In class we attempted to gather the defining characteristics of a dystopia into one single definition. The definition that we settled on at the end of our discussion was “an imaginary or real place whose people may lead a restricted and oppressive existence under some form of authority.” I found this definition to be lacking some important characteristics of a dystopian society that would make it definitively different from any unpleasant place to live. The definition I propose would be as follows: “An imagined or real place where an oppressive system exists and thrives on the limitation of knowledge, resources, or freedoms and is supported by the passivity of the public who believes conformity is a means towards a peaceful existence.” I believe this is a much better definition because it not only covers the society, but it also touches on the means in which a society of this nature is sustained and how the people living within it play a role in its survival.
This leads me to the reason I included the passivity of the public as a means towards peace in the definition of dystopia. A society that is complacent in its oppression is the foundation for a dystopia. A dystopian system cannot operate within a place of disorder. Everyone must be in agreement, or the overly-restrictive nature of the dystopia would constantly be in combat with the will of the people. To keep peace, we must conform. Those who do not conform are a threat to our safety. That is the idea. Therefore, both the system and the people who live under it are collaborators in keeping the dystopia alive. If you take away one or the other, the dystopia would eventually dissolve.
My first addition to the definition was the inclusion of an oppressive system which thrives on the limitation of knowledge, resources, or freedoms. I chose to represent dystopia in these terms because an oppressive system does not necessarily exist under a formal authority such as the government, but it can also be expressed in the customs or beliefs of the people. Furthermore, the means by which a society can be oppressed are varied and can include several types of restrictions simultaneously. Our own societies are restricted in some senses, but it does not make it a dystopia inherently. In fictional representations such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s 1984, it is common to see knowledge or rights restricted heavily or eradicated completely. However, the people do not challenge these restrictions placed upon themselves not because they agree completely with their implementation, but they have come to a place of acceptance wherein they view these limitations as necessary.