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Popularity of Utopian/Dystopian Young Adult Literature Research Paper

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The utopia in addition to its derivative, the dystopia, is types of literature that explore both social and political configurations. Utopian literature explores or tackles the aspects of creating ideal humanity, or utopia as the general setting of the narrative. Dystopian is the contrary: invention or creation of a atrocious civilization, or dystopia.

Typically, most novels mix the two, commonly as a metaphor for the diverse directions the society can take in its preferences, ending with either one of the two likely futures. Both types are characteristically utilized in science narrative plus other exploratory genres, and are almost certainly by explanation a series of speculative fiction.

Young adult utopian fiction is often characterized by dictatorial regimes that subject their citizens to inhuman treatment. Other common themes include, separate authorities in competition for power and wealth, a religious significance attached to leaders, a protagonist who gets enlightened a starts an uprising and a lower class that are usually looked down upon.

Other common themes in utopian literature are degradation of one sex by the other and reduced personal contact between people usually due to technological advances (Bleiler 88).

Both genres try to extrapolate the direction of human life by predicting future. By painting horrible and disturbing scenes in dystopian literature, authors try to scare readers from certain practices and lifestyles. Such literature serve as warnings by helping humans to imagine the worst possible futures usually characterized by uninhabitable environment, despotic governments, wars and overpopulation.

On the other hand utopian literature tries to restore human hope by painting brighter future where there is abundance of peace and goodwill. The main purpose of utopian literature is to provide an escape from the real world which is probably why it popular with the youth and depressed persons. While the utopian world is too god to be true, the dystopian world is too scaring to be true (Nikolajeva 44).

In ideal cases, a piece of literature has a utopian setting with a few flaws that give it a dystopian twist. Authors and artists may use dystopia to criticize real life characters. Despotic regimes usually fall victim to this tactic to its metaphoric nature which ensures that authors can not be accused of sedition.

A common theme in dystopian literature is a scenario where the characters wish they could reverse time to the present day. This encourages the readers to be satisfied with the present life.

Several factors determine the audience of utopian literature as with all other types. Novels meant for teenagers such as The Harry Porter Series are characterized by easy language, hard-to-forget characters, fast plots and a theme of the young coming into a perfect o conflict with the older generation.

Such literature is meant to encourage the young to take control of the direction they want their life to take without over relying on their parents. While such sentiments may be mistranslated as an excuse for recklessness and rebellion it does not happen often since most youths are able to draw a line between the utopian and the real world

Utopian literature often begins with a political, social or economic revolution or a war that drastically changes the way people live and forces them to adapt to new, often extreme conditions. Dystopian literature often features advanced technology and less individual freedoms. People in dystopia depend on technology to run their lives.

Utopian literature has often been criticized for using obscene and immoral language and demoting family values. Other critics say that it opens the youth’s minds and encourages them to make independent and informed opinions on situations they might later face in life. A horde of other reasons has often been used to ban or censor utopian literature.

The reasons include claims that such books contain anti-establishmentarian ideas, violent scenes, sexually explicit language and morally decadent ideas such infanticide and drug abuse. The advantages of letting young people read utopian literature far outweigh the disadvantages since it is obvious the young people can not be protected from the harsh realities of the real world forever.

Young adults are often anxious about the future and understandably so. Shielding them from getting a glimpse of what a future world might look like denies them an invaluable right to information.

The argument that reading utopian and dystopian literature has a detrimental effect on their impressionable minds does not hold any water either. Youngsters come across more potentially harmful ideas through real life, television and computer games in their day to day lives.

It has been severally proved that censorship fuels curiosity and a sense of dissatisfaction and rebellion that is far worse that any utopian ideas that a young person could acquire. It therefore beats the purpose to blacklist’ ban or censor books simply because they contain extremist ideas. It’s also worth noting that not all utopian/dystopian literature has political overtones as it is widely believed.

