APOCALITERATURE

Forgive the all-caps. I’m in a state of frenzy after seeing Divergent. I’ve written about this briefly before, but I am so intrigued by the saturation of dystopian fiction and film these days. On the YA side, you’ve got the formula of shy-girl-turned-revolutionary a la Hunger Games and Divergent and on the literary fiction side, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and The Handmaid’s Tale and of course, the classic 1984 or the book that scared the living daylights out of me. Why? George Orwell responded to the aftermath of World War II and the rise of communism, and Aldous Huxley to worldwide industrialization and to what he considered the dehumanization of mankind following the first World War. What are we responding to today? And why is it so successful specifically with teenagers?

fan-noi-gian-khi-divergent-bi-goi-la-the-hunger-games-ban-moiYA dystopian fiction is the new vampire romance. It’s trendy and exciting, and it definitely makes a good story. I sat immobile in the theatre after seeing Divergent, unblinking and in awe at what had just happened. I connected with Tris the same way I connected with Katniss (forgive the inevitable comparison) because both were stronger than they knew or seemed, and pushed themselves constantly to save what they loved, or fight for a cause. They’re incredibly brave, but they’re also vulnerable and dynamic and complicated. So, I see why characters like Tris appeal to teenagers (and adults!). She is “dauntless,” after all. But what about the situations they find themselves in? The fights to the death, the hostile governments, the constant struggle for survival? What’s going on here?

When I read The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year, I read a blurb in the back that described the dystopian government’s rules and strictures on women as “the logical conclusion” of certain societal trends and ideals. Victim-blaming in rape instances, for example, is the norm in Atwood’s world. In Huxley’s Brave New World, women are immunized against child-bearing, people are bred in factories, and everyone is high on soma all the time to dull the pain and pleasure of living. So in these instances, the dystopian “future” is the logical conclusion of the scary things we see happening all around us on a daily basis, if these terrible things became normal, or if they became enforced law.

So what does YA dystopian fiction tell us about how teenagers see society? Is it just storytelling and plotting, or is it something else?

I feel like in the case of Divergent at least, the answer is in the title. Teenagers are afraid of being different, being weird, being ostracized (aren’t we all?) and people like Tris and Katniss, who break the molds and find this immense inner strength, offer all kinds of hope for young people. It’s okay to diverge, people. Difference makes you beautiful, and all that. In the case of Hunger Games, the answer is a little less clear because the world-building is less clear. Katniss is fighting an amorphous force whose only clear method of cruelty is the whole children-killing-each-other thing, and maybe the wealth disparity between the districts. So if she’s fighting for a vague “freedom,” then teenagers relate to her strength and courage, and admire her as a role model. I can definitely get behind that.

Strangely enough, I think dystopian novels of all kinds give people hope. It’s all about the struggle, the fight, the never-giving-up. It’s idealistic in the best way, because dystopia suggests an opposite: a utopia of ideals, a perfect method of living, a peace that we all idealize and wish to strive for in this world. Even if it’s unattainable, if we keep writing about fighting, if we keep noticing things in our world and reacting to them, if we keep up the struggle, then hopefully that dystopian future will stay in the realm of fiction.

Confession: I actually like Tris better than Katniss. Please don’t kill me. I’ll fight back.

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  • I agree about the ‘hope’. I think for YA fiction it’s important to explore boundaries and limits of the self and what better way to do that then with an oppressive, totalitarian, completely bat shit crazy ‘government’? (there’s seems to be a lack of monarchy in dystopia fiction..) Lols. Stick it to the man! Woo!

    And yeah, I also think it’s just the new thing to really trend after ‘that shiny vampire thing’. Uck. I love me some vampire fiction, but not when it’s effectively a contemporary love story with fangs. Blegh.

    I love SF and dystopian fiction. Always have. And I think it was Atwood that opened my eyes to it.

    It does make me wonder though.. it’s starting to become a bit tiresome now. So.. what’s next?

