Hope in the Darkest Hour

While on PInterest earlier this week, someone has dubbed this week “Catching Fire Anticipation Week”. As I am a big Hunger Games fan, I liked the idea. As a part of it, I have decided to write about why I love dystopian fiction. What is it about society becoming so perverse that draws us in? Why do we want to read stories of horrible inhumanities, like the Hunger Games? To me, there are three basic reasons. First, the line between good and evil is clearly drawn, so we know who to root for; second, because we see them as a warning for our own society; and finally: there is always hope, no matter how great the destruction.

Dystopian fiction revolves around the idea that in trying to create a perfect utopian society, humans are bound to fail and end up creating the opposite of their intentions. Values often become sacrificed for the pleasure and comfort of the rulers or upper class. In The Hunger Games, lives are sacrificed for revenge. In Divergent, family and kindness are sacrificed for a pretense of peace. In the Matched trilogy, free will is traded for supposed safety. By the time a story is being written about the said society, it is failing and we (the reader) and eventually the hero can see the flaws in thought, and mistakes made along the way. Because we can see what is wrong with the society, we know where we stand. We know which side we should be on, and we get very involved mentally. While we may have a hard time figuring out which characters are on our side as well, we know what “our” side is and we are willing to fight for it. This ability to connect so deeply with human nature is part of what draws one in to dystopia.

When I get into a story, I start comparing my life to the one I am reading about. I think this is fairly common; in order to get to know the characters and situation you compare it to what you know. When we start finding similarities in dystopia books to our own lives, it serves as a warning and reminder. There have been many comparisons of the Capitol in The Hunger Games and Hollywood, and this should scare us a little. I am not saying we should believe every conspiracy theory (or any for that matter), but that there are elements of dystopian fiction in most (if not all) modern societies. This may not necessarily be a reason we enjoy these types of stories, but it is a defining and thought-provoking part to them.

Finally, no matter how dark a book gets, there is always hope. Without it the story would not sell. It can be easier to have hope in our own lives if we can see it in a much worse situation than we are facing. We get bogged down with so much in life, and reading is an escape for many. When a character overcomes great odds, makes a change in their world, and finds justice, we become hopeful. Hope is the most important element of dystopia; without a major reason to not have hope, there is no significance in it, but when that small amount of hope is able to work near-miracles, we are in awe.

After reading about a world gone astray, we look at our own world differently, perhaps more intently, and we are able to criticize it. Perspective is gained. Appreciation for where we are. Dystopian books are not just dark ruminatings of depressed minds, as has been suggested, but rather great cultural creations with complex layers of meaning and thought. Reading them, really diving into them and understanding, can help us think more critically and objectively about the world, humanity, and morality; that is the heart of dystopian fiction. It is philosophy in an understandable form, and a dose of hope from the darkest places.

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