My working definition of “Dystopia” is a satirical world or society that challenges us to reflect on the weaknesses of our present society.
I chose this definition after reading books and watching movies like “The Giver”, “The Hunger Games”, and “The Maze Runner”. According to Merriam-Webster.com, a dystopia is an imaginary society where people are subject to wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives. To the average American, these dystopian societies might seem overly exaggerated and one might think “How could this ever happen?”. When you remove the exaggerations and take a deeper look at the meaning behind these societies – How they became this way? Who runs them? And How come everyone seems complacent? – then you start to realize what a dystopia really is. It is an extension of our own society. Yes, we might not experience it at the same extreme levels these stories suggest but we are all at the mercy of our government, we have all done things we have not wanted to do to stay subordinate to a higher authority.
I disagree with the word “imaginary” in the Merriam-Webster definition. Just because we have not experienced something does not make it unreal. Margaret Atwood wrote that everything in the Handmaid’s Tale was a compilation of stories based on contemporary society. Again, yes we are still seeing that exaggeration, but it is clear that this story is not imaginary. Women have been forced to perform sexual acts for hundreds of years. A dystopia, like the Handmaid’s Tale, can be looked at in two ways. We can read the book as an imaginary society and distance ourselves from the characters all while abstaining from any real responsibility and self-reflection. Or, we can read the book with a satirical eye, pointing the finger inward to look beyond the unimaginably impossible and to the very realistic truth of what can happen when a society, and the people in it, are pushed too far.