All literature has enormous value. Each writing contributes another voice – another unique perspective – to the collective consciousness that provides the foundation for progress, advancement, innovation, and evolution. Our wealth of writing empowers us to pick up where our predecessors left off, creating new ideas and forming new systems.
It can be argued, though, that dystopian literature — writings about an exaggeratedly broken yet disturbingly familiar world — are among the most valuable pieces of expression we have at our disposal. We are all familiar with a dystopian narrative. Who hasn’t heard of the unanticipated rise of Katniss Everdeen? Or of the equally impressive Beatrice Prior in Divergent? Or the harrowing worlds described by George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Ray Bradbury? A reader of any of these novels encounters literature that is arguably more striking than any literature encountered before.
Dystopian literature behaves as a fictional prophecy, forewarning us against a world of horrors that we are ignorantly (or, in some cases, knowingly) hurdling toward. And the great power of this prophecy isn’t in the thrill the reader gets when she consumes it; the power is later, when the reader recognizes patterns in her government and in her society that she’s seen somewhere before. With the dissemination of dystopian literature, a society can no longer evolve into a cruel, freedomless nation with an unwitting populace dragging along unquestioningly. Or, at least, the leaders of such a revolution would have to be so creative in their takeover that none of the dystopian authors foresaw their tactics.
Fortuitously enough, every dystopia stands on the same pillars. While the flavors of cruelty might vary, each exceedingly broken world requires the same elements to function. Namely, for a government to strip its people of their every right and freedom, it must first remove from them the access to truth, to education, to liberal speech, and, of course, to literature. Ever notice that in every dystopian novel the oppressed have no access to written word? Books are banned and books are burned. We need look no further than to the dystopian leaders themselves to understand how valuable dystopian literature is: it can and will bring down the very dystopian structure they have erected.
While all writings have earthshaking power, dystopian literature has the nuanced function to armor us against the prophecy it tells. For now we know that when the people in power start to censor our speech, ban our books, or veil our truth, it’s time to stand up while we still can.
What dystopian story impacted your life? What about humanity, society, or government was revealed to you in reading it?
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