We’re not gonna take it, no we ain’t gonna take it! We’re not gonna take it anymore!”
So go the lyrics from a 1984 song by Twisted Sister (yeah, I know most of you weren’t even born yet). But that quote sums up the main idea behind dystopian literature — including The Hunger Games.
As a general rule, dystopian stories take place “in societies where the people live in constant fear and control of their governing body, live meaningless lives and have very little hope for any amount of change to take place.”
In many dystopian books and movies, things never get better — the protagonist never realizes the change he or she seeks. In YA lit, however — and especially The Hunger Games — the characters take action against their oppressors. (We won’t know how it ultimately turns out until Mockingjay is released Aug. 24.)
I recently had a micro-conversation about dystopian lit with Shiver author Maggie Stiefvater after she tweeted the following:
I asked if, perhaps, the authors didn’t ask the questions on purpose, so readers are forced to stretch a bit and think for themselves. She wasn’t optimistic:
Indeed, dytopian lit usually needs to have a purpose or serve as an allegory (see below). It’s the ones that don’t that bother Maggie:
For an EXCELLENT discussion of the recent boom in YA dystopian lit, I recommend reading an article called “Fresh Hell” by Laura Miller of The New Yorker. She mentions not only The Hunger Games, but also When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, Uglies by Scott Westerfield and The Maze Runner by James Dashner (among others).
In describing the point of the books, Miller writes:
If … you consider the [Hunger] games as a fever-dream allegory of the adolescent social experience, they become perfectly intelligible. Adults dump teen-agers into the viper pit of high school, spouting a lot of sentimental drivel about what a wonderful stage of life it’s supposed to be. The rules are arbitrary, unfathomable, and subject to sudden change. A brutal social hierarchy prevails, with the rich, the good-looking, and the athletic lording their advantages over everyone else. To survive you have to be totally fake.
- The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells
- Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley
- Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell
- Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
- Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding
- Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand
- A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess
- The Running Man (1982) by Stephen King
- The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood
- Uglies (2005) by Scott Westerfeld
- Chaos Walking trilogy (2008-2010) by Patrick Ness
- The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009) and The Dead-Tossed Waves (2010) by Carrie Ryan
- The Maze Runner (2009) by James Dashner
- Incarceron (2010) by Catherine Fisher
- Restoring Harmony (2010) by Joelle Anthony
For the comments: Why is dystopian lit on the rise? Have you read any of these? 1984 by Orwell is my personal favorite, but I didn’t really “get” it until I was a little older. Does YA dystopian lit help remedy that age gap in understanding?