    • I like that perspective! What’s next?? I wonder what the new trendy plotline will be…I also really appreciate your perspective about exploring boundaries–I think that resonates a lot with young readers just beginning to realize their own potential and their independence. Thanks for sharing!

  • P.S. I also prefer Tris. She was just more relatable to me, though both can be annoying (which is realistic and humanizing).

    • You got it. I just grew frustrated with Katniss in the third installment and was just so disappointed at her downward spiral into an admittedly understandable PTSD–still, it didn’t make for good characterization or good plotting. I haven’t read the Divergent books but judging from the movie, Tris has a bit of a stronger mind. She seems to know herself better.

  • Another to the list is Equilibrium – which is not YA is another place where government strictures regarding behaviour and even feelings are enforced at the point of a gun and those who find strength it seems by accident. I enjoyed you look at these movies and books – have you seen the Handmaids Tale, the is better but this movie is actually quite good at showing the starkness of the their existence and the double standards at play. Shhh have to agree with you – did like Katniss but found here just a little toooo walled off as a character.

    • I agree: I think Katniss is emotionally hostile at times, which is understandable in the context of the story, but I do like Tris’s personality better. I haven’t seen The Handmaid’s Tale movie, but I heard it wasn’t worth a watch! Thanks for visiting!

      • No it wasn’t a great movie but there were moments where the bleakness and rigidity of that world was made very clear and so worth it just for those moments.

        • Interesting! Maybe I’ll have to check it out after all.

  • Pingback: Blog, The Most Happy | Lisa LoParo()

  • The fact that you prefer Tris to Katniss makes me wonder if I shouldn’t read Divergent after all…!

    • Another confession: I didn’t actually read the book! I started but found it to be a carbon copy of the movie (at least the first few chapters) and so I put it down to explore at a later date. Some people have told me Tris’s character also kind of devolves, so maybe I’ll never get to it at all.

  • I like Tris much better than Katniss, but that is my opinion!

APOCALITERATURE

Forgive the all-caps. I’m in a state of frenzy after seeing Divergent. I’ve written about this briefly before, but I am so intrigued by the saturation of dystopian fiction and film these days. On the YA side, you’ve got the formula of shy-girl-turned-revolutionary a la Hunger Games and Divergent and on the literary fiction side, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and The Handmaid’s Tale and of course, the classic 1984 or the book that scared the living daylights out of me. Why? George Orwell responded to the aftermath of World War II and the rise of communism, and Aldous Huxley to worldwide industrialization and to what he considered the dehumanization of mankind following the first World War. What are we responding to today? And why is it so successful specifically with teenagers?

fan-noi-gian-khi-divergent-bi-goi-la-the-hunger-games-ban-moiYA dystopian fiction is the new vampire romance. It’s trendy and exciting, and it definitely makes a good story. I sat immobile in the theatre after seeing Divergent, unblinking and in awe at what had just happened. I connected with Tris the same way I connected with Katniss (forgive the inevitable comparison) because both were stronger than they knew or seemed, and pushed themselves constantly to save what they loved, or fight for a cause. They’re incredibly brave, but they’re also vulnerable and dynamic and complicated. So, I see why characters like Tris appeal to teenagers (and adults!). She is “dauntless,” after all. But what about the situations they find themselves in? The fights to the death, the hostile governments, the constant struggle for survival? What’s going on here?

When I read The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year, I read a blurb in the back that described the dystopian government’s rules and strictures on women as “the logical conclusion” of certain societal trends and ideals. Victim-blaming in rape instances, for example, is the norm in Atwood’s world. In Huxley’s Brave New World, women are immunized against child-bearing, people are bred in factories, and everyone is high on soma all the time to dull the pain and pleasure of living. So in these instances, the dystopian “future” is the logical conclusion of the scary things we see happening all around us on a daily basis, if these terrible things became normal, or if they became enforced law.

So what does YA dystopian fiction tell us about how teenagers see society? Is it just storytelling and plotting, or is it something else?

