5 Dystopian Novels That Will Change The Way You Think
“Dysto-what?”, you may well ask. But you’ve probably heard of a utopia, an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. Well, a dystopia is just a utopia with a flaw. Writers often use this in order to highlight a fault in society or to suggest what could happen in the future if things continue as they are, making for a fascinating read! Below are 5 of my favourite dystopian novels that will change the way you think about our society. (Yes, it really is that dramatic).
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Despite having analysed this book to death for my A Level English coursework, I would read it again without hesitation. In Atwood’s dystopian future, the USA has been replaced by a totalitarian state in which fertility rates have fallen so low that reproduction now has to be provided as a service by the handmaids. We find out that the problems initially arose in a society very much like our own, where porn was widely available and pollution was causing fertility rates to drop. I think this is why the novel is so frightening; the dystopian society is so familiar to us that we start to imagine that the government could actually have to turn to something like this in the future. It may seem far-fetched, but I challenge you not to draw disturbing parallels as you read. What’s more, the majority of the seemingly fictional measures and practices described in the novel, have actually been taken straight out of the history books.
2. 1984 by George Orwell
Have you ever wondered why we say “Big Brother is watching you”? How about “Room 101”? Orwell’s influential masterpiece will leave you questioning what it is to be human. Written in 1948, this novel is often seen as a prediction of what the western world would be like by 1984. While the prophecy hasn’t proved to be entirely accurate, let’s just say that you’ll probably notice some alarming similarities to our society today. For example, today’s increasingly topical issue of constant surveillance, whether it be through CCTV or the internet, plays a huge part in the Party’s (the government in 1984) state control. As well as this, Orwell also shows us the potentially dangerous consequences of ever-advancing technology and the problems associated with having a privileged social elite (a group Orwell names the Inner Party). Perhaps we should rename it 2048 and just wait and see…?
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This novel will probably scare you, especially if you’re like me and are a bit of a book-worm. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman. Nothing new or alarming there. Perhaps not, until you realise that his job isn’t to stop fires, but to start them. Bradbury offers us the view of a future in which society has become so reliant on technology, that books are thought to be the source of all unhappiness and must therefore be destroyed. Not only must the books themselves be burned, but any house that is thought to contain a book must be set alight by the firemen. To a generation that is becoming increasingly technology and social media-orientated, the idea feels just a little too close to home. Not only this, but (as in the majority of dystopian fiction) the government is all-powerful and all-controlling. If you’re anything like me, then this will probably get you thinking about our own political system and the frightening possibility of Bradbury’s future actually coming true. “Surely not?” I hear you cry. Well, just remember what happened when the Nazis decided that they weren’t too keen on people reading certain books…
4. Animal Farm by George Orwell
While the talking animals may initially seem a bit too bizarre and unbelievable, as soon as you start to read Animal Farm as an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the emergence of communism in the Soviet Union, things start to get a little more realistic and the ridiculousness of the situation only adds to the effect. If you don’t know anything about the Russian Revolution, then that’s fine (I certainly didn’t when I read it). This book is a great read nonetheless and you’ll pick up the history (albeit in animal form) as you go. As long as you’ve heard of Stalin, you should be fine…
5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This novel is similar to 1984 in that it too deals with the potential dangers of technological progress. People take drugs when they feel sad and can ‘have’ someone whenever they fancy it. In fact, having sex whenever and with whoever is openly encouraged and is seen as normal. The ideas of the World State in Huxley’s dystopian society may at first seem fairly outrageous, but you’ll probably start to realise that they’re just an extreme version of today’s economic values. Essentially, these values are based on the assumption that happiness is achieved when an individual satisfies their needs and that the success of a society is measured by economic growth and development. Basically, the novel questions the concept of consumerism. Like in The Handmaid’s Tale, Huxley explores the role of women in the reproductive process. Only this time, ovaries are removed and babies are grown in bottles. Sounds like a bad sci-fi movie? Potentially but, as with most dystopian fiction, Brave New World is written in such a way that the events come across as actually quite conceivable (no pun intended).
Hopefully I haven’t put you off dystopian literature for good! The above books are still excellent reads without any deep and meaningful analysis, but I do genuinely think that I’ve taken so much away from them just by being vaguely aware of the author’s intentions!