I was a sophomore in high school, I remember a conversation with my friend
Tommy concerning Dystopian Novels. He hated them. I was shocked—I had kinda
liked them—but his reason seemed fair enough.
Beginning in the 8th grade and extending through 10th, we had been on a dystopian novel kick.
My classes had forced upon us The Giver, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit
451, 1984, and Brave New World. All good books, but they
start to weigh heavy after a while. In addition, that year, The Hunger Games
had come out and was becoming popular. Tommy’s reason for hating these was
simple: he was tired of all the depressing books. Every page of every novel was
about shallow, sad people, and every book we read said this is the way our world
is going. In just a short time, we are all going to be shallow, sad people too.
So I, also, got a little fed up with
these dystopian novels. I stopped reading other entries in the genre and always
condemned them in conversation. Who needs ‘em? I appropriately distanced
myself from that canon of depression and moved on to bigger and better things
(e.g. the “Twilight Saga” in 11th
grade). I thought I had cut all ties.
However, not long ago, some friends got
into a literary debate. My hubris got the best of me, and I found myself
headlong in the conversation, not really knowing the topic of contention:
dystopia. So this post today, is a brief reflection on that conversation and an
analysis of the best products of that depressing and horrid genre.
this discussion of horrible futures and the depravity of man, I think all of
the works pumped out on the subject can be organized into three categories: the
trash—the paperback chapter books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, the
good stuff—all of the works considered classics on the subject, and the
greats—of which I think two belong (and we will see the victor of those
shortly). Below are some of the entries to the second grouping, moving past the
of the Flies (You may have noticed that I have twice, now, included Lord of
the Flies in the discussion of dystopian novels. I acknowledge it is not
really a part of that genre, but you must admit its similarity in tone.)
all of these are great books, and many more classics could be listed (though,
the definition of dystopian novel might be debated). Now, I must admit that I
haven’t read the “Divergent” series or “Hunger Games” series, but I have seen
the movies. And on those alone: let’s not kid ourselves by including them on
Finally, the real interesting part
comes with the conversation about what is the best dystopian novel of
all time (and if I’m honest with myself, one of the best novels over-all). Of
course the frontrunners are 1984 and Brave New World. George
Orwell’s 1949 novel is simply entertaining. In addition to its contributions to
culture in the form of “Big Brother” and “Newspeak,” it is also engrossing and
thrilling. Unlike most books forced upon students in high school, many
young readers actually care about what happens to Winston Smith when he is
taken to Room 101. On the other hand, no one really cares about Bernard or John
the Savage in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel. Everyone in Brave New World is
either despicable or unrelatable. From the initial scene in the hatchery, every
reader is uncomfortable, and it only gets worse as you feel more at home and
familiar with the World State.
It is that familiarity that wins the
competition for me. Even though the others might be a better read, Huxley knew
before all the rest what a real dystopia would be. The world isn’t getting
worse; it’s getting better—and we’re paying for it. If I had to forgive the
entire dystopian genre for its drab settings and depressing morals, I would do
it solely on Brave New World’s merit. It is one of the greatest works
ever conceived, and speaks more to more problems than any other work I know. It
makes me a little paranoid, I admit, but it is for the best I tell myself. We
have a lot to watch out for.
Labels: 1984, Brave New World, depressing, dystopia, dystopian novel, Hunger Games, utopia