Utopian literature acts a perfect platform for tackling contemporary issues such as human cloning, nuclear weapons and global warming. In her novel “The House of the Scorpion”, Nancy Farmer attempts to tackle the controversial topic of human cloning. The main character, Matt Alacran is a human clone that has to put with being treated as a pet or an object of fascination.

He feels compelled to live up to the expectations of his creators. Throughout the plot the writer takes the reader through a journey of self-discovery as Matt tries to figure out his role in the world (Farmer 44). The author uses several utopian and dystopian which are reminiscent of present day ghettoes, industrial and rural areas.

In the book, farmer uses extremes to help the reader imagine what the three settings would look, smell or feel like in the future. She describes “eejit pens” where the society’s workers live (Patai 88). Through Matt she describes the smells as horrible. These conditions are not unknown to the present world where the workers who are the economy’s backbones live in deplorable conditions.

The author latter describes the city of Aztlan which looks like what today’s developed cities would look like in the future. The city is a jumble of factories’ skyscrapers, roadways that wind up to the tops of buildings and a sea of hovercrafts. The contrast between the settings helps to spice up the plot.

The book is a perfect example of what good utopian book should entail a futuristic plot and imaginary characters that represent the present day society.

The main character, Matt, is depicted is as human clone who is torn between the human and animal identities. He longs for a normal human life but feels like a copy of someone whom he barely knows. He has human feelings but keeps being reminded of his animal nature as he was born of a cow.

His human side becomes especially evident when he becomes jealous when his girlfriend, Maria is snatched from him by another boy. The book explores other moral issues such as greed, obsessive ambition, human freedom, and the dangers and comforts that could result from technological advancement. The characters, through their sometimes bizarre actions provoke critical thought on human nature.

The book’s popularity among young adults could be explained by the fact the story’s main character struggles with his self image a struggle that most youths go through. The book effectively stimulates debatable opinions on the social, political, ethical and scientific issues.

Similar themes are featured in Katherine Burdekin’s, Swastika Night. The author creates a Nazist regime that alienates Christians and women and exterminates all Jews. Surprisingly the author started writing the book in 1930’s when the Nazis anti-Semitic ideas were only evident from Hitler’s Mein Krampf. The book’s prophecy later came to near fulfillment in what is now known as the Holocaust.

The Nazi regime allegedly killed six million Jews in concentration camps during the Second World War. This demonstrates that predictions made in utopian fiction are not as far fetched as they are often dismissed as. Perhaps it is this realization that drives authoritarian regimes and the older generation into censoring and banning utopian fiction.

The book is set seven hundred years after the “twenty years war” a metaphorical reference to the Second World War. At this time the Nazis rule supreme with a little competition from the Japanese with whom they share the world’s power. Hitler was adored and given a god-like status.

He has statues and portraits which depict him having a Zeus-like physique, complete with a towering frame and blonde hair. Demoralized in addition to being made to feel insignificant. Their sole function in life is reproduction and women who can’t play that primary role to perfection are considered worthless (Hintz,et al 141).

The author portrays the Nazis as homosexual misogynists who prefer boys to women for sexual pleasure. Women are locked in miserable breeding camps where their heads are shaved clean. The main protagonist, Alfred is a British national on a tour in Germany where he finds out about the origins of Nazi ideology from his German host.

He is surprised to see old photos of Hitler depicting him as a short, slightly potbellied fellow with dark hair. This shatters his belief in the sanctity of Nazism. He starts to see it as an extremist but fallible movement that has lasted beyond its time. He realizes that Hitler himself had a female companion whom he finds very attractive.

After reading a book given to him by his German host he starts reasoning. “I am a man who understands that while armed insurgence against Germany must be unsuccessful, there is another insurgence that must be successful… The rebellion of incredulity (pg 6). Your domain is placed together on the mentality side of it by Hitlerism.

If that happens to go, if the citizens no longer trust Hitler is supernatural being, you have nobody left but the military men. And the only thing that can do is but kill people. You can not make the people to re-trust if they do not want to.

