“In the year 2025, the best men don’t run for president, they run for their lives. . .” In his novel, The Running Man, Stephen King included this quote that depicts where apparently fiction believes our society is headed in the future. It seems to be that there is a trend emerging in fiction that is geared towards dystopia. For clarification, where a utopia is a world where everything is idyllic and good things happen, a dystopia is a world where everything that can go wrong does. This shift in focus is no the more present than in Young Adult literature today. With all the success of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, both on the book shelves and in the movie theaters, there is no doubting that there is a preference for such works. However, why are teenagers gravitating towards such a grim genre? Through examining dystopian literature elements, common themes, the history of the genre, exploring popular dystopian novels, widespread opinions of the genre, and looking at the topic through the perspective of a teenager and a dystopian literature author, some light should be shed on this issue.
The Montrose Regional Library District defines dystopia as, “a futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.” In the literature, common themes are used in most stories and novels. First are the characteristics of a dystopian society. Examples of these include that citizens in these communities are watched at all times, open mindedness, free information, and difference from the norm is discouraged, and there is a fear of anything, but the world the citizens are living in. Second, there are types of controls that dystopian leaders use on their citizens to maintain power. These include bureaucratic, religious, technological, and corporate control. All are meant to restrict the population from what the citizen can do, believe in, and even think. Third are the characteristics of the dystopian literature protagonist. This is usually the main hero in the piece and is the one who wants to escape the dystopian world due to the moral questions that they have about living in such a world. Also, although the dystopian society is meant to look as though it is a great place to live, a reader experiences the harsh, more negative sides of it through the eyes of the protagonist. Dystopian literature has many elements, all that add layers to the complicated stories it weaves.