A lone citizen seeks to escape or overturn a totalitarian society that has arisen after a global disaster.
Often called dystopian fiction, the protagonist of this universal plot is usually an insider rather than an outsider in the society. Although they may question the society they generally accept the harsh rules and strict social order until an event occurs which forces them to take action. Think Katniss’s sister being chosen in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Katniss deciding to take her place or Cassia being mistakenly matched to two people in Matched by Ally Condie, until one of them, Ky, is banished to the dangerous Outer Provinces.
In some dystopian novels, the protagonist decides to fight to change their society. In the classic British novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, the protagonist Winston is enlisted into the Brotherhood, a secret organisation dedicated to overturning the ruling Party and Big Brother, only to find that he has been set up.
In other stories the hero or heroine simply wants to escape their fate or society. In Margaret Atwood’s Canadian classic The Handmaid’s Tale, the heroine Offred risks breaking her society’s rules simply to survive, for if she doesn’t get pregnant she will be eradicated, whereas The Hunger Games Katniss must kill to survive.
Dystopian novels rarely end happily. Even if the hero triumphs, the society itself rarely changes, at least by the end of the novel. (Maybe it will given enough books in a series!) The ending of a dystopian novel is more likely to be open ended or even depict the protagonist dying or being imprisoned.
So why do we like these stories about such grim worlds with bleak futures? Perhaps it’s because we identify with the hero’s struggle to change the world and the fate that has been dealt them. Don’t we all want to do that?
Some dystopian novels you might like to read:
Atwood, Margaret, The Handmaid’s Tale
Bertagna, Julie, Exodus
Bradbury, Ray, Farenheit 451
Collins, Suzanne, The Hunger Games
Condie, Ally, Matched
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World
Malley, Gemma, The Declaration
Moore, Alan, V for Vendetta (series of comic books)
Orwell, George, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Rosoff, Meg, How I Live Now
Westerfield, Scott, Uglies
Wyndham, John, The Chrysalids also titled Re-Birth
Young Moira, Blood Red Road