I like to read Dystopian fiction and watch films set in a world of a new order after a collapse. The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent are book and movie series we think of as dystopian. Reflecting on this body of work, I find three compelling common features: there has been a catastrophic event in the past, we follow a hero’s journey, and a divisive social order has been imposed.
In Hunger Games, a war is referenced that has led to the present system. In this and many stories, the political elite cite a war or other disaster in the past that requires the present system. Often characters will claim the established system is needed, to prevents a return to the “bad old days.”
These fictional stories are told through a central character we follow. Katniss, Tris, and Thomas come into the story with limited powers and abilities. They must build up their strength and competence to take on the challenges they will face. These stories have a version of the Hero‘s Journey that the main character must undergo which remind us of stories and myths such as Ulysses and The Wizard of Oz.
Many dystopian stories feature a rigid social system. There are the haves and the have-nots. The system has probably existed as long as anyone can remember, and cannot be changed. In Hunger Games the Capital enjoys a lavish lifestyle without hard work, or the dangers existing in the districts. The elites also often claim the tyrannical system must be the way it is for the good of everyone.
If you take a look around today, there are countries and political regimes in the world that mirror some aspects of these fictional dystopias. I guess our writing imagination does not always stray from the reality around us.
I think these dystopian visions have value beyond entertainment; they provoke us to consider how me might react under similar circumstances. When we see these fictional stories we contempt how our lives differ, hopefully in good ways, and imagine how to avoid certain futures.