Dystopian Literature- A Glimpse into the Future

Sitting at my desk and appreciating my coffee, I was wondering about the categories that books are sometimes divided into. We see it everywhere, ‘books to read when you are happy’, ‘books to read when you are sad’, books for this and books for that, etc. Hence, I too wanted to make a recommendation of some of the disturbing dystopian books I have read so far. With the lingering environmental devastation, problems of global warming, data theft- why not dwell on the type of literature that we are heading into, in reality? The countdown begins:

5.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

If you haven’t read this trilogy yet, I highly recommend reading it to get a sense of what a brutal, totalitarian future looks like. A future where the citizens are reaped from the masses and are thrown into the ‘Hunger games’, as an entertainment for the Elite and the powerful. From the ruins of what used to be North America, emerges a nation called Panem divided into thirteen districts. In the Capitol, the wealthy and powerful govern and live-telecast the fight-to-death game all across Panem. Katniss is just one terrified girl among the mass of suffering citizens. She volunteers to take her sister’s place in the reaping, and she ultimately becomes the face of the rebellion.

“District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety,” I mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here, in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might overhear you.”

– Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

4.  The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)

This particular book was one of the primary readings in my high school. This is tricky stuff. It first appears to be a utopia, where people live in a pain-free society devoid of conflict, all happy and contend in their conformity. It sounds laid-back and peaceful. However, the price this community pays for conflict-free living is Emotion, not to mention, Colour. Yes, people can’t see colours, cannot make choices, and there is no place for excess emotion. People are delegated with their own task in this society, everybody performs their own function, and when they become unable to do this, they are ‘released’, meaning killed, erased- whichever word suits more. Jonas, just another teenager, is selected as the next Receiver, to be trained from the reigning Giver, whose job is to take all the emotion, the pain, the ‘feelings’ so that people can live their life in comfort and conformity. However, trouble begins when Jonas starts receiving the memories and starts ‘seeing’ the colours, as well as developing empathy for all those who already are, or going to be, released.

“The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without colour, pain or past.”

– Lois Lowry, The Giver

3.  The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

The Handmaid’s Tale needs no introduction as many may be familiar with it being adapted into TV Series. Still, it is interesting to note that the ‘future’ of the book is supposed to be the present time that we live in. U.S Government is overthrown and Gilead comes into existence, a theocratic totalitarian nation. Due to environmental destruction, the population has become infertile, hence ‘handmaids’ are kept by the commanders in their home in the hope for a child. These Handmaids are ritually raped every month by the commanders in the presence of their wives, citing a scene from the bible including Jacob, Rachel and the maid Bilhah. The woman who is chosen as a Handmaid is ‘trained’ in the centres and forced to take new identity, a new name. June is forced to be a Handmaid to Commander Fred Waterford, and given the name Offred, Of Fred, as in belonging to Fred. Atwood, has mentioned, time and again that the things she has written has real-world significance. You can read more about this from the author herself here. This book serves two functions- as a reminder of the struggles of women around the world, as well as a warning for the future.

“My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.”

– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

2.  Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)

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Animals of a farm create a revolution and rebel against the humans. They create their own form of governance and also form the Seven Commandments of Animalism. The most important of these commandments is that “All Animals are Equal”. The Pigs take over the position of the leaders, a purge follows where many animals are killed in the suspicion for consorting with the old enemies (humans). Thence, in the quest to build a Utopia supposedly based on equality and justice, the self-elevated leaders (the pigs) become the most brutal oppressors and begin to resemble the old enemies (the humans). Animal Farm is one of the greatest read for understanding how power corrupts everything and the ones to suffer are always the ones being governed.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

– George Orwell, Animal Farm

1.  1984 by George Orwell (1949)

1984 stands as one of the top dystopian novels of all time. It depicts a futuristic society under extreme governmental control, and non-stop surveillance. It follows the distortion of language, as well as alteration of facts as devices for mind control. Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth, where he is in charge of rewriting historical records of all those who deviate from the national philosophy, labelling them as ‘unpersons’ and removing them from history records, and therefore, from memory of the people. Winston slowly realizes he doesn’t like the system he is living in, and has been steadily moving to ‘thought-crime’. He falls in love with Julia, who secretly opposes the Party too, they meet at a rental room above Mr. Charrigton’s shop. However, Mr Charrington is a ‘Thought Police’ who reports them to the Party. Winston is taken to Room 101 where he needs to be re-educated. This novel is highly relevant to present time because living in the digital age where everything is recorded as data, where fake news run rampant, this bomb of a book doesn’t drop too far out of place.

“Big Brother is Watching You.”

– George Orwell, 1984

Although Dystopian Literature can be bleak and gloomy at times, it can serve as a warning for the future and should be taken into great consideration. The question is not about when or how the books are written, the question is where are we headed? And in these works, we might just glimpse an answer…

Written by Namita Suberi

BA English Language and Literature, 2nd year.

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