Far From Utopia: The Love Of Dystopia

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that Hunger-Games fever – and a love of all things dystopian – has gripped the nation. If you’re not faced with the sight of books baring the all-too-familiar grey tie, it’s more than likely that your tube journey will be populated with numerous commuters reading The Hunger Games. The love of the dystopian is by no means new. In fact, it is over 60 years since the publication of George Orwell’s seminal 1984 and it is as widely read and studied today as ever. But why has the genre seen such overwhelming growth in popularity now? Why has The Hunger Games trilogy so captured the imagination of young readers and adults alike?

The success of The Hunger Games began with the readers at whom it was initially targeted, young adults, and this is due in no small part to the powerful protagonist at its heart, Katniss. It is easy to see why she has become a poster-girl for teenage independence, a symbol of youthful power and resilience. Faced with seemingly insurmountable adversity, her endurance and bravery are impressive indeed and even more so for readers of her age, for whom she provides an obvious role model. Her struggle for survival is universal and has been depicted countless times; it is mankind’s greatest test writ large. This time, however, it is a teenager who offers hope in a time of moral turpitude and her strength is undeniably compelling.

Although confined within the constraints of the game itself, Katniss is able to exert control over her performance, ignoring the advice of her elders before entering the game and defiantly undermining the gamemakers’ control at every opportunity. For modern-day teenagers, eager to be released from the shackles of parental and societal restriction, these worlds offer a unique opportunity to imagine themselves autonomous, even in this most bleak of environments. Like Katniss and her fellow dystopian inhabitants, teenagers today are faced with a future determined by the decisions of their elders. Ultimately, these fictions offer hope; the hope that they, like Katniss, will not be found wanting when faced with considerable adversity and challenge.

However, it is not Katniss alone who has determined the success of The Hunger Games. Much has been said of Suzanne Collins’ strikingly vivid world creation and it is certainly true that Panem has captured the imaginations of readers of all ages. With nods to the world we inhabit, Katniss’ world is inescapably unsettling. It is, like ours, a world of self creation. Katniss is constantly aware of the public’s perception of her, carefully crafting her persona throughout. In a time of Facebook/Twitter domination and internet avatars aplenty this is something we can all relate to. Readers of The Hunger Games may well tweet about their love of the book, keen to add this to the intangible perception others glean of them from the internet. Just as Katniss manipulates the audience’s understanding of her personality, her experience of the game and her motivation, so too do we all create an identity for ourselves in the online landscape.

The similarities between Panem and the modern world may be unnerving but so too are the differences comforting. Regardless of the problems we see around us, we are safely removed from times as hard as those depicted in the world of the games. It serves, instead, as a snapshot of what might be. Whilst we can, for the moment, revel in complacency that our youth are not selected at random to compete in a fight to the death, we can only hope that the similarities we recognise and the degeneration depicted serve as warnings that are heeded, not ignored.

With the release of the remaining Hunger Games films and with a bevy of dystopian novels to come – including Headline’s very own Pure – it doesn’t look like we’ll be finding a literary utopia any time soon…

Posted by Frankie Gray, Editorial

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