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Utopian/Dystopian novel

Utopian/Dystopian novel

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Published by Caitlin Hawkins
my final essay from my english capstone concerning utopian novels
my final essay from my english capstone concerning utopian novels

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Published by: Caitlin Hawkins on Apr 07, 2013
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Caitlin Hawkins12 December 2012Social Commentaries in Utopian/Dystopian Novels
The genre of the “utopian novel” has a long history of creating a social commentary
through the commonwealths created based on current societies values and desires. Not only dothese commonwealths attempt to provide society with the things it desires, they also show
humanity the flaws in their desires, further teaching the, “be careful what you wish for” frame of 
mind often taught through literature. Analyzing the social commentary in utopian and dystopiannovels allows the reader to evaluate the values of societies from which the authors of this genrecome.
The concept of the “utopia” first came into being when Sir Tho
mas More wrote his book titled O
n the Best Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia
, often shortened to be
referred to as just “Utopia”. The term “Utopia” was created when:
 
“More coined it by fusing the
Greek adverb
ou
 
 – 
 
„not‟ with the noun
topos
 
 – 
 
„place‟ – 
and giving the resulting compound a
latin ending. Within the book‟s fiction, „Noplace‟ is a newly discovered island somewhere in the
 
 New World” (Utopia, xi). In the revised edition of “Utopia” the editors added an introduction in
which they define the utopian/dystopian dilemma that literary critics work with:
“The commonwealth of Utopia turns out to be a highly attractive place in som
eways, but a highly unattractive one in others. No one goes hungry there, no one ishomeless. The commonwealth is strikingly egalitarian. On the other hand, personalfreedom is restricted in ways large and small
(xii).
 
 It is important to understand the original piece of a genre before examining other piecesthat fall under the same category. More began the utopian genre writing a piece which first offerssocial commentary and criticism of England in 1516 before moving in to the second half of his book i
n which he describes this new island of “Utopia” which serves as his vision of the bestcommonwealth. Critics are still not sure how to connect the two sections of More‟s work, but
there is no doubt that he is offering a detailed criticism of the values and customs of his society.
Following in More‟s footsteps, utopian novels written since then have continued to usetheir own descriptions of the “best commonwealth” in order to offer social commentary,
although they may not state it as explicitly as More did. Lois Feuer offers some insight to the
transformation of the utopian/dystopian genre over time, “that tradition is a significant one in
twentieth-century literature, replacing earlier utopian visions of paradise regained with thenightmare realization that, by the time industrial technology had made the controlled, ordered
society possible, we might no longer be willing to pay the cost” (83).The dystopian genre has stemmed from the original idea of the “Utopia” by shifting the
focus from an attempt to create a perfect commonwealth to instead creating a world which takesa value of our society to the extreme. Whether the author chooses to address equality, security, or  peace, it is surprising how quickly one of these basic values that we strive for in society cancreate a nightmarish civilization that drives us away from extremist thoughts.Equality for all is something that American society is constantly striving for, andsomething which we have made great strides towards in the past hundred years. We continue towork for that equality in an attempt to create a society where no one suffers from hunger or homelessness and everyone is free from injustice. As we do this though, we continue to regulate
 
ourselves more in other ways. In Ayn Rand‟s boo
 Anthem
she describes a society in whicheveryone is equal, everyone is given a job, everyone gets the same amount of things as everyoneelse. It is an extremely collectivist society with socialist ideals. However, in order to create andcontinue a society such as
this, the use of individualist pronouns (e.g. “I”, “me”, “myself”, etc.)
is punishable by death. They have no way to consider themselves as anything more than a factionof the whole
 – 
but even that may be too individualist for the society. The book follows Equality7-2521 through his struggle with the inability to define himself as an individual.As the reader moves through the book it becomes more clear how nightmarish life would be if we were instantly given our way and everyone was to become entirely equal. The conceptof equality is one which feminists, socialists, and many other activists favor as a solution tomany of our worlds problems. It is the role of the dystopia to show that while working towardsthese ideas may be beneficial for society, there comes a point at which humanity has to realizethat sacrifices will have to happen for equality to ever be fully applied.The novel
 Herland 
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is another example of feminism andequality being taken to an extreme. Gilman depicts a society which is made up only of womenwho are able to reproduce asexually. It takes an interesting approach to blending gender expectations as three men discover the society and struggle to adapt to the lack of traditionalunderstandings about gender. This is similar to the happenings in
The Handmaid’s Tale
in that itcombines feminist understandings and ideas with a very traditional lifestyle. However, as we seein both novels, there is always a group that ends up being oppressed, it is how those peoplehandle their new found oppression.One major difference between
 Herland 
and
The Handmaid’s Tale
is that memory plays arole in the attitudes of the newly oppressed members of society in
The Handmaid’s Tale.
Feuer 

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