Dystopias Defined

My previous definition of a dystopia was a world through which some oppressive force or group holds some means of control over the people and the people’s blatant acceptance of such. Although oppression is a major element in most dystopias, since the course of this class, I have realized that it is much more complex than that. My new definition of a dystopia is a world where the people are somehow oppressed by some higher power, typically under the pretense that this is for the greater good.

The use of oppression to control the people can be explained by Iris Young’s Five Faces of Oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. These five faces have been used within both fictional and real-life dystopias to subjugate people and force them into their particular roles within these societies. Within 1984, powerlessness and violence were used to destroy Winston’s spirit by putting him in a difficult position where he must choose between getting his face eaten by rats or betraying his love. Ultimately, he makes the decision of betrayal, which was exactly what the Party wanted. This causes him to feel powerless in his goal to overthrow the Party and become just like the other complacent citizens. Through oppression, the Party was able to force Winston into doing exactly what it wanted.

The concept of the greater good can be explained by Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and more specifically, the idea that people live in a State of Nature, where they choose government to avoid a life of no law or morality. Through enabling government, people are accepting the limitation of their freedoms to ensure their own safety. In a way, these limitations are a type of oppression. However, the alternative of having no laws or structure and instead a world filled with rampant chaos is far less desirable to many. It is when these limitations become too overbearing that society becomes a dystopia. In The Giver, for instance, people’s emotions, privacy, and autonomy are removed in exchange for safety and innocence. The losses seem to outweigh the gains, and this makes the society of The Giver dystopian. Ultimately, I feel that the readings within this course have greatly improved my definition of a dystopia.

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