In year twelve Extension English we looked at speculative fiction as our unit of study. It stretched from fantasy to science fiction, and it was a highlight of high school studies, but the stories that gripped me the most were those such as Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and Miller’s graphic novel ‘V For Vendetta’. They each painted a picture of the future that was bleak, people who were downtrodden and controlled by forces they didn’t entirely understand, and the plight of the individual to fight against the established society.
To be fair, year twelve wasn’t that long ago for me, but it fascinates me that young adult fiction seems to be continuing in the same trajectory. If you put aside paranormal fiction as a booming genre, the dystopian world is a feature in the cultural phenomenons that surround us.
Case in point?
It’s no secret that I adore Divergent and Hunger Games. I think the tough female protagonist is a refreshing break from the passivity of Bella Swan in Twilight. The stories captivate me just like they did in high school. But I wonder why it is that we love them so much. What is it that draws us to look at these pictures of the world and feel so deeply passionate about the plight of the protagonists?
I could be wrong, but I think we see the seed of these futures in our own world. We don’t think that our society will be split into factions or districts anytime soon, but we see that there is a divide that is near impossible to cross between socio-economic status and we see that there are clear cut categories that people fit within.
And we want to see the individual triumph in these stories because it gives us hope that in our own world, the individual could triumph and find freedom in spite of all of the odds. We see the Capitol of Panem in those who try to hold others down and force them to conform, and we see the words of Jeanine from the Erudite faction in those who tell us explicitly or implicitly that we should stay where we belong and never diverge.
We see in Katniss and Tris hope. We see hope for better days and battles won. We see hope win within a broken world and we need to see that hope to remind ourselves that there is hope for ours as well, if only we stand and fight.
I think I like that teenage girls look to these characters. They have flaws, yes, but I like that they have grit and strength and perseverance to face another day and another foe. These stories plant a seed of strength that only a good story can plant.
Girls within our churches are often given role models to look at who are, frankly, mild and dainty. If girls can learn from the flawed characters of Katniss and Tris, I think we’d find their spines steeled to face a world that does not want them to stand for the gospel, and they would remind themselves that they do not belong in this dystopia we live in, that they need to fight for what is better – to fight for hope.
And hope is ultimately found in Jesus. Only Jesus. He will not disappoint us. When we steel ourselves to face a broken world with a fight for not just the one, but the many, we find ourselves speaking of the Christ who came into the world to rescue us from the brokenness.
I love dystopian fiction, because it plants seeds of strength and hope*… And teaching teenagers to hope is important. These stories are important.