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Utopian and Dystopian Literature


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I'm looking at building my library (I try to collect books over time at thrift stores, book give-aways, etc.) for our future study of utopian/dystopian literature. We won't be doing this study for another year or two, but I was trying to put together a possible list.

 

Here is what I have so far:

Utopian/Dystopian Literature:

 

 

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

 

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

 

1984 by George Orwell

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

 

 

Utopia by Thomas More

 

The Republic by Plato

 

City of God by Augustine

 

The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon

 

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

 

Candide by Voltaire

 

A Modern Utopia by H. G. Wells

 

 

What do you think of this list?

 

Also, what do you think of these books?

 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (I saw this on the AP list.)

Iron Heel by Jack London (had never heard of this one before)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (not sure if I spelled the author's first name correctly) (not sure if I want to include this or not)

 

 

Thanks!

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Looks like a great list!

 

When it comes time to do your study, I suggest coming up with an overall "game plan" to guide you through your year of utopia/dystopia, as, in addition to a compare/contrast of how the utopia/dystopia plays out in each work, each work also has powerful individual themes that are unique to the work/author that you'll want to explore.

 

Two more classic sci-fi work with utopian/dystopian overtones: The Time Machine by HG Wells, and Watership Down (Richard Adams). Also, a few young adult works you may wish to include as introductions into the utopian/dystopian theme are The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau), Below the Root (Zilpha Keatly Snyder), The Giver (Lois Lowry), and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

 

And finally, if you want even more titles (many are popular vs. classic literature), check out this past thread on Dystopian Novels.

 

BEST of luck! Warmly, Lori D.

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I have been looking for a good place to mention a dystopian novel that I recently read, Genesis by New Zealand author Bernard Beckett. The book takes the form of a Socratic discussion, something that might appeal to high school students. It raises some interesting questions on artificial intelligence. You can find a Wall Street Jounal review here.

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Honestly, I'd toss Atlas Shrugged in favor of Anthem, which is much shorter and easier. Atlas Shrugged is a LONG slog, even if you like the philosopy. I read it every other year or so, and it takes me a while in spite of a fast reading speed and familiarity with the story.

 

Depending on which "grade" you're teaching, you could also look into the Anthem essay/scholarship contest (for early high school, anyway. I think the later high school contest is on The Fountainhead, which isn't dystopian.)

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Two more classic sci-fi work with utopian/dystopian overtones: The Time Machine by HG Wells, and Watership Down (Richard Adams). Also, a few young adult works you may wish to include as introductions into the utopian/dystopian theme are The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau), Below the Root (Zilpha Keatly Snyder), The Giver (Lois Lowry), and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

 

I also recommend adding all the books that Lori D recommended above.

 

I agree with the suggestion to read Anthem rather than Atlas Shrugged.

 

I also recommend Looking Backward. This is an actual Utopia novel rather than a dystopia. It was written in 1888 and I found it a fascinating read.

http://www.amazon.com/Looking-Backward-Broadview-Literary-Texts/dp/1551114062/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1345481821&sr=8-3&keywords=looking+backward

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I'm in the process of reading Augustine's City of God. I'd say it is not really for your list; while it might sound like a fit, it is really a work of systematic theology (with an initial long argument of apologetics).

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I hope nobody minds my interruption. I'm extremely curious as to the fascination with utopian/dystopian literature. Is it a classical literature thing or a current trend thing or something entirely different?

 

I ask only because DH and I remember reading 1 or maybe 2 books back when we were in school, and both our boys only read 1 or 2 in ps (DS18 just graduated, and DS14 left ps early this year in 8th grade).

 

I've seen discussion on utopian/dystopian lit in lots of circles as I was looking for DS' 9th grade curriculum and wondered what the big deal was about. Is there a specific advantage/disadvantage of teaching it or not or is it just a matter of personal preference based on the student's interest?

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I've seen discussion on utopian/dystopian lit in lots of circles as I was looking for DS' 9th grade curriculum and wondered what the big deal was about. Is there a specific advantage/disadvantage of teaching it or not or is it just a matter of personal preference based on the student's interest?

 

Like most good science fiction (and all good literature), dystopian works are a way to examine our society, ourselves and our world. The best dystopian novels take facets of our own world and spin them out so that we can examine where we are or might be going.

