A dystopia is characterized by a society, real or imaginary, where a group of things or individuals are subject to an oppressive environment which is established and perpetuated through means of violence, marginalization, exploitation, or a mix of them, which ultimately lead the individuals involved to experience a sense of powerlessness.
This definition of dystopia is heavily based on Iris Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression”. In her article, Young defines five ways (or faces) in which oppression can be presented: violence, powerlessness, marginalization, exploitation, and cultural imperialism. All the readings we have been presented with over the semester showed at least one, if not all, face of oppression, which is why I feel the need for them to be the foundations of the definition of a dystopia. We experienced marginalization with the color scheme of the clothes used in The Handmaid Tale’s which had the purpose to easily recognize the role of an individual in society and therefore isolate him/her, but we also saw an example of it in the seclution of the people in downtown Toronto as a result of the riots in Hopkinson’s novel. Examples of violence were present in both Planet of the Apes and The Purge. Exploitation was presented to us in the form of handmaids being used simply as a mean of procreation, and cultural imperialism was again present in Atwood’s novel as well as in the Planet of the Apes were the ruling class established its own culture as the norm hence creating a social hierarchy. Ultimately, all the characters in both the novels and fictions analyzed during the semester experienced a sense of powerlessness because of their conditions.
Additionally, my definition of dystopia does not solely refer to an imaginary or futuristic society, because it has been conveyed to us through both the article “Dystopias Now” by Robinson and Eco’s “Ur-Fascism” that our society is already one that can be defined dystopic, and it has been this way for centuries already. In fact, Robinson mentions how the presence of climate change is bringing about a feeling of powerlessness in mankind as we are unable to take action to better the situation of our generation and the many more to come after us. Similarly, Eco describes how one of the most well known examples of dystopia, the Fascist movement developed in Italy in the first half of the 1900s, is still present in all our societies in some way. Realizing that we currently live in a dystopia is a hard pill to swallow, but it also takes a lot of thinking and analyzing to arrive to this conclusion. This level of awareness is also necessary to start taking action towards feeling less powerless and more empowered.