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Stream and mountains

Horrors of Dystopian Literature

By Josephine Egan

The worlds of The Hunger Games, Divergent, 1984 and other books alike are similar in one manner, they follow a dystopian model. Allowing people to see underneath the seemingly utopian worlds and unveiling the pitfalls of society. What is the reason for these books being so popular? It must be their remarkable ability to capture the weaknesses of our world. Due to these parallels, critics and readers alike understand these stories as warnings of human nature, however, have you ever heard a pilot say “Focus on not hitting the mountain and you’ll fly right into it?”

In the realm of dystopian literature, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World shines as a timeless and thought-provoking masterpiece. For those who haven’t read it, Brave New World presents a future society where happiness is manufactured, and individuality is sacrificed in the pursuit of stability and superficial pleasure. Its enduring significance lies in its profound exploration of the consequences of unchecked technological progress and societal conformity; themes that resonate powerfully in our modern world. While the human assembly line described in the first part of the story is still a far-off fantasy, the basic concepts that make it work are already here. People can influence the genetic makeup of their children, from choosing the gender of the child to deciding to keep their child based on the genetic reports they receive. If this is the point we are at now, what’s stopping people from wanting to test the potential IQ of their child or what jobs they might be

suited for? In Brave New World, there is a pill, Soma, which ranges from causing Euphoria, enjoyable hallucinations or acting as a tranquiliser, allowing those in the society to eradicate negative feelings and escape the doldrums of the day. Whilst Soma itself is a pharmacological impossibility, it’s wrong to deny that similar drugs don’t exist in our world. In Australia, the illegal drug market is estimated to be worth $6.7 Billion, and many statistics show that we have become the top country for drug abusers.

This novel causes us to reflect on the fine balance between progress and humanity, raising important questions about the ethical and moral dimensions of our pursuit of comfort and convenience in a world increasingly defined by technology. Another important aspect of Brave New World is people’s reliance on technology to escape their lives. Various complex games have been invented, movies now engage all five senses, and there are even televisions at the feet of death beds ensuring nobody in Brave New World’s society ever has to worry about being bored for long. I think we can all agree this is a haunting parallel to our own world. Where some people genuinely cannot go more than 30 minutes without checking their phone. As well we are seeing the effects our major reliance on technology is having on our mental health and brain structure. People find the concept of a tech-free day stressful and can’t escape the confines of the online world.

Similarly, in what is arguably one of the most popular dystopian novels, we see the danger of this ideology. George Orwell’s 1984 transports us to a world where individual liberty is crushed beneath the heavy boot of a totalitarian regime. Published over seven decades ago, this literary masterpiece continues to hold a mirror up to our modern society with unsettling accuracy. The telescreen is a key aspect of the Party’s control and manipulation but let me explain the telescreen. It watches over a room and listens to all that is happening, it allows people to be constantly bombarded with the messages that align with the Party and even wakes them up. So, whilst the telescreen looks like a television, it’s hard to deny we don’t carry similar devices around with us every day. Our smartphones have allowed for mass collection of data and have turned privacy into a luxury.

Orwell's vision of a society where truth is malleable and controlled by those in power feels eerily prescient in today's era of fake news, disinformation, and the manipulation of public opinion. Examples such as Al-Qaeda, Trump claiming election fraud and COVID conspiracies come to mind. In Russia's invasion of Ukraine, to garner support, Putin instilled an ‘information bubble’ that banned platforms like Facebook and slowly limited others like YouTube and Twitter. This restriction of information is an easy example of how our modern world replicates Orwell’s dystopian one. After his inaugural speech, Trump was stating that more people were at his speech compared to Obama’s inaugural speech. This was a complete lie, but it immediately made people view Trump as more powerful. Biden during his campaign for the Presidency shaped the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as a success even though it was not even close. These examples of politicians manipulating public opinion show why the novel's portrayal of "Big Brother" and the “Thought Police”

serves as a stark warning against the dangers of unchecked government power. It’s hard to forget that “Big brother is watching” but we remain ignorant to the spread of propaganda on social media platforms and the deliberate distortion of facts to serve political agendas, in our world it’s all about control and not just political control.

A white, wide-brimmed bonnet and a red cloak have become synonymous with one thing: women’s oppression. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was and still is crucially important to women’s rights movement. She wrote her book in 1985 during a time of conservative backlash in America in response to the Roe v Wade Supreme Court case. But is this any different to what is happening in America today? With the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and political protests and rallies around America and the world it’s hard to see any difference.

The Hulu series of The Handmaid's Tale brought this historical novel back to the front of our minds. Reminding us how the handmaids were severely mistreated. Whilst many dispute that we are headed anywhere near this level of dystopia in our world, some women still fight for their safety in these aspects every day. Margaret Atwood explains that everything she wrote did happen somewhere, she even took newspaper clips to her interviews about the book to show her plot points’ real-life antecedents. This makes The Handmaid’s Tale speculative Fiction. Margaret Atwood said, “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.” Atwood wasn’t merely speculating the end result of the religious right taking power in the US but was based on what was happening elsewhere. Atwood says she was inspired in part by Nicolai Ceausescu’s preoccupation with boosting female birth rates in Romania, which led to the policing of pregnant women, and the forced marriages that took place in Cambodia during the tenure of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79).

In an interview about her book, Margaret Atwood said “Is it entertainment or dire political prophecy? Can it be both?” These questions need to be applied to all dystopian literature that we encounter. As through these 3 novels, dystopian authors have the extraordinary ability to capture our world and prophesise the future. The nightmarish worlds they create speak volumes about values, beliefs and truths of our society. This leads to the question - what will the dystopian writers of today predict for our future?


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