 

In addition, mosty dystopian works are products of their time. So, 1984, published in 1949, wrestles with the idea of a totalitarian society in which even thinking "wrong" thoughts is banned. And The Handmaid's Tale, published in 1985, is set in a totalitarian society based on religious beliefs. Farhenheit 451, published in 1953, right around the time television was making its way into every home in America, examines a society in which books are considered dangerous. The Hunger Games, meanwhile, ponders the role of constantly-present media and "reality" TV.

 

I don't think dystopian selections should be the only thing anyone reads in school, but they definitely serve a valuable purpose. And some young people may find them a much more accessible path into discussions of big ideas and themes.

 

Plus, they're just interesting and thought-provoking.

 

Wikipedia says lots of dystopian works were being published even before 1900. So, it's hardly a new trend.

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding

 

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

 

1984 by George Orwell

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

 

 

Utopia by Thomas More

 

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

 

 

The ones above are all on our list for this year.

 

I'm also assigning:

 

Gulliver’s Travels, Part 4

Walden (excerpts)

Anthem

Animal Farm

Short Story: The Machine Stops

1948 – Short Story: The Lottery

Short Story: All Summer in a Day

Short Story: Harrison Bergeron

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Lathe of Heaven

Short Story: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Feed

Hunger Games trilogy

 

 

 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (I saw this on the AP list.)

Iron Heel by Jack London (had never heard of this one before)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (not sure if I spelled the author's first name correctly) (not sure if I want to include this or not)

 

I read Handmaid's Tale when it came out and thought it was great. I opted not to assign it to my son, because I wasn't sure it would be his cup of tea. And there are so many great dystopian novels that I really had to pick and choose. As I recall, the plot of Handmaid's Tale has to do with human reproduction, and the main character is concubine. So, if that might be problematic for your family, keep it in mind.

 

I had Iron Heel on my list of potentials for a long time, but couldn't lay my hands on it used or cheap. And, again, it got cut because there were so many other good choices. I've never read it and cannot comment on it beyond that.

 

The only Ayn Rand book I've ever liked was Anthem. I thought I loved her work after reading that one and tried really hard for the next couple of years to like either Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead, but I never made any progress. Atlas is a big, dense book, over 1,000 pages. If your student loves it, awesome, but it could be a long slog for anyone else.

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I don't think dystopian selections should be the only thing anyone reads in school, but they definitely serve a valuable purpose. And some young people may find them a much more accessible path into discussions of big ideas and themes.

 

 

Thanks Jenny, your explanation was very helpful! :D

 

DS doesn't like dystopian literature and after reading a few books over the last couple years has no desire to read anything else in the genre. I had already decided I'd find a way to toss at least a few more into his world over the next few years.

 

This helped me confirm that while we do need to study a few of them, we probably don't need to do in depth study since he doesn't care for them in the first place. At least if I warn him that we'll be doing X number a year and let him pick which ones to do from a list, then he won't complain as much. :lol:

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The Maze Runner trilogy is for young adults and is very good. Reminds a lot of Hunger Games, but I think it's probably better. I've read the first two. Only thing that bugs me is that each books leaves you hanging, so you have to read the next!

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The ones above are all on our list for this year.

 

I'm also assigning:

 

Gulliver’s Travels, Part 4

Walden (excerpts)

Anthem

Animal Farm

Short Story: The Machine Stops

1948 – Short Story: The Lottery

Short Story: All Summer in a Day

Short Story: Harrison Bergeron

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Lathe of Heaven

Short Story: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Feed

Hunger Games trilogy

 

 

 

 

You just added most of the stories I was going to recommend. So I guess I'm left recommending some more abstract representations of utopias/dystopias:

 

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino

Changing Planes - Ursula K LeGuin

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I hope nobody minds my interruption. I'm extremely curious as to the fascination with utopian/dystopian literature. Is it a classical literature thing or a current trend thing or something entirely different?

 

I ask only because DH and I remember reading 1 or maybe 2 books back when we were in school, and both our boys only read 1 or 2 in ps (DS18 just graduated, and DS14 left ps early this year in 8th grade).

 

I've seen discussion on utopian/dystopian lit in lots of circles as I was looking for DS' 9th grade curriculum and wondered what the big deal was about. Is there a specific advantage/disadvantage of teaching it or not or is it just a matter of personal preference based on the student's interest?

