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Goals Of Dystopian Fiction

Dystopia walks a fine line between evoking the sensations of fear and inducing a sense of futility. A dystopia must arouse fear, but fails if it completely overwhelms the reader, leaving no room whatsoever for hope of amelioration. Finding crumbs of hope within powerful dystopias can be difficult, but they are present: for example, both the Afterword of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and the Appendix on Newspeak in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) are written in the past tense, obliquely informing the reader that the totalitarian regimes of Gilead and Oceania were not invincible and ultimately fell. Depictions of grim futures mask dystopia's basic optimism. Dystopia is a fundamentally didactic genre, of which the old saw "the best is the enemy of the good" is truly spoken. By proving that a completely perfect society is not possible—showing the awful results of what happens if the goal is social perfection rather than incremental social improvement—dystopia shocks the reader into accepting humanity's flaws as ineradicable and thereby working toward a better society rather than an ideal one.

Film still from 1984 (1956), directed by Michael Anderson. George Orwell's 1949 novel—later transferred to film—tells the story of a totalitarian regime that controls its population through constant governmental surveillance. Adhering to the rules of the dystopia, however, the appendix to Orwell's work suggests that the oligarchy was not sustained. COLUMBIA/THE KOBAL COLLECTION

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryDystopia - Goals Of Dystopian Fiction, Nineteenth-century Dystopias, Twentieth-century Dystopias, Recent Directions