From Dystopia to Utopia: How young adult novels are changing the way we think about the world

I have noticed that, for the past few years, there has been a lot of excitement and attention to young adult novels whose main plot revolves around a dystopian future. With the recent release of The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials in theaters, the upcoming conclusion to The Hunger Games trilogy, The Divergent Trilogy wrapping up as well, and the most recent book to movie adaptation The Fifth Wave, I felt it only necessary to both ask the question as to why we are so in love with this idea of a future without hope, and then to attempt to answer that question.

Let me begin by saying that every one of the series I will be talking about,The Hunger Games,The Divergent Trilogy, and The Maze Runner, I have both read and seen, so I will be pulling examples from both the books and the movies so, if you have not read or seen them !!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

(By continuing to read this post, you acknowledge my spoiler alert and will not hold me accountable for any spoilers that you yourself have subject yourself to)

I have separated my analyses into the three different series’ I am going to be talking about. The headings are bolded so if you want to read just one or two, to avoid spoilers for what you haven’t read yet, you are able to do so.

with all that being said, let’s begin.

A dystopia can be defined as a place or state in which everything is bad or unpleasant. The first real dystopian novel can be traced back to the eighteenth century, but I’m going to only touch on the sudden emergence, specifically in young adult culture. The public was first introduced to The Hunger Games in 2008, a story about a, you guessed it, dystopian future where, in order to control their subjects, the reigning government puts twenty four children into an arena to fight to the death every year. In 2011, nearly three years after it’s initial release, it was turned into a movie, a movie that would begin a movement in both American literature and cinema, a movement that would draw in readers young and old, alike, a movement which would arguably change the way we think about entertainment.

It was not long after that that The Divergent Trilogy and The Maze Runner were written and gained popularity. I am not saying that these books were, in any way, imitating The Hunger Games, but just that the theme of the books is similar. These movies were quickly bought by the media and contracted for the silver screen as well. It has come to the point that even The Fifth Wave, the newest in dystopian literature, is being made into a movie without the author having even completed the book series first. It seems as though America truly has taken a liking to these dark and gloomy futures.

Why then, do you ask, are people so in love with these types of movies, movies that promote a future devoid of hope, love, or happiness? I think, perhaps, we are not drawn to these movies because we love them so, but we are drawn to them because we see them as a warning. Not a warning that one day children will be forced to kill each other, or a warning to avoid factions, or even that a virus will sweep the world, killing almost everyone no immune, but, as each book and movie talks about a different aspect of dystopia, we are seeing the pieces to a utopia being put together.

The Hunger Games

Take for example The Hunger Games. By the time we get to the end of the final installment, Mockingjay (or Mockingjay: Part 2 for those of you who have not read the books) we have realized what it truly means to be corrupted. President Snow has been overthrown and president Coin is the new leader. Everything seems perfect until President Coin suggests something not even Katniss saw coming, that the Hunger Games be reinstated only for those who fought for the government, those who were oppressive toward every other district. Katniss, the protagonist, notices the corruption of President Coin and must work to stop the reinstatement of the Hunger Games before it’s too late.

How could this be a warning to us? How can we, as a people, learn from this story? Corruption can effect even the most noble of causes. Presidency, Mayoral staff, Teachers, Principals, anyone in any type of power can be subject to corruption and we need to notice it when it begins because, similarly to The Hunger Games, if we do not notice it, the corruption will spread, leaving us in a state of dystopia. This series also challenges the reader to stand up to unjust authority, to fight for what we believe in, but that is a different topic, for a different blog post.

The Divergent Series

Let us now look into The Divergent Series. Again I will say, major spoilers ahead. In the interest of brevity I will skip the details and go straight to the end, which, in most cases, is where the major themes of stories lie.

Tris, the protagonist of this series, is faced with a decision. She could either live, allowing thousands of people she doesn’t know to lose their memories and, with them, who they truly are, or she could walk through what is referred to as “death serum” in gaseous form to try to save them, possibly risking her life. In the end, she puts her selfishness aside and tries to save the people, not without great cost though. Her life is ultimately taken in the process. Although Tris dies, it is not in vain. The citizens of Chicago were saved and, although they are unaware of it, they are able to keep living their lives.

If the theme here, the challenge and the warning, is not obvious enough, it is to continue fighting for what you believe in, even if it mean dying. Fighting for those you love, fighting for a better future because, in the end, our lives can mean either so much or so little. That is, yet again, another topic for another blog post, one that is not the theme of todays post. Nevertheless, this theme can inspire us to continue fighting for what we believe ing, no matter what the cost.

 

The Maze Runner Series

Finally we have The Maze Runner Series. This series was a little different. Lacking a solid love story left room for plot and character development throughout. I’ll, as with the other examples, skip to the end for you, where my theme once again, lies.

By the time we get to the end, we see the utopia that WCKD has provided for the immunes that were put through the trials. After all the trust, mistrust, lies, deceit, crying, hope, and failure, we learn that, after all this time, WCKD was really good, as Teresa was so adamant about saying. A place where immunes could grow up and have children in order to start a new race of people who were immune to the flare virus.

This offers a different take on the idea of a utopian society. While Thomas and his friends were put through so much, they never gave up hope that there was something better for them. Maybe, in the inner workings of Thomas ad his groups’  heads, hope was lost, but I, as the reader, knew that there had to be a light at the end of this extremely long tunnel. There had to be a reason for them to keep fighting because, when you give up hope, you are giving up so much more than that. This is a “warning” to everyone watching, reading, listening, or however else you tuned into this series, to never give up hope. To, even in the darkest of times, look for the light that will inevitably be there. This is, once more, a topic for a different day, but as for now, we will stop our analysis here.

Conclusion

So what did all these spoilers (I warned you about them, so don’t get mad) examples, and books have to do with America’s love for dystopia? Think about it like this. These are inspirations for us to notice corruption when it happens, fight for what we believe in, and never give up hope. In a world where evil and hopelessness seem to be surrounding each one of us at different places of our lives, there is no wonder that these stories of courage and hope resonate deep within our souls. You see, we don’t love these stories because we love despair, we love these stories because we, collectively, want to see the world be a better place, a place where corruption does not run rampant, where evil does not border our sights, but rather, a place where hope and love are free to do what they do best, and that is thrive.

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