Discussion Posts

What is a Utopia/Dystopia?

I wanted to share a few of my thoughts on Utopias and Dystopias, because of my blog name, Utopia State of Mind.


I’ve talked already about why I named it that, but the short answer is that it plays off the song title, Empire State of Mind. But instead of being about New York, where I grew up, it’s about Utopias. I have dealt with a lot of these in my six years of studies as a Lit student and Utopias and Dystopias have carved a space in my heart. The dystopia world of 1984 was one of the first books that proved to me I wanted to write about literature. These types of books will always have a special place in my heart.

Utopias and more

But what is a utopia? Well even though the actual name means ‘no place’ in Greek, it refers to a society in which everything is ‘perfect’. So from my little marks, you can tell that the entire nature of perfect is a myth, in and of itself, but also highly subjective. My perfect for you could be your hell. Or visa versa. The idea of Utopia is almost always someone else’s dystopia, or the opposite of a perfect place. There is a direct relationship between these two topics then. Most of times this fabled perfect place actually turns into a dystopia, especially in literature.

But that’s not all there is. There’s also critical utopias and dystopias. The idea of a critical utopia, which is of course debated so don’t take my word on it, is one that harnesses the power of a utopia – mainly the hope and desire for change – and deals with that. It focuses less on whether or not we have created this perfect place and instead on what it aims to do. They look at what a utopia strives to do, its desire for change and hope, and less the practical follow through. The topic is pretty interesting and entirely up for speculation. I mean, the whole reason this striving for a perfect society is so popular is exactly because it is hope.

Hope for a society without sickness, or without racism. Whatever it is. There is a distinct fear and power. Fear that the utopia will exclude you and power in the idea that what if we could actually achieve that. Then again there’s also critical dystopia. This is where a book presents an image of a dystopia, but only to critically engage with it. My favorite example of this is He, She, and It. In this case, the corporation driven society is a dystopia that disregards individuals and the environment. But it also highlights the aspect in our society that are like that already.

So all in all, it’s a little complex, but if you are interested, Tom Moylan is a great place to start and I can recommend more if you want. The best way to delve into this is just read a whole bunch of utopia and dystopia novels. Then you can see the subtlety, the differences.

Current World

It feels a little bleak to think of utopias considering our current almost dystopic world. There’s a reason that these types of novels are feeling a surge now. Many jokes have said that we are living more in these fictional worlds and it is scary. Scary because corporation control, environmental carelessness, and the control of women’s bodies is on the forefront.

Need for Hope

But even now there is more so a need to see the ‘utopia’ light. To remember to take the purest of intentions in a utopia, the desire to change for the better, and apply it today. I choose to see the possibilities of a utopia and know that in mine there are no walls to keep those out. I would love to see that pure form of utopia in a novel, but who knows.


But what do you think? What are your favorite utopias and dystopias?

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10 thoughts on “What is a Utopia/Dystopia?

  1. Ah, I should have read this post earlier today when I was critiquing a book and wasn’t sure if it was a dystopia or not (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a utopia, though). It was post-apocalyptic and had a dystopic vibe but nothing bad really seemed to be happening? You make a good point about how a utopia is very subjective. It would definitely be interesting to read a book that tries to portray a pure utopia.

  2. It makes sense that utopia which we think of as being the perfect place, should derive from a word that means no place because no place is perfect. There’s perfect for you, which is different depending on what you want. My version of heaven might sound like hell to someone else. Like I don’t mind spending an entire day surrounded by books. One of the kids I tutor, well she would happily give up a kidney if it meant that she didn’t have to see books for a week.
    1984 was such an influential book for me too. It is still my favorite dystopic novel, except that there are so many times I see aspects of it in my real life and I wonder if Orwell had a time machine and saw into the future.

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