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Understanding Dystopia - A Brief

Updated on November 24, 2014
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With books such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent becoming international hits and being turned into blockbuster movies, we have perhaps entered a new age of Dystopian literature not seen since the 1950s. Yet, with all the excitement about these books and others like them, there is a great deal of confusion as to what the word Dystopia means and how fiction about Dystopia help the creative mentality of humanity. To aid in this discussion, I've created a brief on the words Utopia and Dystopia.

Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More | Source

Many incorrectly define Dystopia as simply the opposite of Utopia, and though this is generally correct it is not entirely the case. The word Utopia was originally coined by a priest named Thomas More who published a novella in 1551. He created the word purposefully to have two meaning. When pronounced in latin, the term means good place, or essentially the perfect place. But the word is actually constructed from two Greek words meaning no place. This double meaning implies that a Utopia is a perfect society which does not exist, nor can it exist. This is where the true meaning of Dystopia comes into play. The word Dystopia means distanced from good, or distanced from perfection. This is a different meaning than a society opposed to perfection. Nearly every depiction of a Dystopian society in literature is a society that attempted to create a Utopia, but has unraveled over several generations because of the inherent imperfections in humanity, thus distancing itself from the perfection the society originally attempted to obtain.


A Dystopia is a Utopia in which the inherent weaknesses of an attempt at Utopia have festered into new and oftimes worse evils and degradation in human society. Therefore, the study and literature of Dystopian societies is not the study of Utopian opposites, but the study of how attempts to create a perfect society out of imperfect individuals are doomed to distance themselves from the perfection sought.

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    • sweetpikez profile image

      Pinky de Garcia 2 years ago

      Dear tlflanigan,

      Great job on the definition and comparison of these two words__Dystopia and Utopia. Books and movies with dystopian themes are becoming usual these days.However, many didn't understand what kind of story they are reading or watching.Thanks for sharing this. Voted Up and useful!