Dystopia the Idea Term Paper

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Dystopia

The idea of the dystopia is related to the idea of the utopia, and it has become a staple in speculative literature and film. A dystopia is a society that does not work for the benefit of its members, while a utopia is one that is ideal. The idea of the utopia was made well-known by Thomas More, and the idea of the dystopia in fiction emerged soon after and continues to be a key element in science fiction in literature and film.

Sir Thomas More is probably best known for his confrontation with King Henry VIII, for which he lost his life. He was a statesman as well as a political and social philosopher. His most famous work is his Utopia, a book in which he created his version of a perfect society and gave his name to such conceptions ever after as "utopias." The word is of Greek origin, a play on the Greek word eutopos, meaning good place. In the book, More describes a pagan and communist city-state in which the institutions and policies are governed entirely by reason. More included discussions of a large number of topics covering the institutions of society, including penology, state-controlled education, religious pluralism, divorce, euthanasia, and women's rights (Maynard 41).

Russell a. Ames finds that More expressed the various reforming concepts of the statesman, the lawyer, the merchant, the humanist, and the man of religion, purposes that were intertwined and indistinguishable. Many of the Utopian customs and ordinances directly reflected More's views of problems then current, especially religious problems. It is also believed that More often made his Utopians do things which are not approved because they followed reason rather than the imperatives of the Christian religion:

The Utopians, guided by reason and also by their basically sound religion, have almost achieved a truly Christian ideal which they live by while we Christians do not. (Ames 160)

In literature, the dystopia was addressed by many writers in works intended to be critical of their own time. In recent years, the dystopian writings of many continue to use their own social order as a starting place to produce a work critical of that society by mirroring portions of it in the new society they create. George Orwell saw the world of his novel 1984 as a dystopia, or a government that does not work and that harms its citizens. He analyzes the idea in two works, 1984 and Animal Farm, and what links the two most directly is that both are anti-utopian in nature, for Orwell had developed a certainty that government in a utopian society would always be corrupted and would lose sight of its principles because of expediency. In 1984, George Orwell warned of the seductions of government thought control as he saw them developing in the Soviet Union and elsewhere because of the tensions after World War II. Orwell showed a world in which thought control has been honed to a science and where every member of society shares in the underlying belief that thought control was a good and necessary thing.

Philip Rahv refers to Orwell as a genuine humanist and as a man who passed through the school of the revolutionary movement without being seduced by its doctrinaire attitudes. Instead, Orwell remained committed to the primary traditions of the British empirical mind, which Rahv believes left him immune to dogmatism:

It can be said that Orwell is the best kind of witness, the most reliable and scrupulous. All the more appalling, then, is the vision not of the remote but of the very close future evoked in his new novel, 1984 -- a vision entirely composed of images of loss, disaster, and unspeakable degradation. (Rahv 13)

Big Brother is modeled on Stalin. Goldstein, the dissident leader of Ingsoc, corresponds to Trotsky. The tenets of Communism are recognizable in the rules of Oceania, and the concept of doublethink is similar to the technique practiced by communists and their dupes. Rahv also notes that while the book can be seen as prophetic, the real importance of the work is in its ability to engage in the currents of the time:

Through the invention of a society of which he can be imaginatively in full command, Orwell is enabled all the more effectively to probe the consequences for the human soul of the system of oligarchic collectivism... (Rahv 16)

Orwell disliked and distrusted both Churchill and Stalin. He saw in the Tehran and Yalta conferences nothing more than a cynical plan for perpetuating an unjust system. This would be the germ of the political situation in 1984, with a world divided by three superpowers:

What 1984 does is to gather almost all the ideas, arguments, and problems of Orwell's previous work, fiction and nonfiction alike, and concentrate them in their most frightening, challenging form. To make the continuity even more striking, it does so by an infrastructure, immediately recognizable from his other fiction, in which the isolated hero-victim tries vainly to resist a hostile society and to seek a better life but is forced, after a series of misunderstandings and disappointments, to capitulate. (Reilly 5)

In 1984, the Party subjugates the will of the majority to the will of the Party itself. The way this is accomplished with Julia and Winston is telling, for the Party uses fear and a form of brainwashing to make these individuals complicit in their own subjugation. They make the two want to please. This is partially out of fear, though not simply the fear of normal punishment. Instead, the Party uses psychological means to find out what each individual fears most, and this is then used to break their spirit and bend their will.

One of the means taken to control the population is the careful use of language, which in Orwell's term is called Doublespeak, or seeming to say one thing while meaning another. This is a familiar concept used by government to sugarcoat terminology so as to make it seem more benign than it is or to counter criticism before it develops. In 1984, the Ministry of Truth is dedicated to altering history and creating lies, but the shift in language need not be so blatant as that. We hear terms all the time which in some degree sanitize the behavior being described. Instead of talking about genocide or outright murder, we talk of "ethnic cleansing." What Orwell suggests is that governments create terms that are less harsh than reality in order to make policies more palatable to the people at large, and in extreme cases, the new term may be an outright lie, as in calling a censorship group the Ministry of Truth.

Other writers have shown a dystopian vision in different ways. Ayn Rand railed in hjer novel Atlas Shrugged against what she saw as the loss of personal liberty that marked contemporary society. She saw government as having become hopelessly bureaucratic in nature, with the bureaucracy dedicated to reducing whatever personal liberty was left. The novel takes place in a vaguely defined future, but Rand meant many of the elements of this future to be seen as already existing in the present. The book was a warning against certain trends discerned by the author in the society of her time, specifically a warning against socialism or any hint of socialism. Rand foresees a world in which Europe is already socialist and where the United States is following Europe into socialism. James T. Baker says of the novel that it is difficult to classify because it is both philosophy and fiction, satire and deadly serious commentary:

If it is meant to be a love story, it follows none of the usual patterns of spiritual attraction and self-sacrifice, none of the pain and tragedy, none of the fulfillment of other love stories. As social criticism it indicts but does not recommend, and it fails to create a recognizable world to be improved. As a dystopia it provides bone-chilling descriptions of a world gone wrong; but as a utopia its projections are vague and unlikely. Rand gleefully suffocates hundreds of hated socialists on a train, yet she fails to offer details for the better world waiting to be built when such people are gone. (Baker 63)

The novel sets two societies against each other. The one is the society of socialism as it was thought to be developing by Rand, and the other was the reaction to socialism, a reaction that leads a small group to form a sort of utopian community based on the principles that Rand believes should exist in a society and that she believes did exist before certain governmental and bureaucratic impositions were made. The world as it has come to exist is represented in the novel by the bureaucratic mesh of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, a company run by the heroine, Dagny Taggart. Her brother James is the titular head of the company, but he is a weak individual. Most of the operation of the company is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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