The Difference Between a Utopian and Dystopian World

Updated on July 20, 2018
Rachel Aldinger profile image

Rachel is a senior English major, reader of all things fiction, and an aspiring writer.

Utopia Vs. Dystopia: What's the Difference?

These two sub-genres are distinctly different, but also share unique similarities. For starters, a Utopia is essentially a perfect world. Of course we all know there is no such thing as a “perfect world” and conflict will nonetheless arise. This conflict leads to a Dystopia. A Dystopia is essentially a perfect world gone wrong.

The Specifics

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're likely familiar with The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth. This story is set in a dystopic future where society is separated into factions which, at first glance seem like a great and efficient way to organize this fictional society. That is, until it becomes clear there is an underlying oppression emphasized in the deliberate separation of people. The factions were a utopic idea, in a sense constructed to create a perfect society where each member could thrive.

This is where the dystopic aspect enters the scene. Maybe the world is perfect for a time but perfection is an impossibility. A true Utopia stays perfect, but when a Utopia is never truly perfect to begin with, it is, or becomes, a Dystopia. As in Divergent, the factions begin to conflict, equality among all becomes oppression of one over many, and a war begins.

Take for instance The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, set in an unruly future where kids are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of those in the Capitol. This is almost an apocalyptic approach to the future, but keep in mind a Dystopia is not apocalyptic, though the two categories are similar. The Capitol is oppressing the districts of Panem and forcing them to participate in the Hunger Games. This world is a Dystopia, the people are living in a degraded state and being dictated. The world is the opposite of perfect—it is a disaster zone.

Does this look pretty Utopian to you?
Does this look pretty Utopian to you? | Source

What About the Apocalypse?

In regards to dystopian disaster zones let me talk a bit about apocalyptic literature. Apocalypse stories are "end of world" stories or, "end of life as we know it" tales. For example, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey tells the story of teenagers surviving an alien takeover of Earth. In this novel, the majority of the human population has been decimated and the world the characters once knew is gone for good as they adapt to survive the changing elements.

Another example is the Life as we knew it series by Susan Beth Pfeffer which describes how life changes for the human race following the catastrophic consequences of a meteor hitting the moon. This story follows characters as they fight to survive the end of the world.

Tying this back into dystopian and utopian literature, stories that take place in a Dystopia may take place after an apocalyptic event. For instance, The Hunger Games takes place after an apocalyptic war which resulted in the dystopic rule of the Capitol. Additionally, a Dystopia may simply showcase an oppressive form of control characters are living under and may not necessarily bring to light the ends that led to the construct of the society of the story. Keep in mind that, while not always expressed, chances are all these constructs (Utopia, Dystopia, Apocalyptic) are interconnected, in some way. For example, a novel may be categorized as dystopian literature, but the story may take place after an apocalyptic event; the event which led to the dystopian world the story is set in (like The Hunger Games world of Panem).

Source

To Review

Here's a quick recap of what I covered:

  • Utopia: A "perfect" world or society.
  • Dystopia: A wrecked or oppressed world or society.
  • Apocalyptic: The end of the world as it is known.

And there you have it! The difference between these fiction sub-genres. Hope you found this as interesting as I do. If you're interested in testing your knowledge, I've included a short quiz, covering elements of my article, below.

Test Your Knowledge!

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© 2018 Rachel Aldinger

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