Parallels Between Dystopias and the Real-World

Since the early 1900s, dystopian societies have become common place in novels and movies. The word “dystopia” refers to a society where intrinsic human rights and freedoms are violated for the preservation of a particular social order. When referring to “intrinsic human rights and freedoms”, I mean the rights/freedoms which makes someone an individual. For example, our ability to think, choose, and act is part of what makes us individuals. Once an institution violates those rights/freedoms, they negate our personhood. This level of dehumanization is typically, referenced in fiction; however, there are instances in the real-world in which “dystopian” ideas are practiced.

One of the most classic examples of a dystopian society is George Orwell’s 1984. The book follows a man, Winston Smith, whose psyche is slowly destroyed as he grapples with the knowledge of all the oppressive practices of the government. The people in this society are constantly watched by “Big Brother” to ensure that there is no evidence of dissent amongst the commoners. The people are not allowed to freely think because of the changing rhetoric and history rewriting provided by the government. Slowly, the readers become aware that everyone is a pawn of the government (even if they appear as dissenters). Winston eventually succumbs to the same fate and becomes a mindless pawn by the end of the book.

While 1984 is a very drastic example of a dystopian society, there are still parallels between it and real-life. For example, the Red Scare was a crusade spearheaded by Senator McCarthy during the Cold War. Essentially, American citizens were not allowed to have any communist sentiments. If a person was suspected of having communist ties or even simply agreeing with the ideology, they were brought under the investigation of the FBI. Much like the government in 1984, the American government was impinging on the freedom to think. It created hysteria, and broke the psyche of many Americans who were either afraid of undercover communist agents or being accused of having communist ties. At the time, every American became a pawn of the government.

Another parallel can be seen with Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver. In this society, the elders assign every aspect of an individual’s life (such as who they marry, where they live, what children they will receive, and their job). The purpose is to create equality, perfection, and harmony amongst the people. This, however, disallows people their right to choose. Every life-altering decision is left for the elders to decide. While it may appear as a utopia on the surface due to the passive attitudes of the people, Jonah (the protagonist) realizes the denial of their intrinsic rights/freedoms and fights to change it.

Similarly, much of American society prior to the 1900s reflected these themes. Unlike the society in The Giver, there were no passive attitudes to this particular treatment. Most women and minorities were denied the right of choice in many different aspects of life. Native Americans were forced out of their original homelands and “assigned” to reservations. Slaves of African ancestry were “assigned” to plantations and “assigned” to a specific job on that plantation. From birth, women were “assigned” to become homemakers. Slowly in the 20th century, women and minorities were granted the right to choose (such as being able to vote, going to school, having jobs, owning property, etc.). As discussed in Iris Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression”, minorities and women, however, are still being denied their right to choose in much more covert ways in modern day society.

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