Why Are Dystopian Narratives More Appealing?

Dystopian literature has progressively claimed its sweet spot in popular genres of fictional writing today. Dystopia is defined as “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically totalitarian or environmentally degraded.” Naturally, dystopian narratives are often set in a distant future that dwells in poverty, squalor, prejudice and political fluctuations, causing everybody to live is deep anguish. The protagonist habitually hails from an unfortunate group of people and is instigated by the government and deteriorating social conditions to set forth an uprising to reclaim the peace that was lost. Readers, young and old, have begun to cultivate an interest towards these story lines making it one of the most preferred genres.

This has led people to wonder why these narratives are so scintillating when compared to other genres of fiction. A reader’s mind always draws parallels from the protagonist’s life to one’s own life and creates analogies. This is a way of emotionally connecting with the characters in the story which enhances the reading experience of the person. It is plausible that the reader relates to the dystopian environment in the story because the reality is seemingly closer to the narrative than one has come to acknowledge. This could mean that the reader is able to associate with the social conditions in the story to his or her quotidian incidents. This could be independent, stand alone occurrences. To give you an idea, the sight of homeless people in a neighbourhood is very common, their living conditions and social stature in the society is not something we reflect on, but it is also certainly not ignored, we know they exist. A reader will be able to empathise with a fictional character in the narrative who lives in a similar deplorable condition and positively relate to it. This is the case with other social implications in the story.

Some of the popular books in this regard are Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy, James Dashner’s Maze Runner and so on. These narratives explore a dystopian future in which the citizens of that country have little to no freedom and live according to the rules prescribed by a totalitarian government. That being the only similarity in the narratives I’ve listed, The Handmaid’s Tale is an account of a woman in her mid-thirties living as a concubine to produce an offspring for the family she belongs to, in a supremely Christian society that went terribly wrong after witnessing violence directed at women, which caused a plunge in population. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a narrative of a country ravaged by war and poverty divided into 12 districts which are ill-fated to follow the direct orders of their unjust government. Similarly, Maze Runner accounts the story of young children placed in a simulated situation, who are test subjects for a virus that wiped out millions of people in a future world. These novels were adapted into movies or TV shows which garnered a large audience.

These narratives have negatively mirrored our anxieties regarding the socio-political climates in our future. We live in a similar environment already, considering that our women are not safe and are subject to violence and suppression, there is a disturbing increase in gun violence and an over populated world. Should we be subjected to the same circumstances as in the book, the government and populace are likely to react in the same way as predicted in the novels and we may not be very far from religious and other extremists wanting to overthrow a democratic government to restore peace in ways they believe possible.

In the words of Margaret Atwood:

“How shrunk, how dwindled, in our times
Creation’s mighty seed –
For Man has broke the Fellowship
With murder, lust, and greed.”

Being dangerously close to a dystopian future ourselves, it gives us strange comfort to discover these narratives that reflect so much of our own battles. It reminds us that it is not too late for us to make required changes to prevent such apocalyptical events from taking place by learning from their mistakes. Ultimately, words are just a reflection of the mind, and the mind, a reflection of the society in itself.

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