Utopia was Thomas More's attempt in 1516 to critique some of the problems in his society and put forth a challenge for reform, but many of the ideas pUtopia was Thomas More's attempt in 1516 to critique some of the problems in his society and put forth a challenge for reform, but many of the ideas proposed in his story are far-fetched and impractical. From More's work, a lot of other utopian and dystopian literature developed and dystopian fiction and films are continually being written.
Dystopia happens to be one of my favorite genres of fiction. So here's the funny thing: I'm sometimes accused of being a perfectionist by people who know me well, but for some reason, I enjoy reading stories of societies which are far from perfect, even though they were established with that intention. I think I like these stories because as a "perfectionist" I'm also a fixer. If I see something amiss, or something that I think could be improved upon, I just have to jump in and try to remedy the situation. So I can relate to the story characters that see the problems in their culture and are not content to just accept it and go along with society. I also admire characters who are determined to fight evil and injustice, even when it means defying the culture they live in.
One of my favorite young adult dystopia books is The Giver by Lois Lowry. I've read it numerous times and have also taught it a couple of times for Jr. High lit courses. The setting of The Giver could be futuristic or simply an alternate reality. Real historic events that have taken place on Earth are mentioned in the story, so it apparently takes place in a community somewhere on Earth, but not the Earth as we know it. In this community, most aspects of life are controlled: population, weather, education, jobs, recreation, property ownership, even death. Families are formed by a Committee that assigns spouses and children to each household, and occupations are assigned to children when they turn 12. "Sameness" is emphasized and individuality is discouraged. Asking questions is considered rude, and everything is carefully planned out in order to "protect people from wrong choices." Rules are strictly enforced and very hard to change.
Twelve-year-old Jonas had always been respectful of authority and very careful about following the rules. He accepted the way things were; the rules made sense, and he never questioned them. Although he was aware that the rules stated that "if you don't fit in, you can apply for Elsewhere and be released...How could someone not fit in? The community was so meticulously ordered, the choices so carefully made." While the community is rather isolated and protected and its citizens are almost completely free of pain, sorrow, illness, fear, or worry, it is also devoid of creativity, variety, privacy, imagination, opinions, choices, and adventure. The story's conflict develops when Jonas is selected to be the Receiver of Memory, the most important job in the community, and "now, for the first time in his twelve years of life, Jonas felt separate, different. He remembered what the Chief Elder had said: that his training would be alone and apart."
When he begins his training to take on the role of Receiver (which is passed on to him from the Giver of Memory), Jonas gradually learns about all that has been kept from the people "for their good." As Jonas gains this awareness, he begins to resent the restraints and rules in his society that are limiting personal freedom, individual expression, and human relationships. As he acquires memories, experiences feelings, and gains an understanding of concepts like family and love that none of the people in his community are familiar with, he becomes more alienated from them and discontent with his life. At one point, Jonas expresses his frustration with the situation with the Giver:
"But why can't everyone have the memories? I think it would seem a little easier if the memories were shared. You and I wouldn't have to bear so much by ourselves, if everybody took a part."
The Giver sighed. "You're right," he said. But then everyone would be burdened and pained. They don't want that. And that's the real reason The Receiver is so vital to them, and so honored. They selected me - and you - to lift that burden from themselves."
"When did they decide that?" Jonas asked angrily. "It wasn't fair. Let's change it!"
"How do you suggest we do that? I've never been able to think of a way, and I'm supposed to be the one with all the wisdom."
Jonas wonders if things could somehow be changed, but it is the Giver who comes up with the plan to return the memories back to the community.
In The Giver, Lois Lowry uses foreshadowing effectively to build the suspense. As the story progresses, she gradually gives the reader more information about Jonas' society and what is kept from them in order to maintain a sense of security and sameness. The Giver also raises some good topics discussion, which is why I chose it for literature studies. For example:
- Is it worth giving up personal freedom in order to have security/safety? - Which is safer or better for society -- freedom of choice or control? Which is better for the individual? - Is it better to express inner thoughts, feelings, concerns, and opinions, or are some thoughts and feelings better kept to ones' self? - How do family and other personal relationships give life more meaning and purpose? - How are mistakes, disappointments, pain and sorrow important, even beneficial, in life? - Why are memories important in our life? If we could have all of our bad memories erased, would that make us happier individuals?
Warning to parents and teachers: The Giver has been the target of censorship due to some of the controversial subjects it touches, particularly euthanasia. For this reason and for its minor references to sex and drugs, I would recommend this book for ages 12 and up. Apparently some have thought that Lowry is suggesting that some of the practices in Jonas' society should be implemented in the real world. However, I think it's clear that she is merely putting forth a hypothetical situation to show the possible negative consequences of establishing such a rigid, controlled community.
The Giver was followed by three additional companion works: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and finally Son, which was published in 2012. I've read all but the last one, but so far The Giver remains my favorite; it's a story that really stays with you....more
Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite works of classic fiction, and I’ve read it several times (and will again!). This romantic, gothic fictional aJane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite works of classic fiction, and I’ve read it several times (and will again!). This romantic, gothic fictional autobiography portrays a young woman seeking to find a place in society where she can add value to others, as well as be valued herself. From the very start, the reader sympathizes with Jane and admires her courage in difficult circumstances. Abandoned, demoralized and betrayed as a child by those on whom she depends for care and protection, Jane has almost every disadvantage in a society which judges and rewards individuals for their external and superficial qualities, such as social status, wealth and beauty. But Jane does have qualities that serve her well – her wit and intelligence, her courage, and most importantly, her faith. Each situation she faces serves to give her more inner strength and confidence. She knows that while people may fail her, God never will, and He never does.
In every circumstance which she finds herself, Jane never gives up hoping and searching for usefulness, independence and companionship. In spite of experiencing ill-treatment and injustice at the hands of her fellowman, rather than becoming bitter and resentful, she remains open to the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. Jane’s integrity and strength of character are challenged on numerous occasions, but she never compromises her values and continues to look for and hold to what is good and right.
I explore Jane’s story and her search for a place in society in more detail in “A Heroine’s Quest for Home,” which will soon be published on my blog, www.ImAllBooked.com. ...more