Dystopia definition

Dystopia- a fictional, nonfictional, or speculative societal contract characterized by oppressive control which executes societal dehumanization, the absence of individual freedoms, and presents a nightmarish version of the future, an alternate reality, or unfortunately, the real world.

Dystopia, a literary, cinematic, and conceptual genre, is primarily defined by its depiction of societies plagued by oppression. Off hand this may seem as though one is putting the concept of dystopias in a box, but actually, I would argue that by establishing oppression to be the foundation of what makes a dystopia a dystopia, one is allocating it the appropriate amount of wiggle room (so to speak) for the definition as all forms of oppression are not a monolith but are widely varied. As Iris Young argues in her “Five Faces of Oppression”, systematic control and dehumanization are carried out through the five forms of oppression:

  1. Exploitation
  2. Marginalization
  3. Powerlessness
  4. Cultural imperialism
  5. Violence

While the different forms of oppression listed may not relate to each other, they all have the ability to execute societal dehumanization and take away of individual freedoms in a systematic way whether they act alone or in combination with any of the other forms of oppression. Moreover, the final destination of all dystopias is dehumanization and the absence of individual freedoms and whatever form of oppression leads that particular society to said destination does not matter, but oppression is the only way to arrive there. A supportive piece of evidence would be Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Through the exploitation of women’s bodies for reproductive purposes, the marginalization of individuals based on their gender, the powerlessness imposed upon the populace through strict social hierarchies, the cultural imperialism enforced through religious dogma, and the pervasive violence used to suppress dissent, Atwood illustrates how dystopian societies rely on systematic oppression to achieve their goals. The novel serves as a chilling reminder of the dangers of unchecked power and the erosion of individual freedoms, emphasizing the importance of vigilance in safeguarding against the rise of dystopian realities. Thus, by drawing parallels between Young’s framework of oppression and the depiction of dystopia in literature, we can better understand the foundational role of oppression in defining the genre and its implications for society at large.

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