Why the Dystopian Trend is Significant

Posted May 14, 2015 by Carlisa in Discussion, Let's Talk / 8 Comments

The Dystopian Trend

I took a Literary Theory class last summer and one day we had a discussion on literature as a representation of the population. A lot of people brought up books such as Divergent and The Hunger Games, as “popular” but just “fluff.” They don’t mean anything when held up against society. Contrasting this are books popular in the past, books about race or books reacting to wars…you know, the meaningful stuff.

This bothered me that so many of my classmates just dismissed the dystopian books as meaningless to society. It just intrigued me that all throughout history, literary trends have occurred in response to outside factors, such as war or economic depressions. So what brought on this sudden influx of dystopian novels? Why do readers consume these like no else? There has to be a reason.

What is a dystopian novel?

Dystopian is a word that I probably wouldn’t have understood at all before the Hunger Games craze. Dystopia is literally the opposite of a utopia, or a perfect world. A dystopia is a world where poverty, public mistrust, suffering, and oppression are abundant. 

There are many dystopian novels that write and explore worlds like these. The most recent and most popular are books like the Hunger Games, Divergent, The Program, Delirium, Matched, or Uglies. These are just a few of the abundant number present in the literary world. On Goodreads, for instance, this list contains over 2,000 of different dystopian novels. That’s a lot of books.

What makes the dystopian novel popular?

This is where it’s interesting because reading the definition of a dystopia…it sounds terrible. It sounds like something I would not enjoy reading. But I do. And here I’m just going to give some of my speculations on why this has become so popular in the past few years. Keyword: speculations. Feel free to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I want to know what you have to say.

We Fear Governmental Control

The overcontrol of government seems to be a recurring theme of many dystopian series. The world gets taken to a place where the government feels the need to step in and they basically take over everything. But they’re not dictators because they’re the good guys, remember? They’re there to save the people from outside forces or even from themselves. But in all of these series, the government or the controlling group gets taken down, usually starting with one single individual.
I think this really represents our fear, whether subconscious or conscious, that the government is going to step their boundaries and have too much control. If you watch the news, you’d know that debates and protests and even riots are happening every day to gain what we believe to be civil and even human rights. By having these individuals in the books that are able to overcome their governments, the authors can give us as readers hope that we’re stronger than anything  or anyone trying to overpower us. Even if the government eventually would try, we can totally just whoop their butts. Following the example of Katniss Everdeen, of course.
I don’t know if what I’m saying makes sense to you. But it makes sense in my brain, so moving on.

They’re Fast-paced and Easy-to-Read

This is definitely a factor that leads to mass popularity. Not everyone is down for a dense, slow read all the time. So, these books which are fast-paced, easy-to-read, and are prone to cliffhangers are perfect for people to get hooked onto and then for movie deals to arise. And these books are sometimes the funnest to read.

We Don’t Like Being Categorized

Many of these books, the government categorizes each person. This is perhaps seen best in Divergent, where each person is placed in a group that basically decides all actions and thoughts. But it can also be seen in the Hunger Games where they’re split off into Districts, Uglies where they’re divided by being pre-surgery “Ugly” or post-surgery “Pretty,” or even The Giver, an older dystopian where each career is chosen for you and you essentially become that career and nothing else…just to name a few.
But we as a society love individuality. We don’t want to be placed in categories and just be a face among many. That’s why I believe we thrive off of books where the individual comes out and conquers in a world where individuality is suppressed.


The End…Just Kidding, Here’s Some More

These are just some ideas I’ve had over why these dystopian novels have been thriving these past couple of years. But it’s also interesting to notice how they’re already kind of dying out. Many new ones aren’t doing as well in reviews and ratings because being dystopian has almost become kind of a cliché and repetitious. For example, I’ll never probably read The Testing because it sounds like a combination of Divergent and Hunger Games. Perhaps I’m prejudging on that one (please, I want to know if you’ve read it and liked it. LET ME KNOW IF I’M MISSING OUT!)…but it’s just the way of the world. And honestly, I feel almost a little cliché even writing this post about the dystopian trend but I still it think it’s important to think about how what we read represents who we are as a society. [Sidenote: Here’s an interesting infographic made by Goodreads a few years ago. I found it recently on Pinterest and think it’s awesome.]

P.S. There’s a hilarious twitter account called Dystopian YA Novel (@DystopianYA) that follows the story of the cliché dystopian novel. Here’s a tweet from her that I think fits nicely here and is also just hilarious:

What are your favorite dystopian novels? Do you agree with my thoughts or do you have different ideas? Let me know! I want to hear your opinion!

  • Jessica Samuelsen

    I always enjoy your articles you are a supremely talented writer!

  • Ivy

    I find it odd that those girls said that popular dystopian books are just fluff. You made a lot of good points as to why they are so popular. People, I think, fear the idea of the government controlling them. They don’t want someone to be “parenting” over them, telling them what to do and how to think. Even though they have made a come back recently, I believe that classics such as Anthem and A Brave New World prove this idea isn’t a new one.
    One day “classic” books will come from our time period. Just because they are modern doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

    • YES. I agree with everything you’ve said. Throughout my English classes at my school, I’ve learned that usually what is currently popular is never given much literary credit. It’s not until later that people realize how important those things were at that time and the significance they had.

  • Maren Madsen

    I’ve found myself reading a ton of dystopian literature in the past few years, too. And I’ve also been surprised by how much I like it, for the very same reasons you’ve mentioned! (My husband makes fun of me, btw, whenever I explain the new dystopic book I’m reading. I did get him to read all of the Hunger Games, but that was it. His loss!)

    I’ve actually thought about this very topic before, and I wonder if the rise in dystopian literature has anything to do with the increase in the use of social media? I think social media has a lot of good qualities, but I also think it can lead people to feel isolated, not good enough, not special in any way, constantly comparing themselves to others – ideas I think these novels use quite a bit with their characters. In the past few years social media has also been used, especially by younger people, to help in rebellions and uprisings, such as in the Arab Spring. Rebelling against authority also seems to be used quite a bit in these books.

    This is totally my opinion – not backed by any sorts of fact at all. Just something your post made think more about. Keep up the great work with this blog – you’re awesome!

    • That’s super interesting and I’ve never thought about that before. But social media and the internet have for sure isolated us. It’s such a paradox though because technically we’re connecting with a lot of people but isolating ourselves at the same time. If that’s a contributing factor to the dystopian popularity, it’s interesting that we connect with the characters who attempt to break out of that and become a distinct and different individual. Ooh, so many intriguing things to think about because of that! Thanks for the comment!

  • Tessa G.

    A couple of years ago, dystopian books were my favorite.I loved being able to explore a world that was completely different from my own. Back then, all of them were unique, like the Hunger Games and Divergent. But now, I am not so much a fan. It is kind of like with the vampire trend that happened after Twilight. Almost every author published a book about vampires and it was no longer interesting. All of the books started to sound the same. This is exactly what happened with the dystopian genre. I would definitely read a dystopian if it has a unique premise, but those are really hard to come by now.
    Great discussion!

    • Yes, I agree. They’ve become very similar and cliché recently. But dystopian was a trend back in the 50s and 60s and 70s too, with it just recently regaining popularity…so it’s interesting to think if it’ll come back in a couple of decades revitalized and unique to the problems of that time.