A dystopia is a society in which its inhabitants live under highly oppressive regimes that result in a constant or near constant state of paranoia and fear for them.
In order to define oppression in this situation, I’ll use Iris Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression” as characteristics. She identifies these faces as exploitation, violence, marginalization, cultural imperialism, and powerlessness. Exploitation is one group taking advantage of another group and benefitting from their labor, body, time, etc… In this scenario, violence refers to systemic, random attacks against a certain subset of people. Marginalization is the exclusion of a group that doesn’t align with the authority’s ideals and aspirations. Cultural imperialism is when the dominant group forces its culture, customs, and behaviors onto the minority once they become the norm. And powerlessness is the inability to control one’s own well-being and decisions. All of these play a role in oppression, and almost all forms of oppression have all or most of these characteristics, especially violence. A lot of the time, violence leads to the other faces or serves as a punishment. For example, violence is used to exclude others by encouraging the majority to ignore the cruelty bestowed on the minority, to foster despair and loneliness, to instill fear. When you are the minority in this situation, or the targets, you are forced to watch your every move and become aware of everything so you aren’t left completely vulnerable and unguarded. This oppression results in that constant state of terror.
Oftentimes, we also see a contradiction in dystopias that are in place to restrict human nature. For example, Umberto explained in “Ur-Fascism”, Mussolini had no true philosophy, he had only rhetoric. You see in a lot of examples of dystopia, the authority confuses its citizens and changes perspectives to keep society tumultuous and unsteady under the premise of extreme organization and control. Such as Winston destroying and re-writing history in 1984. It causes Winston to break from reality for a moment, and once he steps back from the usually rigid order, he sees how fake it all really is. This also reinforces the constant state of paranoia. The authority keeps them always second-guessing.