And in the very end, no matter how many citizens you kill, so long as there are a number of them to persist, the uncertainty will continue to grow. And you can’t ever kill all the unbelievers, because, though you can search a man’s pockets or his house, you can’t search his mind” 1937.

The similarity of Hitler’s cult as displayed in the book to Christianity as we know it is hard to miss. The belief that he was born of thunder and he shall return when the last heathen man is converted is undebatably comparable to Christ’s second coming.

“And I believe that when all things are accomplished and when the last heathen man is enlisted in His Holly Army, that Adolf Hitler will come again in his martial glory to the sound of guns and aeroplanes, to the sound of trumpets and drums ” (pg 6).

Such sentiments and thinly veiled comparisons to established religions are often enough to scare parents, religious leaders and government into banning utopian literature. Some may argue that it encourages the youth to rebel from religion and even imply that the devil himself is behind the inspiration of the authors.

What the older generation seems not to understand is that it gives the youth a chances to consolidate their opinions and beliefs by doubting them. It’s hard to ignore the feminist theme explored in the book.

The author seeks to exaggerate the masculine-supremacy rhetoric of the Nazis, perhaps in an attempt to draw attention to the patriarchal nature of the society at that time. She writes of fundamental immutable laws of the Hitler Society which in part stated

As a woman is above a worm

So is a man above a woman

As a woman is above a worm

So is a worm above a Christian” (Burdekin7)

This also brought to light Hitler’s anti-Christian sentiments. The men in the book are displayed as lazy and authoritarian. When women attend their regular brainwashing sessions they are required to stay as their rumps would defile the temple of the most High Hitler.

They are encouraged to despise to despise Christian and are remind that it’s punishable to even imagine of coming into contact with them. A role reversal is displayed in boys being encouraged to keep long hair while women are required to be close shaved. Homosexuality is rampant and boys are treated as objects of desire. The role of boys of boys in Hitler is disturbingly similar to the altar boys in Roman Catholic worship.

The theme of education comes in connected with that of religion. Books that do not preach Hitler supremacy are banned and the SS is charged with the role of persecuting anyone who professes to anything but the Hitler Supremacy faith. This is meant to draw attention to the dangers of entrusting education to one entity such as the government.

The Hitler Worshipers lock women up only allowing them to venture out for brain washing sessions. The culture of banning controversial literature comes under criticism as the Nazi regime does anything possible to ensure that historical literature is destroyed.

It is fascinating how such a regime is threatened by a mere picture or a book. The book ends with Alfred being killed by the SS after it comes to their knowledge that he has discovered the truth.

The book ends with a theme of hope as Alfred passes on the secret to his son before his death. He hopes that the truth will spread and would one day lead to a revolution. The book successfully displays a regime built on nothing but lies and propaganda.

Burdenkin seems to be in favor of separation of the church, the government and the education system arguing that entrusting to one entity is tantamount to brainwashing. This book like other dystopian literature ends with the establishment prevailing over the rebel.

Jean DuPrau’s Ember series is another fine example of utopian literature that explores human flaws in an imaginary setting. The first book in the series is set in an underground city that was built by engineers to ensure the survival of the human should any happen on the surface. The city is supposedly self-contained as it is stocked with all the necessary resources and the power from an inbuilt generator.

The city’s builders are aware that the city can not sustain itself for more than 200 hundred years. They reason that this is a relatively safe period after which the residents can venture out to check on the humans above the surface. To ensure the eventual departure from the city, the engineers leave a list of encoded instructions in a box that is designed to open after 200 years.

The box is entrusted in the Mayor’s care and a tradition of passing it from one Mayor to the next is established. The box is passed in accordance to the culture but apparently the knowledge of its significance is not. One Mayor removes it from its rightful place and attempts to open it forty seven years before the designated time.

The Mayor’s attempt is unsuccessful and he unfortunately dies before returning the box to its nook. The box is somehow forgotten and the writer fast forwards the plot to 247 years after the opening of the city.

