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Term Definition

When a writer or author evokes a dystopia, he is usually developing a future scenario that is based on an exacerbation of disturbing trends or themes that can be found within present-day society. As such, dystopia is especially prevalent within the genre of science fiction. For example, a writer may focus on the modern reliance on technology in order to develop the idea of a society where people are enslaved to robots. 

You have likely heard the word dystopia several times in your life. A dystopia is essentially a society that that matches up with our worst imaginings of what a society could be. It is the opposite of utopia, or a society that matches up with our best imaginings. 

Examples of dystopia in writing

So that you can better understanding the meaning of dystopia, here are a few sentences in which the term is being used in a correct way. 

"The environmentalist warned his audience that unless they took prompt action to reverse global warming, reality would soon become worse than the most extreme dystopia they could possibly imagine."

"George Orwell imagined a dystopia in which we would be oppressed by external governmental authorities; Huxley, on the other hand, imagined a dystopia in which we would be oppressed by our own addiction to pleasure." Click here to read a summary of an example of a dystopian work - Brave New World. 

"The optimist pointed at the advancements of science as evidence that modern imaginings of dystopia were likely just based on subjective depression more than empirical fact." 

Just in case you are still a little confused about the meaning of the term dystopia, here are a couple guidelines that can help you make sure you are using the term in the right way.

1. Dystopia usually refers to a future, imagined state of suffering and meaningless. As such, it is a favorite theme of science fiction. It is generally not used to describe the present, except with reference to how the present situation is perhaps beginning to approach the situations of dystopia imagined by artists of the past. 

2. Dystopia is often used in its adjective form of "dystopian". For example, one might look at a deforested piece of land and comment that it looks dystopian. This would mean that the scene makes one think of the nightmarish scenarios created by artists of the past of imagined what a dystopia might look like in the future. Authors often use allegories in portraying dystopian societies. 

Other uses in literature

To a significant extent, the concept of dystopia may be connected with the concept of linear, historical time on the one hand and the concept of scientific progress on the other. As long as human beings believed that the future would be very much like the present and the past, there could be no real concept of dystopia. This is because dystopia fundamentally evokes an idea of the future that is worse than the present, on the basis of extrapolations from disturbing trends within the present itself. George Orwell's "Animal Farm" is a dystopian novel that centers the regime of Joseph Stalin in the 1900's. 

As such, dystopia can be understood as the shadow side of the optimism and belief in progress that emerged with the cultural era known as the Enlightenment. People believed that through the use of reason and the development of science, human beings would be able to develop a perfect society (i.e. a utopia) for themselves in the future. In contrast, the vision of dystopia is based on the idea that while science and reason are in fact growing, morality and humanity are actually diminishing. Therefore, optimism is to pessimism as utopia is to dystopia. 

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Synonyms: dystopia

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