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Literary Dystopias – Are We There Yet?

Oracle of DelphiBelow is the revised version of the introduction for my Master’s Thesis. Please read, respect my literary rights (don’t plagiarize), and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE provide constructive feedback. Plenty of you who will read this have your advanced degrees already. If I need to expound, shorten, condense, add, delete, say so.


Literary Dystopias – Are We There Yet?

Oscar Wilde asserts that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” (382). This comment prompts exploration into the complex intertwining of fact and fiction within dystopian literature. Authors utilize fears or expectations based on events contemporary at the time of writing. The realization of these fears creates positive or negative consequences which are portrayed within the work of fiction and later readers are able to compare their realities to what of the authors’ fears and expectations have actually occurred. Rob MacAlear emphasizes that the fear presented with dystopian literature must be conceivably imminent, thereby persuading the audience that urgency is needed to avoid the situation presented within the dystopia (28). By using this model, authors may create their communities, cities, or planets, portray likely impacts and the readers are then left to consider how astute the authors’ forecasts may have been considering technological or societal change, how common the authors’ expressed fears were and how that impacted developments between the date of publication and today. In many cases, Wilde’s quote about Life imitating art proves true, as Pfaelzer observed, “nineteenth-century utopists anticipated much of today’s welfare state” (“The Impact” 453) and cites such developments as social security and universal education to support that observation.

The three specific texts herein examined present an “arc” of dystopian literature from the late 19th century through the beginning of the 21st century. Anna Bowman Dodd penned The Republic of the Future when “worker riots, class, race and sex struggles were widespread and sometimes violent” (447), the Industrial Revolution was occurring, and the activists proclaimed the virtues of socialism. Aldous Huxley published Brave New World when the global community was between two world wars, trying to reconcile the nightmares presented by technology with the dreams it simultaneously offered (Diken 153). Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, presents a view of a dystopia that exists based on technology and generational issues that are current with the present day. Medical advances, especially in the form of organ transplantation, add plausibility to Ishiguro’s piece. Isolation felt by the clones may be shared by modern readers for whom the world may have been shrunken through the internet and online discourse yet yearn for the personal contact that is being eroded through email, texting and other impersonal communications.

The narrative point of view is different in each of the novels examined and this reflects a temporal continuum concurrent with points of view and means of communication common to the time in which the authors wrote. Dodd’s novel is strictly an “outsider” affair as the omniscient narrator and protagonist writes of his adventure in a foreign land via personal letters to a friend and in this way is the most remote from the reader. In Dodd’s post-Victorian age, letters were a common means of communication, so the correspondence between Wolfgang and Hennevig would be understood to her readers. Huxley presents a modernist tale, the first paragraph contains only sentence fragments and this reflects the dominance of the mechanical over the humane which is the conflict throughout the story. The third person narrative style provides readers a glimpse into character thoughts and emotions which reflect compliance or resistance of respective characters as well as how they have been impacted by the mechanized, engineered world they share. Ishiguro presents a first person account similar to a memoir type of writing which brings readers into a feeling of sympathy and intimacy with Kathy H., the memoir’s author. By presenting his fiction as a memoir, Ishiguro removes the “aura of otherness” common to clone characters and by presenting her situation in this way, makes the story about Kathy and her compatriots and this removes the “bioethical alarm” so commonly sounded when the idea of cloning is broached in literature (Marks 333). Though Kathy and the other clones are not part of the common population, the first person view in the novel precludes viewing the clones as oddities or mere scientific creations.