 'a system of political or social perfection'. It is an alternate world that embodies our deepest fantasies of what and how a perfect world should be. Books with this concept demonstrate that all evil things in the past, such as poverty, diseases and negative emotions, have been erased, and the world is starting anew with the perfect government system, perfect societal living, with perfect citizens. 

This idea of a 'paradise on earth' was first introduced in Thomas More's Utopia (1516), in which he describes an ideal world where all evil have been eliminated and all is right with the world. More works started being published thereafter about the possibility of the existence of such a world, as described in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1626), a novel about an island called Bensalem that is discovered by a crew somewhere west of Peru; an island perfect with generous, highly moral and very honest citizens. 

This form of writing was - and is still used - to educate the world that "all that glitters isn't gold". It serves as a reminder that industrialization was and is still rapidly taking over the world as we know it, and transforming it to something unrecognizable, almost too perfect but also too flawed all at once. This kind of world, as perfect as they may seem on the outside, will only lead to permanent destruction of the world and everyone in it; in other words, it will cause an implosion.

Dystopia, on the other hand is literally described as 'a society characterized by human misery, disease and oppression'. It is also known as 'anti-utopian', in that it is exactly the opposite of what a utopian world entails. This sub-genre usually focuses on political and social issues plaguing the world under a nightmarish and desolate atmosphere. It directly challenges 'Utopianism' in that, unlike the utopian's belief in perfection, Dystopia believes that society is way too flawed to come close to perfection, but will instead self-destruct because of its devious, corrupt ways and other irredeemable flaws, hence the desolate world. 

Books like George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 describe alternate worlds devastated by revolutions and totalitarianism involving very tyrannical and corrupt government leaders. In this sub-genre, we also see groups of survivors either accepting their fate, or mustering enough courage and bravery to plan an uprising to overthrow the government in order to bring a semblance of the real world back.

Utopian and Dystopian styles of writing are gaining fast momentum as authors are getting a big push to publish more of these kinds of works, because they depict a fantastical world that is very much like what our real world might end up being like one day in the future. Below is a list of some great and easy reads from the two categories that sheds great light as to what Dystopianism and Utopiansim is all about. Be sure to read one (or all) of them; they are very much great reads, however fantastical (or even close to the truth!) they may be.

Utopian Literature
Delirium Trilogy, Lauren Oliver
Matched Triology, Ally Condie
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin
News from Nowhere, by William Morris

Dystopian Literature
Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins
1984, George Orwell
Animal farm, George Orwell
The Giver, Lois Lowry
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
The Miracle Inspector, Helen Smith
The Host, Stephenie Meyer
I Am legend, Richard Matheson

Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.
--- Helen Keller