 

I think the biggest advantage is they are generally more interesting to students.

 

We won't do anything like this because I don't find I have time covering the regular literature I want to.

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I thought of two book additions others had already thought up:

The Giver (for younger children, but great!) & Animal Farm

 

Movies (light-hearted fun after reading so much ;) ):

V for Vendetta (also a graphic novel, but I'm not a comic book-type), and technology dystopias: The Matrix, Minority Report, and Truman Show

 

 

I feel like the big questions that dystopians address are:

- What does the government/society want? What does it value?

- What appear to be the costs of having a world this way?

- Who holds power within the society / Who lacks power? How is authority exerted on society members?

- What time period was this written in? Why would the author warn against this type of government/society? What historical basis is there?

 

I also like having them think about how they would react in each world. Would you fight the system (and maybe 'needlessly' die)? Would you join a resistance movement? Would you accept your lack of freedoms and try to build a fulfilling life despite the difficulties, despite the fact that you could never achieve a fully 'normal' life in this society?

 

I add that last part in because I had read a little too much dystopian fiction as a teen (it was a popular genre during the Patriot Act/Iraq War/"surviving high school with harsh mandates and unintellectual classmates" years), and I think it made me a bit maladjusted because I didn't explore the various behavioral options available when conflict arises. I quickly revert to thinking it's me against the system, when really I could voice my complaints productively rather than confrontationally and generally there's other people feeling the same way, too. Normal-day life isn't a dystopia, even though it may feel like it sometimes.:tongue_smilie:

 

When I read it recently, I liked that The Hunger Games does a good job of addressing that issue: showing the variety of ways of responding to a government, and the benefits/drawbacks of each. Haymitch's drinking may not be the way to go, but you could heal the injured like mom, throw your anger into your art like Cinna, protect closely your loved ones like Gale, live a life of servitude to protect your true love like Finnick, without having to necessarily fight like Katniss. And if you do choose to fight like Katniss, expect some resultant emotional distress.

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Adding to my last point, one historical non-literary dystopia was America during slavery. There were the John Browns who took up arms in rebellion, the Harriet Tubmans and Rankins who ran underground resistance efforts that violated federal law, William Lloyd Garrison & Elijah Lovejoy who published newspapers (and Lovejoy was killed protecting his printing press), and others.

 

If you were in the Senate in the 1850s, would you support a compromise with the slave states, like the Compromise of 1850? Or hold strong, knowing that sticking to your convictions and failing to budge could permanently split the union in two? Would you take up arms? Publish anti-slavery writings? Work for abolitionist causes even if it makes you a social outcast? [the Grimke sisters did not find husbands due to their work.] Would you support abolition only by casting your ballot for Lincoln's ticket? Do nothing at all?

 

Slavery is something we universally oppose today, but if we were dropped off in the 1850s we'd face difficult choices about how to work toward's ending the biggest problem of the society. It perhaps isn't necessary to go all out (John Brown: "I have only a short time to live, I will die fighting for this cause"), but it's important not to sit entirely idle while atrocities happen, either.

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I thought of two book additions others had already thought up:

The Giver (for younger children, but great!) & Animal Farm

 

Movies (light-hearted fun after reading so much ;) ):

V for Vendetta (also a graphic novel, but I'm not a comic book-type), and technology dystopias: The Matrix, Minority Report, and Truman Show

 

 

I feel like the big questions that dystopians address are:

- What does the government/society want? What does it value?

- What appear to be the costs of having a world this way?

- Who holds power within the society / Who lacks power? How is authority exerted on society members?

- What time period was this written in? Why would the author warn against this type of government/society? What historical basis is there?

 

I also like having them think about how they would react in each world. Would you fight the system (and maybe 'needlessly' die)? Would you join a resistance movement? Would you accept your lack of freedoms and try to build a fulfilling life despite the difficulties, despite the fact that you could never achieve a fully 'normal' life in this society?

