English - Free topic 11: Dystopian Novels

Course content

Dystopian or anti-Utopian novels are texts that depict a future society which may to those in power be a utopian good society but to the individual with whom we tend to identify it appears constricting and threatening. The novels we are going to discuss are: Aldous Huxley Brave New World (1932), George Orwell 1984 (1949), Margaret Atwood The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and Patrick Flanery  I am No One (2016).

Atwood has called the genre "speculative fiction" and has stated that though The Handmaid's Tale may seem purely fictional it does reflect changes in some societies in the real world (e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan). Atwood has written that both Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984 reflect tendencies in our world, Huxley's depiction of a hedonistic, pleasure-seeking world juxaposed with Orwell's vision of a world of terror and supervision. Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale differs from the other three in that it has a female narrator and depicts a world in which women have no rights as individuals but are assigned the task of bearing a child to a Commander whose wife is barren. Flanery's novel has a protagonist/narrator who fears he is under surveillance but intermittently wonders whether he is suffering from paranoia.Dystopian novels thus combine visions of an imagined uncertain or frightening future with critical comments on our contemporary world.

Background books: Erika Gottlieb Dystopian Fiction East and West (2001) and Margaret Atwood In Other Worlds (2011).

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