2013 and 2014 seem to be defined as the time of the dystopia novel. New authors are rocketing to the top of the charts with new novels and “classics” are emerging onto the big screen. In many other areas of my life, I have learned trends do cycle. Yet, I have also noticed that when they come back, they are never quite the same as before. Books are no different.
My first experience with the dystopia concept was Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I read it as an early teen, but still love that book and can’t wait to see the movie adaptation this year. In high school, I was required to read A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. All of them were published before the millennium and all of them had a common theme: a lack of individuality. Society was controlled by government, yes. But, so was the individual. Government decided people’s jobs, their marriages, what they could read. In The Giver, even the color of the world was taken away. There were no choices, there was no uniqueness. Government was always watching, controlling. People appeared happy at the beginning, but the reader soon learned that even this was “bred” into them. They were not truly happy, they were just conditioned to believe what they experienced was fulfilling. And, ultimately, the main character knew there was something wrong without knowing what.
What I find interesting is that this is different than the novels out today. The ones in particular are Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth and the Maze Runner by James Dashner. They are still headed by a controlling government, but not to the point of taking away identities. Instead, most of them are a post-apocalyptic society where civilization has broken down, often due to some war. The characters are still allowed to be their own individuals—within reason. In Divergent, they are even allowed to choose which faction best represents them. The Maze Runner has a little less choice involved, but in all three books society appears to “work.” In fact, Divergent left me with the distinct impression that if there wasn’t corruption in one of the factions, then that society would have continued. They are not “happy” in a joyous sort of way, but everything appears to work. There is love present, not manufactured by any controlling government.
I haven’t finished the Maze Runner yet, but in the other two, the focus in not on individuality but a fight for survival and order. The examination isn’t on government control, but on the nature of human behavior. Even still, the result is the same. Any “utopian” type of government structure eventually rots and falls apart.