 

I add that last part in because I had read a little too much dystopian fiction as a teen (it was a popular genre during the Patriot Act/Iraq War/"surviving high school with harsh mandates and unintellectual classmates" years), and I think it made me a bit maladjusted because I didn't explore the various behavioral options available when conflict arises. I quickly revert to thinking it's me against the system, when really I could voice my complaints productively rather than confrontationally and generally there's other people feeling the same way, too. Normal-day life isn't a dystopia, even though it may feel like it sometimes.:tongue_smilie:

 

When I read it recently, I liked that The Hunger Games does a good job of addressing that issue: showing the variety of ways of responding to a government, and the benefits/drawbacks of each. Haymitch's drinking may not be the way to go, but you could heal the injured like mom, throw your anger into your art like Cinna, protect closely your loved ones like Gale, live a life of servitude to protect your true love like Finnick, without having to necessarily fight like Katniss. And if you do choose to fight like Katniss, expect some resultant emotional distress.

 

A slight remove from dystopian lit is post-appocalyptic works like World War Z, On the Beach and The Postman. You could probably put a lot of science fiction into this category too. Books like Blade Runner (overpopulation and loss of nature) or Running Man. They aren't necessarily dystopian because they don't feature a utopia gone awry.

 

But they do open up a lot of topics for exploration that would otherwise be taboo or be limited by "that wouldn't really happen" reactions. Once you accept that zombies are attacking, you have a lot of liberty to discuss things like poisoning children to keep them from becoming the undead or how are different nations/societies limited by the past from reacting to current dangers.

 

World War Z is one of my very favorite recent books and I would encourage you to include it. It's not really about the zombies so much as it is about what makes us human, and how do societies react to incredible dangers. When is brutal action acceptable and when have you crossed the line? What are you willing to do to survive? What freedoms and ideals are you willing to jettison? What is the cost/sacrifice to individuals and societies of what you've done?

 

(Just as an example, there is a chapter about radio operators who collect, translate and pass on information about the resistance and how to defeat zombies. It is essential work. The descriptions of world cities going off the air is heartbreaking. In the end, every radio operator who was a listener has commited suicide, unable to bear the weight of what they have heard. A current parallel to this is the PTSD symptoms experienced by drone operators who are often stationed in the Midwest, but working on real time radio links to troops in Iraq and Afganistan. They sometimes experience ambush and combat in real time with these combat troops. They listen in as the unit they work with fights and dies. Then their shift ends and they go home or to their kid's baseball game. The disconnect is enormous and there have been real problems with how to adjust to this radical shift in environments. [And it doesn't help that when the topic comes up, they are often dismissed as wimps who don't know how good they've got it for not being deployed in person to the desert. So they bottle it up more.])

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I may be in the minority here but I'm currently trying to "get through" The Handmaid's Tale. I began it purely for pleasure, I happen to enjoy dystopian fiction and I've struggled to find solid books that are not "young adult." I'm fine with reading some of the young adult but I wanted a more mature read. I would add The Handmaid's Tale to the end of your list and spend time on the others. If your child needs any type of action, this isn't the book you want. Nothing much happens at all, I think the only thing that keeps me reading is my own dislike of having an unfinished book and the hope that something will eventually happen! After reading many other reviews of the book, it's unlikely it will.

 

After feeling as if my teeth were being pulled out through the first 100 pages or so, I went on Good Reads for reviews and found them to be helpful. You may find other lists that help you on there as well.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/974154.The_Handmaids_Tale

 

I do second the suggestion of The Hunger Games. I was a closet reader when it first came out. I was almost embarrassed to reveal just how much I enjoyed it. I actually have to admit I finished the trilogy. I initally read it to see if it was acceptable for my son to read and I finished all three books within a very short amount of time.

 

Hope that helps. :)

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I'm a dystopian fan and I also second The Running Man. It's a mature theme, father giving up his life to save that of his sick child, but it's quite good. I'm in the process of reading it now and I'll finish it (keeping in mind I'm a homeschool mom to 3, wife, chicken farmer, housekeeper, etc. and only read in bed AFTER everyone else is asleep) within a week of purchasing it for my ereader. I could easily see how this could lead to a discussion of family values and how we view others in society. The main character is bright and capable much to the surprise fo the government, Free Vee officials who assume anyone from the "bad end" of town is a junkie, idiot, bum. It's a great way to open up a discussion about judgement and assumption.

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I am so glad I'm following this thread. :001_smile:

 

The wealth of information is amazing and I'm definiately seeing the need to incorporate some of these works and discussions into DS's studies over the next few years.

 

I think I'm going to compile a list to be printed out and let him research the books and select what to read. I just need to decide how many to cover each year and how to space them out so he stays interested and doesn't get bored with it.

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