Divergent by Veronica Roth: What is “dystopian?”

With the success of The Hunger Games series, it’s no surprise that fans are hungry for more dystopian books, like Veronica Roth’s Divergent.

What are the hallmarks of dystopian, and why is it so poular right now?

“Dystopia” is defined as a society characterized by poverty, squalor, or oppression; dystopian books, then, are set in these societies.

According to Wikipedia,

Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society and function as a warning against some modern trend, often the threat of oppressive regimes in one form or another. Many utopias can be seen as dystopias in regard to their treatment of the issues of justice, freedom and happiness.

Sounds familiar, right? There’s always an underlying lesson or allegory. Great dystopian fiction manages to make a social commentary without beating readers over the head or being obvious. They often target technological advances, religions, societal concepts (like the family) and especially, political movements.

In YA dystopians, the target is often high school or the process of figuring out who you are in the wake of the online/social media revolution, where you’re bombarded with images telling you who/what you’re supposed to be.

Another hallmark of the genre is its pairing with utopian elements; that is, the perfect society. In Divergent, the ideal is that everyone follows their calling and enters a faction that will help them (and society) function at their best. As we all know, not everyone easily fits into a mold. Some of us are always different, or “divergent” and throw a wrench into the best-laid plans.  Something similar happens in Ally Condie’s Matched. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is straight-up dystopia.

For a list of recent dystopian YA and further discussions (including some comments from author Maggie Stiefvater), see the post we did during our Countdown to Mockingjay.

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3 thoughts on “Divergent by Veronica Roth: What is “dystopian?”

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  1. The whole point of the dystopian genre is that it’s impossible to create a “heaven on earth,” and when one attempts to do so, it results in tyranny and injustice. The word utopia itself was coined by Thomas Moore, and the word is a play upon Latin and Greek roots. The -eu in both Greek and Latin, sound like U in English, which is how the word came to be utopia as opposed to eutopia. The -eu means no or good, and when paired with the ending of -topos, meaning place, the word literally means no place or good place. The play on the meaning is obvious in that this perfect world does not exist nor can it. I Moore knew what he was doing when he coined the word. Real world attempts at creating the perfect society have all ended in blood shed and misery as history can attest. From Pol Pot’s killing fields, to Stalin’s gulags, the evidence is pretty clear. Mankind is simply not capable of creating the perfect society, and any and all attempts to do so lead to a hell on earth. Man can not be trusted with the kind of power necessary to centrally plan a whole society.

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