End of World Subcategories: The Societal Breakdown (or, DYSTOPIA!)


DystopiaThere has been a bit of a debate about whether or not Dystopian fiction belongs with Postapocalyptic fiction, and I say YES! I bring to you the SOCIETAL apocalypse, because it is the apocalypse of a society. Probably not as much death as, say, a zombie or nuclear apocalypse, but there areusually still mass casualties and things are definitely NOT As They Were Before. Oftentimes, dystopia is a result of some sort of larger and semi-apocalyptic event that precedes it (say a small-scale nuclear conflict, or famine, disaster, etc).

In a Societal Breakdown, we often see a culture, a people slowly implode – there is a small minority of folks who have certain and often extreme (Hitler, anyone? The current Religious right, anyone?) views about how things should be, and this small minority of folks either finds themselves in power or seizes power. It would seem nothing is amiss, at first, and life goes on as normal, but then things begin to change. Little freedoms begin to disappear. Curfews are established. Certain people begin to disappear.

Societal Breakdowns, in fiction, are pretty much all over the map. But the thing they have in common, is there are always rebels who disagree. Many rebels and detractors always die early on, and become a cautionary tale and/or inspiration for the protagonist, who is oftentimes disgruntled with the dystopia, but goes along with it until some catalyzing event that forces them to finally become part of the resistance in earnest. Star Wars: A New Hope is a classic example, actually: Luke Skywalkwer dreams of joining the rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire, but is stuck on his uncle’s moisture farm in Tattoine. His parents have died early on (of course, we come to later find out, his father is still alive and at the very helm of the Empire, but Luke believes he is dead until that discovery) as casualties of the dystopian society. The catalyzing event is that he and his uncle buy some used droids that just HAPPEN to have come directly from one of the leaders of the rebellion (Princess Leia), and contain secret plans on how to destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star. Ultimately, Luke blows up the Death Star, which is a huge victory for the rebels, who ultimately bring down the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Unfortunately, in Star Wars, we don’t get to see so much of the dystopian society itself – the Empire’s reach is so vast that it only barely touches Luke’s daily life until he is caught up in the middle of it. Other fiction goes much further into the history of why the dystopia exists, what its characteristics are, and why it’s ultimately unacceptable for the majority of its citizens.

Books: Animal Farm, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, Dayworld by Philip Jose Farmer, Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Movies: Divergent series, Star Wars (original trilogy), The Hunger Games series, Minority Report, Snowpiercer, V for Vendetta 

TV Series: The Handmaid’s Tale, Almost Human, Fringe, Dark Angel


7 thoughts on “End of World Subcategories: The Societal Breakdown (or, DYSTOPIA!)

  1. Great article! I’m often asked what the difference between dystopia and a postapoc world is. I’ll be sending folks here, if you don’t mind.

    In my mind, 1984 is a prime example of a dystopian society. Although the people live with perpetual war, it just doesn’t seem that there has been an apocalyptic event to solidify it as being postapoc.


    1. Feel free to send folks here! For my part, I love dystopian fiction as much as P/A, and think they often go hand in hand anyway, however one should decide to classify them – it is all under the Speculative Fiction umbrella anyway, which I love – we are SPECULATING about things that haven’t happened and (hopefully) won’t…but easily could. Walking Dead and The 100 are both littered with small, dystopian, post-apocalyptic societies, after all!

      I haven’t read 1984, and I SHOULD, since it’s pretty much the prototype! I’ll have to read very closely between the lines to see if there is any reference to a precursory event. They sort of allude to this type of thing in Handmaid’s Tale, where there is a fear of being “sent to the colonies” where you work hard and die early due to some kind of toxic contamination, but not specified. In the recent series, these toxic areas are also mentioned a little, but the fertility crisis is thrust front and center – they don’t mention any particular reason for the low fertility rates, and I wonder if they are due to whatever is making “the colonies” toxic. They also talk about a huge terrorist act (that was staged so the new, conservative party could easily seize power – this happens in the book as well) where basically every mover and shaker in DC was gunned down during a House session.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and thoughtfully comment, Evan!

      Liked by 1 person

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