Top 5 Dystopian Novels

What does surveillance mean to you?

  1. 1984-George Orwell

Written in 1948, this novel is George Orwell’s dystopian prediction about the future. 1984 presents a “negative utopia”, a haunting vision of humanity — a world with language control, brainwashing, and thought police. This is the story of Winston Smith, a worker in Records Department in the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite and distort history to fit the government’s narrative. In order to protest Big Brother, Winston decides to write a journal, an act punishable by death. However, Winston wants to cling to his shreds of humanity in an inhuman world. But he is constantly watched, telescreens track his every move. Nowhere is safe.  This is the reality of 1984; Winston lives in a world recovering from a global atomic world. Winston lives in Airstrip One (aka the United Kingdom), which is a province of Oceania (one of the three superstates). The novel follows Winston’s intellectual rebellion, his illegal romance with Julia, and his eventual reeducation by O’Brien of the Thinkpol. This book depicts a terrifying future and total annihilation of original human thought.

1984, Signet Classic, 1950, ISBN: 9780451524935

  1. Brave New World– Aldous Huxley

“Community, Identity, Stability” is the motto of the utopian World State. The World Controllers have crafted the ideal society through genetic engineering, mind control, and recreational sex and drugs. Everyone is a happy consumer and never questions the system. Citizens take a daily dose of “soma”, all babies are born and raised in laboratories, and entertainment comes in the form of “Feelie”, movies that stimulate sights, hearing, and touch. Because everyone is constantly happy, violence does not exist in this utopian society. Only Bernard Marx feels that something is missing and feels the need to break free from the societal constraints. A visit to one of the Savage Reservations, a place where non-engineered society still exists, Bernard stumbles upon something that may cure his distress. Huxley’s dystopian masterpiece takes the idea of mass-production and consumerism and projects it far into the future. Except humanity is the mass-produced commodity.

Brave New World, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, ISBN: 9780060850524

  1. Handmaidens Tale-Margaret Atwood

This is one of the few dystopian novels that directly address the role of woman in a totalitarian future. In the future, do women control their own bodies? Or are will they be consigned to a second class status and traded amongst the men of the elite class? What happens when a fundamentalist religion takes hold and enslaves those deemed unworthy? The heroine, Offred, is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. Once a day, she is permitted to leave the Commander’s house and walk to the food market. Everything at the market is depicted in pictures because women are not permitted to read. Handmaids are fertile women assigned to elite couples who are unable to conceive. Commander Fred and Offred have conjugal relations once a month in an attempt to conceive a child. Handmaidens are only valuable if their ovaries are viable, barren handmaidens are quickly dismissed. This new reality is torture because Offred remembers when she lived with her husband and daughter; when she had a job; money of her own, and the right to knowledge. In this new future, all that is forever gone. Now she is only Offred and with each passing month, her value diminishes as she has yet to fall pregnant. The Handmaid’s Tale is a chilling depiction of a society that does not value women and views people has nothing more than a commodity to be used by society.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Anchor Books, 1998, ISBN: 9780385490818

  1. The Giver-Lois Lowry

Welcome to the perfect society. Where there is a place for everyone and everyone knows their place. There is no greed, lust, or any controlling emotion. Differences have been eradicated and we are at last equal. Jonas lives in a perfect world of sameness. Everything is under control and there is no war or hardship. The Community makes all the decisions for the good of society. When a child turns twelve, they are assigned their permanent role in society. The Community studies each child in order to fit their gifts to the community’s needs. On Jonas’s twelfth birthday, he is chosen to become the next Receiver of Memories. The Giver begins to train Jonas in the history of humanity. For The giver holds the memories of pain and pleasure from the world before The Community. Now Jonas is destined to carry on this burden for the next generation. Once he learns the truce, the world will never be the same. I like this book because it is blunt and to the point. It is well written and the narrative moves quickly.   Also, I though the movie was a decent adaption of the novel.

The Giver, HMH Books for Young Readers, Reprint, 2014, ISBN: 9780544336261

  1. A Clockwork Orange– Anthony Burgess

England, in the near future, has an extremely violent subculture that encourages youth violence. Society is ruled by a repressive, totalitarian super state. Ordinary citizens have become blind to the rapid growth of the violent youth culture. Instead, citizens prefer to exist in a state of blind stupor. Alex, the protagonist, is a fifteen year old thug. This novel follows Alex’s violent exploits and run-ins with the state authorities. Alex narrates his exploits using the teen slang of nadsat, which is a hybrid of Russian and Cockney English. He leads a gang of criminals-Dim, Pete, and Georgie. Together they terrorize the streets by robbing and beating men and raping women. When not engaging in violence, they frequent the Korowa Milkbar, a place that serves drug laced milk. The state has decided to reform Alex, but “at what cost”? A Clockwork Orange deals with the differences between good and evil and the cost of human freedom. Do criminals deserve the chance of freedom? Or must society attempt redemption at any cost? This novel is different from the other four because it explores a dystopian future from the perspective of the criminal underclass. This novel is not for everyone, the slang is incredibly difficult to read. And the depictions of violence are rather disturbing.

A Clockwork Orange, W. W. Norton & Company, 1995, ISBN: 9780393312836