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dystopias from on top and below

osprey_archer has some interesting thoughts on The Giver (book, not movie) here, and what she said about the coziness of the society got me thinking about how there are, broadly speaking, two perspectives stories generally take on a dystopic society. Either the protagonist starts out as one of the happy crowd--maybe a member of an elite minority, or maybe a member of a relatively well-managed majority--or else they start out as a member of the (or an, if there's more than one) oppressed group. In other words, either they [appear to] benefit from the dystopia, or they're oppressed by it. In the first case--like in The Giver or in 1984, the story is about a gradual realization of the nature of the society they'd always accepted. In the second case--like in The Hunger Games--they know from the start that the situation sucks, and it's a matter of finding their way to working for something different. To generalize further, the first sort of story is about an awakening of the privileged, and the second is about the empowering of the oppressed. I imagine there are some stories that combine these viewpoints.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 25th, 2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
To generalize further, the first sort of story is about an awakening of the privileged, and the second is about the empowering of the oppressed. I imagine there are some stories that combine these viewpoints.

Are there any other kinds of people in a dystopia?
Sep. 25th, 2014 10:28 pm (UTC)
I'm going for large, clunky, unnuanced generalizations. Very, very broadly speaking, I think that those are the two categories that matter? I could be persuaded away from that position.

If we go for levels of nuance, then I think there are levels of oppression and levels of privilege, and there can be people who stand outside the system, etc.

Sep. 26th, 2014 06:53 am (UTC)
Those may be the two levels that matter to the dystopia, but what matters to a reader may be the one exception, the oddball who doesn't fit either and who can get some power if zie tries and do something unexpected with it.

What if the upper class are good people working on an important medical project ... and the under class is the lab animals they are doing very bad things to.

Maybe the oddball hero is one of the animals who gets access to the scientists' computer and works up an alternative to the vivisection and a hoax to get it accepted ... while also trying to stop the rest of the animals from eating the experimenters.
Sep. 26th, 2014 11:39 am (UTC)
That's a very cool story scenario. I'd be interested in read it!
Sep. 26th, 2014 07:12 am (UTC)
Or they box the compass in the most disturbing of ways as in Evgeny Zamyatin's deeply disturbing 'We'.
Sep. 26th, 2014 11:05 am (UTC)
When I read Zamyatin's name and the title of the book, I had a sense of vague déjà vu, and when I read the synopsis, I knew that it was indeed the story I was thinking of when I got to the fur-covered people who lived outside the control of the dystopic state. That was the one detail that stuck with me! The people with multicolored fur. I read the novel in college and recall that I liked it, but I'm thinking maybe I should reread it. I feel like I'd appreciate it more now.

By "box the compass," do you mean that it contains both/all the elements?
Sep. 26th, 2014 11:09 am (UTC)
Yes- that exactly.

It's only at the very end that you realise that the main protagonist is fighting for the 'wrong' side.
Sep. 26th, 2014 12:43 pm (UTC)
I'd love to see a 2-pov novel, one in each camp, but plot done so that the reader doesn't get that the 2 are describing the same thing until they (the reader) have sort of experienced them in 2 different ways.
Sep. 26th, 2014 12:46 pm (UTC)
I'd love to, too, but I suspect that it would be very hard to pull off, because when you have two very different stories in one book, the reader is always trying to make a connection, and I think that one of hypotheses people would jump to would be "Hey, what if they're talking about the same society?"
Sep. 26th, 2014 02:10 pm (UTC)
That would be awesome.
Sep. 26th, 2014 02:15 pm (UTC)
That's a really interesting point. And contrasts with the early tradition of utopias (and the dystopia of Erewhon) being reported by complete outsiders.

The first thing that came to my mind* was Lloyd Alexander's post-Prydain habit of having a privileged usually-not-always hero cast out oh privilege and find rude awakenings mediated by an underclass love object and a rogue.

houseboatonstyx's comment reminds me of Sheri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country, another interesting way to read it. (And now I'm thinking of the women leaders of that country as a compound Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid.)

Edited at 2014-09-26 02:19 pm (UTC)
Sep. 27th, 2014 01:54 pm (UTC)
I don't know the Sheri Tepper novel--I'll have to take a look at a plot summary (and maybe eventually read?) And I guess there *are* a fair number of Lloyd Alexander books on that mold. Completely tangentially, would love it if you read The Rope Trick, which is my favorite by him--I'd love to know your impressions (even if they're not positive). (Don't take this as a request, though--it's more one of those vague passing wishes, like I wish I could put clouds in a cup.)
Sep. 27th, 2014 11:53 pm (UTC)
Oddly, I haven't heard of The Rope Trick: Chun Woo and I are currently reading The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, one of the few I haven't read before. I'll look forward to reading The Rope Triack.
Sep. 28th, 2014 07:22 pm (UTC)
The Rope Trick was his penultimate one, Carlo Chuccio his last one (published posthumously). Carlo Chuccio is similar in feel, but the Rope Trick has what I love in more abundance.
Sep. 28th, 2014 11:24 pm (UTC)
I wondered whether they might have the same fundamental cultural background.

One of the things that fascinated me in reading Alexander is watching im improve in public. That he so often reconsiders similar themes and plot arcs makes it particularly evident.

I was nonetheless startled to find how much better he was in a sentence-by-sentence way, in Carlo Chuchio, than I'd seen him before.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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