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Utopia and Dystopian Literature

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1 Utopia and Dystopian Literature

2 Quick Write: What things do you think a society would need to accomplish in order to be considered “perfect”?

3 Context for Utopia Written in 1516 by Sir Thomas More during the reign of Henry VIII of England. The word “Utopia” can be translated from the Greek as “Good Place” or “No Place,” depending on which Greek letters are used. This ambiguity was intentional on More’s part. Utopia is social commentary, meant to contrast Tudor England under Henry VIII with the society of the Utopians. Social commentary was much more dangerous in Tudor England than it is today. This is one reason why More “frames” the narrative as a story he heard from a sailor he met who had supposedly visited Utopia.

4 Utopia as Social Commentary
It is generally agreed that More did not mean to describe a “perfect” society in Utopia, but to use the “strange” traditions of the Utopians to spark discussion and criticism of real contemporary problems. More may not have meant to depict an ideal society; however, over the years the word “utopia” without the capital letter has come to mean “a perfect society” with an added connotation suggesting that such a society is unrealistic. A portrait of Thomas More by Hans Holbein

5 Group Readings of Sections of Utopia
With your group, discuss the section of More’s Utopia that you were assigned and be ready report back to the class about what you learned. What surprised you about your selection? What ideas about government and society did you find good or admirable? Which did you find questionable or problematic? Why?

6 From Utopia to Dystopia
Dystopia: “An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” (From The Meriam Webster Encyclopedia of Literature) In contrast to “utopia,” which can be translated “good place,” “dystopia” is translated “bad place.” Dystopian works of fiction often depict societies that claim to be advanced, civilized, and near-perfect, but are instead deeply flawed. Many protagonists in dystopian literature are individuals who begin to question the problematic rules and assumptions that pervade their societies.

7 Suggestions for Approaching a Dystopian Novel as a Reader
Know that focus on setting and world-building is often as important if not more important than character. Most dystopian novels are exercises in asking “what if,” and authors use contemporary fears and concerns to build the societies in which their stories take place. Notice how individuals relate to their societies, and how the authors use current issues (such as the relationship between religion and government, or advancements in genetics and biology). Critic Thomas Moylan suggests that an experience reader of dystopian literature (or science fiction in general) “moves through the text like a traveler in a foreign culture or a detective seeking clues to unravel the mystery at hand.”

8 Context for Brave New World
Written by Aldous Huxley, published in 1932. The title is taken from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The full quote is: “O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!” While 1984, another very influential dystopian novel, critiques Communist totalitarianism, Huxley is critiquing both Communism (many characters are named after Communist leaders) and capitalism (especially its tendency for consumerism) in this novel.

9 Henry Ford and the Model T
Henry Ford and his Model T, one of the first mass-produced cars, are both quite important to Brave New World. The calendar in the novel has Ford’s birth as its focal point, and the production of the Model T is a religiously significant event.

10 The Science of Brave New World
Though the science in the novel seems to be quite sinister, Huxley came from a family of scientists and believed very much in the potential of modern medicine and science. So, if the science in the novel seems to be frightening, ask yourself, is this a critique of scientific progress in general, or is it a critique of the uses to which science is being put?

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