The resources are running out and the generator’s condition is deteriorating as it has outlived its designed lifetime. The city is plagued by frequent blackouts tht last longer each time. The city depends on generator for lighting that is especially important since the city relies on artificial light to run its greenhouses. The produce from the greenhouses supplemented with canned foods make up the residents’ diet. The canned food supply starts running out which raises the anxiety and desperation of the people.

During one of the graduation ceremonies at the city , two graduates are assigned roles they are dissatisfied with. Lina is made a Pipeworks Labourer while another graduate named Doon is made a Messenger.

The two agree to exchange their professions. Lina accidentally discovers the lost Mayor’s metal box which has already automatically unlocked as it was set to do in the 200th year. She is however unable to decipher the message since part of it has been destroyed.

She seeks Doon’s help and they gradually realize the paper contains instructions on how to leave the city. They resolve to follow the clues and leave the city but they have to use wit to do it without the knowledge of the people in power.

In the course of their journey they realize that the Mayor had been hording possessions and supplies while the rest of the city’s residents suffered from depravation. Their attempt to go public with the discovery puts them at loggerheads with the Mayor and his officials. They become fugitives as Poppy, Lina’s younger sister joins them in the expedition. They eventually reach the earth’s surface where they see the sky for the first time.

Perhaps too enchanted by the marvels of the world above the trio does not go back to the city. They however, tie the instructions to a rock and drop it back to the city where it is luckily discovered by Doon’s father.

The books title The City of Ember is most appropriate as it creates an image of a fire that is dying out. This is a metaphorical reference to the city’s unstable generator which flickers on and off like an ember. The main characters, Lina and Doon are teenagers who are dedicated to find a solution to the problems facing their city. This reinforces the books position as a young adult utopian fiction.

The author explores the theme of hope as the two relentlessly pursue their quest of finding a better future for their city. They are faced with numerous challenges as they expose the cities corrupt leadership. They are wanted by the city’s police which leaves them with no option but to find their way out of the city.

They have to negotiate a steep terrain in order to reach the world above which is made no easier by the presence of Lina’s toddler sister Poppy. Despite their youth, the two take practical steps to better their world.

Lina’s decision to take her younger sister along shows a sense of responsibility that is not common among teenagers of her age. The author may have meant to inspire today’s to take more responsibility in the world around and their families.

In the course of their journey to the world above the two discover that their parents had unsuccessfully embarked on a similar (Reber 28). Fate and destiny seems to have brought them back together which encourages them not to relent. They also wonder how the instructions ended up in their hands and not the hands of a mayor as the builders of the city had intended.

The fragility and unpredictability of human plans comes to attention. The very idea of the city itself and the survival of its residents depend on the contents of the box which are so mishandled to the point of being chewed by Poppy.

The author also criticizes the act of passing down of meaningless culture and rituals. The reason behind every culture or legacy should be well understood to those are expected to carry it forward.

The consequences of entrusting people with a culture that they don’t understand are displayed by the mayor’s carelessness when handling the box. Had the mayor understood its significance he would not have misplaced it which would have saved the people of the town a lot of unnecessary miserly.

Human greed and folly is evident in the current Mayor who stacks up light bulbs and supplies for himself. The mayor who is supposed to be a servant of the people is too selfish to notice that the bulbs will be useless when the generator finally collapses. Like all the greedy leaders he tries to use the police to silence Lina and Doon when they uncover his selfish scheme (DuPrau 26).

The plot shows the dangers faced by a people who are not adequately aware of their history as they can not predict their future. The people of the city believe that the builders built the city from nothing. They live in absolute ignorance of the world above them and therefore subject themselves to unnecessary suffering (Crossley 200).

The dangers of ignorance come to light as Lina, Doon and Poppy emerge from their world at night. They become very disappointed thinking that the generator of this world is exhausted too. However they still find the open sky and fresh air very appealing. There are overjoyed in the morning when the sun comes up reinforcing the theme of hope.

