The Teenage Obsession with Dystopian Fiction
'Ever since George Orwell's 1984, dystopian fiction has slowly risen in popularity.'
Rebecca Ashworth | 24 January 2016

Ever since George Orwell’s 1984, dystopian fiction has slowly risen in popularity. Nowadays, however, it is something of a cultural phenomenon. From The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to Divergent by Veronica Roth, many of the most popular young adult novels fall under this category. So what is it about an entirely negative setting that appeals?

Initially, young adult dystopian fiction was uncommon; it only really rose to prominence with Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel, The Giver. However, over recent years it has significantly grown in popularity. Teenagers have become more interested in these worlds, and new dystopian novels are constantly being released. These dystopian settings are often highly exaggerated, corrupt societies, which seem particularly appealing to the young adult audiences, but also to adults too. Partly, it is the unpleasant nature of these settings that attracts them. Some comfort is offered in the fact that society is not that bad, thus offering the reader some hope, not dissimilar from the hope the protagonists are empowered by. This hope of the protagonist often fuels a revolution, which promotes the idea that the reader’s hope can assist them in having a great effect on the world or on their lives too. Is it this hope that sparks a love for these dystopias? Undoubtedly, this is significant; readers will find particular inspiration in the actions of the characters at the forefront of young adult literature. Reading about how their hope fuels their great, world-changing actions hopefully does allow young readers to consider the impact they might have, thus making these characters in the changing dystopian worlds interesting for them as a source of inspiration and as role models, worthy of admiration.

These characters also often display strong and inspirational characteristics. Particularly, in this genre, many of the great protagonists are women who push the boundaries of expected gender roles. Especially noticeable examples are Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, Beatrice “Tris” Prior of Divergent and Teresa of the Maze Runner. Although arguably the most well known, there are many more who continue to develop in popularity. These characters are often thrust into typically male roles, leading to them displaying their toughness and their ability to prove themselves in the face of adversity. This allows the genre to appeal to young people of both genders, creating a larger potential fan base. More people feel they can empathise with these strong women, and they also allow for greater self-belief in girls, pushing forward the ideals of feminism, providing girls with strong female role models. Not only this, but the age of many young adult dystopian protagonists are similar ages to their intended audience, thus allowing for even greater empathy to develop for the characters. As such, the reader develops something of a bond with the character, due to their similarities, making these novels all the more interesting.

Dystopian fiction has huge a relevance in modern day life and society. Often there are hyperbolic links to the society of today, including protests against the corruption we see in the world currently. George Orwell likely sparked this idea with his protests against communism in both 1984 and Animal Farm. He used a heightened and greatly exaggerated idea of communism to portray his negative opinion towards it in a time when it was becoming more prominent in the world, thus using his writing to convey his political agenda. Normally, in today’s young adult fiction, these links are much more subtle and often protest against corrupt totalitarianism, which is still noticeable in much of the world. These links create interest and provoke thought and consideration for what life might be like in a more corrupt part of the world or should such a situation arise.

Many of the novels have hidden morals that give young adults hope and promote acceptance. Both Divergent and Uglies by Scott Westerfield particularly promote the idea of self-acceptance and standing out against normality. These lessons are crucial in the healthy development of teenagers, especially in the social-networking age. The promotion of such ideas appeals to young people in that they begin to become aware of self-acceptance through the characters and their choices. In reality, teenagers want to accept themselves for who they are, despite many aspirations to be what they are not, and the encouragement to do this provided by these novels is greatly admirable. No doubt many of these characters and plot lines have led to increased self-esteem and acceptance in their young adult audience.

Overall, it is clear that the popularity of dystopian fiction is growing, particularly within a young adult audience. Largely, this is due to the relevance to life today, the hope that it promotes, the strong relatable characters and the underlying morals in the story. Clearly dystopian fiction is more than just a negative, unpleasant and corrupt setting.


Original image by Rebecca Ashworth.

James Routledge 2016