Dystopian Societies in Adolescent Literature: Can Compliance and Freedom Coexist Peacefully In A Dark, Dystopian World?

byTeresa Rush

In 1516, Sir Thomas More wrote the first ‘Utopia’, which began a long and rich tradition of imagining both utopian (or ideal) societies and imperfect dystopian ones. Recently, there has been a spike in the popularity of dystopian literature and movies. This type of literature is characterized by a bleak, dysfunctional future in which anti-utopian events oppress the weaker class of a society. The ruling class uses various controlling agents to obtain absolute power and establish their own personal utopias. These forms of control include corporate control, bureaucratic control, technological control, and philosophical/religious control.

In this ninth grade English unit, students will explore the common and contrasting themes of the following dystopian novels: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Matched by Ally Condie. In these novels, characters are faced with a lack of power and choice that force them and others who share their beliefs to rise up against their oppressive governments. While reading, students will engage in literature circle activities, close reading of dystopian and utopian articles, writing, and powerful discussions all centered on the Common Core State Standards. As they engage in reading and writing activities, they will develop a deeper understanding of whether or not compliance and freedom can coexist in a dark, dystopian world.

(Developed for English I, grade 9; recommended for English and  English Language Arts, grades 7-10)

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