The three books show just why it makes no sense to ban utopian and dystopian literature. Readers who are old enough to understand a metaphor should be allowed to read as many ideas as they can. Parents who impose such limitations to their children limit their exposure to the harsh realities of the world. They deny them a chance of strengthening their opinions by exposing them to extreme hypothetical situations (James 56).


Examining the manner the diverse authors have explored the diverse aspects of utopia and dystopia, it would be instrumental to argue that gender issues such as male chauvinism and feminity are given a broader consideration. This can be allied to the fact that the major forces that determine the social ties are linked to the two.

Therefore, the world of utopia as is presented in some of the narratives presents a candid picture of the world. In regard to the scope of science fiction and gender aspects both utopia and dystopia explores deeper elements the gender. This as is presented involves acts of heroism, and is well articulated in the young adult literature so as to make them visualize a society that calls for heroes.

Young adult literature examines diverse and in sometimes conflicting aspects of the society. As is presented in the examined books it is evident that the use of science to reflect on two aspects of the world is instrumental.

Considering the effect of the texture and the tone of the authors of such works as “The House of the Scorpion”, Swastika Night, The City of Ember the most outstanding features evolves within the axis of scope of creating alliances and forging identifications.

This illustrates why the authors of these books captures the mind of the young adults by exploring hope as well as sexuality which in end dwells on the borders of determining hero and heroine in both context of utopia and dystopia. Therefore, examining the elements of gender the novels engages the young readers to understand the significance of hope, sacrifice and unity in regard to such aspects as masculinity and feminism.

In contrast to adult literature, young adult literature provides dynamic approach to the way the young readers perceive the world. In regard to gender, girls are presented in a more open and resourceful context, While the boys are also competitive. However, in both instances the young readers are introduced to where in both the utopian and dystopian world the little protagonists are able to overcome unique challenges.

Therefore, exploring the dynamics of both utopia and dystopia gender is forged as an instrument of transition where in both cases the young adult is mostly viewed as the utopia in dystopia narrative. And this illustrates why the discussed authors have overcome the elements of hopelessness and generated a scenario where male supremacy or feminism is played out strongly.

Looking at the concept being examined young adult readers experience utopia or dystopia in home. But the radical thing is the essence of gender is illustrated by the way the young readers as well as the authors perceive the context of the aspects with caution. It is therefore apposite to argue that a rhetorical system is employed in the young adult literature.

The significance of exploring gender aspects shows how the authors inject elements of responsibility to both male and female. However, the role and projections of both young boys and girls is presented in simple and involving manner. Perhaps this explains why the elements of the dystopian society are illustrated as acts of restricting the growth of the human civilization.

Therefore, in the explored narratives the works offers thematic conventions which involve detailed and explicit studies. Too, the novels entail decisive pedagogical implications that compel the young readers to grapple with queries of a perfect society or the extreme imperfect communal organizations as well as their definite autonomy.

Both utopia and dystopia literature explores the romanticized elements of gender in young adult novels. The concept is commonly employed to create the key message in both genres.

Equally this approach established dynamic relationship between the young reader and the author. And that is why the greater features employed in exploring gender in the novels rests within using distinct sexuality and personality to seek identity and place in the society.

Works Cited

Bleiler, Everett. The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta,2000

Burdekin, Katharine. Swastika Night. Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1985

Crossley, Robert. Dystopian Nights. Routledge, 2009.

DuPrau, Jeanne. The City of Ember . New York: Yearling, 2008

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion . New York: Simon Pulse, 2004

Hintz, Carrie and Elaine Ostry. Utopian and Dystopian . NY: Routledge, 2003.

James, Kathryn. Death, Gender and Sexuality . New York: Routledge, 2009.

Nikolajeva, Maria. Literature for Young Readers. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Patai, Daphne. Foreword.New York: The Feminist Press, 1993

Reber, Lauren L. Dystopian Literature Brigham Young University, 2005

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