To put it simply, a dystopia is a “utopia with a fatal flaw.” It is a society, usually set in the future, that is ideal on the surface. If one looked further into the workings of the society, though, he or she would find that in reality it has been corrupted by power.
For generations, the dystopian novel has been a story of how bad things can become if a group gained too much control. The classic stories that set this genre apart from others, namely Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, were written in a time of fear and uncertainty. The Great Depression was in full swing and Nazi Germany was starting to gain power, which offered little hope of returning to anything that resembled normal. This, combined with impressive imagination, gave rise to the idea of a story about an oppressive, all controlling regime and the individual who stood up against it.
Since then, the genre of dystopian literature has increased in popularity, and its audience has widened considerably. When the classics first came out, they were targeted for adults, and categorized as science fiction. Now it has branched out and become something known as Young Adult fiction, meaning the stories are geared more for teens rather than adults.
Since the early classic dystopian novels, there has been a formula of sorts that can be applied to most, if not all, dystopias. While different sources add in extra guidelines, most agree upon the following points:
As of late, it seems that a fifth must be added: romance. Most of the modern dystopias have a romantic relationship at the center of the story. This relationship is of the be all, end all variety; the protagonist typically believes he or she cannot live without the other. This isn’t surprising — many of the novels are aimed at teenage girls, and lets face it, love sells — but there is a point at which it becomes too much love and not enough story.
It is understandable that a relationship is important; often times it is the love interest — typically a person from outside the society — who opens the eyes of the protagonist to the real injustices that the Big Brother of the book is trying to hide. The removal of this person by Big Brother is also the event that sets the protagonist on the path of rebellion. My problem is that this is the whole focus of the book. The love story supersedes the story of the struggle between the protagonist and the society.
It is, then, my suggestion that authors of dystopian novels focus on the struggle between oppressor and oppressed and put love in the back seat. Yes, love is important, especially if the audience is teenage girls, but what ever happened to the warnings that originally came from this kind of book? What happened to the story? This is why, in my opinion, the relationship needs less emphasis. I’m not necessarily proposing the total annihilation of all romance in these novels, just less “I love him so much” and more standing up against the Society.
Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games does an excellent job of doing just this, and thus she proves to us that it is completely possible to write a story that focuses on the fight but still includes the ever popular love triangle as a side story that supports the main plot. It is the perfect ratio that piques the interest of boys as well as girls, which is why it has been so successful during this past year.