In the kaleidoscope of dystopias, where the freedom of humanity decreases as oppression levels rise, the word “dystopia” fails to fit the confines of a dictionary definition. Mariam Webster defines a dystopia as an “imagined realm tainted by societal decay, suffocating regimes, and the erosion of humanity, thrusting individuals into an existence fraught with despair.” This definition correctly describes how the social fabric of these worlds is being contaminated by corruption. However, I’ll argue that a dystopia is far worse than depicted in fictional cinemas and novels. Instead, it is constructed from societal anxieties drawn out of proportion and cautionary tales spun into a reality based on the current. These societies are perceived through a grayscale lens, where echoes of lost freedom and chills of despair lurk.
My definition of a dystopia is on full display in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The novel takes place in a society where women’s autonomy and agency are stripped from them, so they are utilized precisely to procreate. Relating to my definition of a dystopia above, we see how the lack of choice overpowers the face of the novel. It prompts an uneasy sentiment in readers, causing us to examine our societal structures. Do our leaders fight for our freedom or against it? Is that degree of freedom even significant to most people?
Although these may come off as simple cautionary tales from a novel, they slither into our consciousness, opening our eyes to the echoes of lost freedom and chills of despair that lurk in our periphery. The further we get into Atwood’s novel, the more I realize the horrors depicted in this society mirror the vulnerabilities of our own society. We soon see how their grayscale lens allows us to relate fiction to reality because of the metaphor it represents—gender roles, fragile individualism, and extreme power dynamics. By questioning the daunting echoes of one fictional dystopia, how does it relate to our society? Is it unrealistic for societal fears to grow because of these novels? To what extent do these dark and controlled novels affect our ability to trust our leaders?