How do you define dystopia? What about utopia?
Many people don't know the difference between the two, because the line can be very thin. Hopefully, this article will help you discover the specifics of each. The key differences between dystopian and utopian fiction can be found in how the story is constructed and told.
Dystopia usually presents a story told out of despair. Utopia presents the "prime directive", so to speak, of a message of hope and occasionally, overwhelming so. Dystopia normally has an overwhelming message of warning.
Dystopia, more often than, makes use of "big government" and military, using tactics of intimidation and sometimes mind control; often a sole evil head of government is responsible or a representative of the oppression. Usually, there is a hierarchy that works to the advantage of government loyalists, especially those who never question it's ultimate control. Those outside of the government are seen as lower on the totem pole. Utopia usually has a sort of Council or more of a communal society, where decisions are made based on the "greater good."
Utopian societies are generally based on the so-called equality of all humankind. Meanwhile, dystopia presents societies based on segregation, inequality, and oppression. Many times the equality of the society in utopian fiction is an illusion.
While it's true that most utopia masquerades under the guise of dystopia, the difference is sometimes only in perspective. Is the story told from a perspective of despair or of hope?
If the ending presents hope as an option, then the story more than likely has more utopian qualities. If the message is without hope or full of distress and pain, then it would more likely lean toward dystopia.
The truth is that the line is very thin and both genres can have aspects of the other.
Here are some general guidelines for making the distinction:
Big government and military, evil government leader
Segregated and oppressed society
Underlying message of despair and warning
Council (or similar) whose members who work for the "greater good"
Integrated and communal society
Underlying message of hope
Using these guidelines, 1984 is a clear dystopian tale and The Giver would fit well with utopian fiction. For newer titles, The Hunger Games would lean closer to dystopian, as would a book I recently reviewed, Divergent. So far, a few of my other recently reviewed titles, Burn Bright and Incarnate, would be hovering closer to the side of utopian.
Utopia is often grouped together with dystopia and, in some cases, the terms have seemingly become interchangeable. Generally speaking, most utopic books can be considered dystopic, but dystopic books cannot all be considered utopic.
Both sub-genres have their individual merits and both carry important messages for society. Personally, I love utopia and dystopia; I really don't think I could choose one. They are both WAY TOO MUCH FUN. If you haven't given either a chance, I suggest that you give them a try!