Characteristics of a Dystopian Society

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  • 0:04 Dystopia Defined
  • 1:46 Characteristics
  • 2:51 Literary Value
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

If utopianism offers a vision of an ideal world only possible in our dreams, dystopianism is the nightmare that we fear may become reality. In this lesson, you'll learn what a dystopian society is and some of its key characteristics.

Dystopia Defined

Imagine a society where you live under the oppression of some organization controlled by a tiny group of privileged elites. It may be a despotic government, a religious organization, or an all-powerful global corporation. This organization controls every aspect of your life. You are told what to think and how to act through propaganda and brainwashing. Individual thoughts and actions in contradiction to what is permitted are not tolerated and are severely punished if discovered by the authorities.

You live in constant fear of stepping 'out of line,' where every co-worker, neighbor, or even a beloved family member may be an informer. Your life is one burdened by extreme poverty, where you are given barely enough resources to survive. But you must be ever ready to give your all, including your very life, to the powers that be. And perhaps worst of all, imagine that there is absolutely no hope of change. This is but one of many visions of a dystopian society.

We can define a dystopian society as an imagined society that imposes a harmful, oppressive, and miserable existence on almost all of its members. You can think of a dystopia as the opposite of utopia. While a utopia is an ideal society that is as perfect as possible, a dystopia is a society that is perfectly imperfect or just plain evil or wrong.

Dystopian societies are often depicted in science fiction literature and film. Examples of dystopian fiction include George Orwell's 1984, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Well known dystopian films include the recent Hunger Games, Children of Men, The Matrix, V for Vendetta, and Blade Runner.


Thinkers and artists depict dystopian societies by the following characteristics:

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