So, ever since I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I’ve been obsessed. It was only when Hulu began advertising the show that I read it, but it was one of those books that became part of the fabric that is me, right along with the show. But, in truth, my love for dystopian/utopian stories began long before that. There’s something about them that really speaks to my soul, the idea that what is utopian for one group of people is always dystopian for another.
A utopian world is supposed to be a perfect place, a new social order created out of the remains of the old. But is it ever really perfect? They are created by eliminating all of those things that are deemed undesirable in the world. Politics, religion, family definitions, socioeconomic principles… just to name a few possibilities. But who decides what makes a society perfect, or imperfect? The ideal of perfection differs from person to person, so how can a true utopia ever be created? It can’t. There will be some that benefit, but at what cost? There will always be those that suffer.
That’s why I love dystopian fiction. Books like The Giver by Lois Lowry, a world where “Sameness” has been embraced. Deep emotions are considered to be at the root of all of the world’s problems, so steps have been taken to eliminate them. Ally Condie’s Matched series is another favorite, a controlled society in which individual decisions have been largely curtailed. The new social order has determined that people are incapable of properly making their own decisions. In Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, the new world order has enforced conformity, basing all value upon physical beauty. This series take it a step further, with a fourth book that is set after the first social order is toppled. In that book, it is a high-tech world that is based on internet-style popularity. Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series eliminates love, the new social order seeing love as a disease to be cured. Each one of these books focuses on a world that sees different things as the foundation for strife. In each of those worlds, there are some that benefit, and many who don’t.
It’s easy to dismiss those worlds as exaggerated views of reality, that none of them could ever come to pass. But is that true? Atwood has said that The Handmaid’s Tale is entirely based on events that have actually come to pass throughout history (New York Times story). Think about Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, centered around a show called The Family. It broadcast the everyday activities of this family, a form of escapism. Sound familiar?!
So, let me ask you… If you were in charge of creating a new world order, what are the aspects of society you would seek to eliminate? What would you choose to have as your guiding principle? On the flip side, what are the aspects of society you couldn’t imagine life without?
There is a dystopian novel in my future, one that I hope will fill you with hope and despair, laughter and tears, love and hate. But most of all, I hope it makes you think about it!