With the future as unknown as it is, it makes the perfect opportunity for fiction and literature to ponder about what could be. Whether its the dystopia novels talking about uncertain futures and where our current actions could take us. Many of which we can now see in our daily lives – writing about the future isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy, but sometimes there is a parallel to fictional events. Several writers from The Edge look at these literary classics, and the mediums which discuss what the future may have in store for us:
‘1984’ by George Orwell
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel (now known as 1984) is an extremely progressive dystopian novel declaring the dangers of totalitarianism and technology. It was published in 1949 and depicts a world 35 years from that point, it sees totalitarianism takeover the political structure and the negative impacts allowing these ideologies to flourish in society. The book was written in a time of uncertainty surrounding the ideology of communism as it was a new political belief that was beginning to flourish after the Second World War. 1984 is the most famous dystopian novel and has been an inspiration for musicians, artists and authors the heavy themes surrounding totalitarianism, technology and manipulation have played key themes in modern literature and art. Also, many of the phrases used in this book have become part of modern-day language
The novel is set in Oceania – United States and Britain – and depicts an extreme version of a totalitarian government shown through ‘The Party’, a government that monitors and controls every aspect of human life from history and language to even our thoughts. The Party does this by watching over every individual through the telescreens and has hidden microphones across the city, this scares every individual into following The Party rules and not questioning its authority. Throughout the book we see The Party attempt to force a new language called Newspeak amongst its citizens in attempts to prevent any form of political rebellion by eliminating all words, because of this, Newspeak contains no negative terms. For example, there is no word to express the meaning of “bad” instead it is “ungood”, something extremely bad is called “doubleplus ungood”. It’s direct connotation to something not good takes away the power of the word bad but it also makes it virtually impossible to translate back to English (oldspeak) meaning anything negative on The Party before newspeak cannot be properly understood.
The story begins with protagonist, Winston Smith, illegally purchasing a diary in which he writes his thoughts and discontent with The Party and Big Brother. In this story thoughtcrime is the worst crime to commit, thinking any negative thoughts towards The Party can lead to imprisonment, torture and death. Thoughtcrime is seen as such an evil in this dystopian society neighbours, co-workers and family are to keep an eye on each other to make sure no one commits this crime. This leads to children reporting their own parents for this act, this is seen when Mr Parson’s own child reports him to the Thought Police and is seen as a hero for ‘saving’ their father from toxic thoughts. The loyalty for The Party is stronger than any human connection for most of the citizens in Oceania. However, Winston goes against every party belief and breaks nearly every single rule The Party have enforced, not only does he commit thoughtcrime through writing in a diary and thinking negative thoughts, but he falls in love. Winston meets a young woman named Julia they both fall in love with each other, this commits a doublecrime, not only have they gone against The Party by falling in love but their thoughts on desire for each other make them commit the worst crime of them all. Winston and Julia both despise The Party and hope to join the ‘Brotherhood’, a legendary group that works to overthrow The Party, it is hinted that by having a love more powerful than devotion to a political system they are unable to be apart of the totalitarian society pushed upon by The Party. Orwell uses this couple to identify the risks of allowing communism to become a part of the political system as it can takeaway the most powerful thing of them all, love.
The party asserts its power over thought by rewriting history, Winston works for the Ministry of Truth which is an ironic name considering the point of the ministry is to rewrite history. For example, Winston remembers a time when Oceania was at war with Eurasia and allies with Eastasia, however this changed and now Eurasia were Oceania’s allies and they were at war with Eastasia they rewrote the books to proclaim that Oceania has always been allies with Eurasia and Eastasia were always the enemy. This would consistently change due to foreign relations and everyone would go along with it as there is no document saying otherwise. When they edit the history books, they also recall back every single newspaper and rewrite it to fit the new narrative The Party want to promote to society. The Party also does not allow individuals to keep records of their past, such as photographs or documents, this makes it even harder for anyone to go against The Party’s narrative as there is no proof of anything being different. By controlling the present The Party are able to manipulate the pass therefore granting them more power in the present world.
The most futuristic element of 1984 is the discussion of technology, when the book was published technology was easing its way into modern day life and though caused much excitement it also created fear. This is explored throughout 1984 as it sees technology being used for evil, evident as The Party watch over Oceania through telescreens and have hidden microphones across the city this means The Party can control every single aspect of Oceania, even inside the home. This is the best futuristic novel of all-time as it almost accurately depicts a dystopia some of us are living in. There are countries across the globe that live in a totalitarian society and many of their experience are similar to that linked in the book. It also links today’s current climate of the growing ‘conspiracy theory’ generation and this book can be argued to have generated many of the theories people share on the government now.
– Morgan McMillan
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood
When we read about the future in literature, quite a lot falls under the umbrella of dystopia; a harsher world view of the future and its implications on the world we live in now. Many also take inspiration from this world and use it in theirs.
Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale looks at exactly that. Inspired by world events, protagonist Offred (literally Of Fred) who is one of the titular Handmaids, takes readers around Gilead where dystopia is the name of the game. The series has captivated fans for years, winning awards, and even receiving a sequel novel in 2019 titled The Testaments, along with the popular HBO series and a film in 1990. If the novel was a negative look at the future, people have become captivated and learn from the fictionalised look at modern life, which is regularly updated in its adaptations.
– Louise Chase
‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins
Science Fiction was one of my personal favourite genres growing up. Being a teenager, I needed something accessable as 11 year old me struggled to comprehend the complexity of Handmaids tale or the works of Philip Dick. I turned to the Hunger Games, and what a read. Full of action, violence and political plot twists – it follows the story of Katniss Everdeen in a dystopian America known as Panem. Children from working families across Panem are called upon to fight to the death to show loyalty to the upper classes in the Capitol. The Hunger Games is the start of an amazing trilogy which we will be getting another installment this year in the form of a prequel, plus all the films are on Netflix so if you don’t have the time to digest the saga on paper, sit back and enjoy the bloodshed on film.
– Jack Nash
Amongst modern dystopian novels that imagine a bleak future, there is a literary genre from the early 20th century that has passed us by. Futurism was an artistic and literary movement that emphasised the dynamism of modern technology, youth, and violence throughout Italy, Russia, Spain, and many Slavic countries. The British response to this was known as Vorticism, which rejected the advancement of industrialisation which was welcomed by Futurism.
Although principally a movement in the realm of visual art, the poetry that arose from Futurism/Vorticism rejected antiquated lyric poetry, experimenting with different forms, fonts, and even characters to reflect the rapid industrial development that surrounded the modern world. A prime example of these movements would be Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Atlantic Ocean (1925) which explores the similarities between the formidable sea and the violence of the industrialised warfare.
As we examine futuristic literature, it is worth exploring how artists before us anticipated modernity.
– Elizabeth Sorrell