I feel like in the case of Divergent at least, the answer is in the title. Teenagers are afraid of being different, being weird, being ostracized (aren’t we all?) and people like Tris and Katniss, who break the molds and find this immense inner strength, offer all kinds of hope for young people. It’s okay to diverge, people. Difference makes you beautiful, and all that. In the case of Hunger Games, the answer is a little less clear because the world-building is less clear. Katniss is fighting an amorphous force whose only clear method of cruelty is the whole children-killing-each-other thing, and maybe the wealth disparity between the districts. So if she’s fighting for a vague “freedom,” then teenagers relate to her strength and courage, and admire her as a role model. I can definitely get behind that.

Strangely enough, I think dystopian novels of all kinds give people hope. It’s all about the struggle, the fight, the never-giving-up. It’s idealistic in the best way, because dystopia suggests an opposite: a utopia of ideals, a perfect method of living, a peace that we all idealize and wish to strive for in this world. Even if it’s unattainable, if we keep writing about fighting, if we keep noticing things in our world and reacting to them, if we keep up the struggle, then hopefully that dystopian future will stay in the realm of fiction.

Confession: I actually like Tris better than Katniss. Please don’t kill me. I’ll fight back.

Share...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on TumblrEmail this to someone
  • I agree about the ‘hope’. I think for YA fiction it’s important to explore boundaries and limits of the self and what better way to do that then with an oppressive, totalitarian, completely bat shit crazy ‘government’? (there’s seems to be a lack of monarchy in dystopia fiction..) Lols. Stick it to the man! Woo!

    And yeah, I also think it’s just the new thing to really trend after ‘that shiny vampire thing’. Uck. I love me some vampire fiction, but not when it’s effectively a contemporary love story with fangs. Blegh.

    I love SF and dystopian fiction. Always have. And I think it was Atwood that opened my eyes to it.

    It does make me wonder though.. it’s starting to become a bit tiresome now. So.. what’s next?

    • I like that perspective! What’s next?? I wonder what the new trendy plotline will be…I also really appreciate your perspective about exploring boundaries–I think that resonates a lot with young readers just beginning to realize their own potential and their independence. Thanks for sharing!

  • P.S. I also prefer Tris. She was just more relatable to me, though both can be annoying (which is realistic and humanizing).

    • You got it. I just grew frustrated with Katniss in the third installment and was just so disappointed at her downward spiral into an admittedly understandable PTSD–still, it didn’t make for good characterization or good plotting. I haven’t read the Divergent books but judging from the movie, Tris has a bit of a stronger mind. She seems to know herself better.

  • Another to the list is Equilibrium – which is not YA is another place where government strictures regarding behaviour and even feelings are enforced at the point of a gun and those who find strength it seems by accident. I enjoyed you look at these movies and books – have you seen the Handmaids Tale, the is better but this movie is actually quite good at showing the starkness of the their existence and the double standards at play. Shhh have to agree with you – did like Katniss but found here just a little toooo walled off as a character.

    • I agree: I think Katniss is emotionally hostile at times, which is understandable in the context of the story, but I do like Tris’s personality better. I haven’t seen The Handmaid’s Tale movie, but I heard it wasn’t worth a watch! Thanks for visiting!

      • No it wasn’t a great movie but there were moments where the bleakness and rigidity of that world was made very clear and so worth it just for those moments.

        • Interesting! Maybe I’ll have to check it out after all.

  • Pingback: Blog, The Most Happy | Lisa LoParo()

  • The fact that you prefer Tris to Katniss makes me wonder if I shouldn’t read Divergent after all…!

    • Another confession: I didn’t actually read the book! I started but found it to be a carbon copy of the movie (at least the first few chapters) and so I put it down to explore at a later date. Some people have told me Tris’s character also kind of devolves, so maybe I’ll never get to it at all.

  • I like Tris much better than Katniss, but that is my opinion!