In the past few decades, dystopian fiction has taken the literary world by storm. From classics, like A Clockwork Orange and The Handmaid’s Tale, right up to YA fiction phenomenons, like The Hunger Games and The Divergent Series, stories of how the world could end up have become a massive source of interest for both readers and writers.
But why do we love dystopian literature so much?
Some people argue that we’re already living in a dystopian nightmare; but if that’s the case, why would we spend our leisure time immersing ourselves in the horror of a world so close to our own? Others say that in the absence of utopia, dystopia simply can’t exist; so by reading dystopian lit, we’re only examining the human condition through the lens of fiction.
Either way, there must be something that keeps bringing us back to dystopian fiction.
So, to answer this question, I’ve decided to compile a quick list of possibilities. If you have any ideas of your own, feel free to comment below!
1. It makes us feel safe in our own world.
Turning on the news is scary. Reading dystopian fiction is scarier. Therefore, reading a few quick chapters of “I am Legend” when you get home from work suddenly makes modern-day America seem cozy and fun!
2. It holds us accountable.
With so many fictional models of what the world might become if humans went wild with nuclear weapons and biological warfare, dystopian literature can hold us accountable by reminding us of what we don’t want to become.
3. It frames current events in a new light.
Ever heard of a parable? Well, just like we use parables to help guide a child’s moral compass, maybe we use dystopian fiction to elucidate aspects of society and culture that we would normally have difficulty recognizing on our own.
4. We’re gluttons for punishment.
A lot of us are guilty of being way too dramatic. (Especially those of us who live relatively comfortable and safe lives.) I’ve run into plenty of people who love the my-day-was-so-much-worse-than-yours game, and I, myself, am guilty of partaking in such convivialities from time to time. So, perhaps reading dystopian fiction allows us to release our inner drama queens and kings (drama monarchs?) without embarrassing ourselves in public.
5. We like the mystery.
Dystopian fiction is one of those genres where you can never be sure who will win out in the long run. Remember Ned Stark? (Yeah, I know Game of Thrones is fantasy, but it’s definitely dystopian!) In dystopian novels, your hero might die at the end . . . or in the middle. And you can never be sure if they’ll really end up saving the world!
I’m sure there are many more reasons why humans are attracted to dystopian fiction, but without having a psychologist on hand to dissect the human psyche, I’ll just leave it at five.