Fatal Attraction: Why do we Love the Dystopic Novel?

Posted on March 20, 2012


Celebrate the Hunger Games with me all week! There will be  a different post every day leading up to the movie’s release!

Here is a guest post from my dear friend Rainey, someone I knew I would be friends with when I first heard her awesome name at freshman orientation.  She’s  the type of friend that you can chat with in the cafeteria, not realizing that you’ve talked through breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours!  I loved thinking through her questions and can’t wait to comment- come join in the conversation!

I devoured these books, slowed only by the heartbreaking knowledge that once I finished them, there weren’t any more.

I have heard conversations lately about why we’re so attracted to books like these. This growing appeal of dystopian novels among women (The Hunger Games series, Delirium/Pandemonium, the Divergent series, etc.) – are they just really terrific reads (YES!), or is there something more that makes us especially receptive, in our culture, at this particular literary moment?

I have been training as a counselor, so I tend to ask more questions than offer more answers, and this will be no exception. I think these books, and their literary peers, offer us more than a yummy, page-turning plotline, and I offer a few thoughts and pose some questions that I hope will cause us to reflect on what made these quite so magnetic.

  1.  There are plenty of ways that our lives are some of the easiest and most advanced in human history, but there are also many ways (social, political, economical, etc) that the state of our world is worse off than ever. Many fears of things like the Mayan calendar, a potential WW3, an irrevocable collapse of the economy, etc, suggest that we wonder if we are spiraling towards an end of our current comfort.

  • Do books like these put a face to a faceless enemy future, and then calm us by painting a picture of how we could still survive?
  • Does the ease of our lives make us fascinated with apocalypse because of the horror of living without amenities, but at the same time make us crave the raw proving of ourselves that this society would demand?
  • Do we want proof that we’re strong enough to survive without, and so we clamber to a story that lets us manufacture the struggle and test the idea without any real discomfort?
  • In a society where much of our Self is constructed by other things, like accessories, or car model, or Facebook profile, are we hungry for a lifestyle focused on survival, where we could be judged on our true merits?
  • Are we curious about a future in which we would truly need the backbone and the brawn that we women in the present know we already possess?
  1. In a society with some primary female role models like Kardashians and Bachelor contestants, are we now hungry for the modeling of women willing to stand firm in a gritty and grimy fight for reality and personal freedom? Is Katniss Everdeen our Bella Swan palate cleanser?

  • While we look like women hungry for more Hunger Games, are we really women famished for role models who let us imagine ourselves as strong and tough – women who could be like Katniss if a similar need arose?
  • Do we love that, while she is desirable and attractive, Katniss’ worth is almost completely outside of sexual merit, but is rather proven by her choices?
  • Because reading is often such a private act, do stories like these create a space for young women to resist gender roles so often served up to them without risking any social position, which a more public violation of gender performance might cause?

All in all, does our society give women enough occasion to feel like warriors? Maybe it does. But we certainly have reacted with the fervor of the hungry to these books that tell a story of a woman wasn’t so afraid of failure that she took no risks.

  1. Finally, I think we know that our world is full of evil, but often, our vision is clouded by (among a million other things) grey smoke of personal sentiment, or too many options, or just being too dang close to the problem.

  • Are we delighted by the picture of a world where good and evil are clear? Where lines can be firmly drawn and right is truly distinguishable? Where even the most complex character is, usually, either a protagonist or an antagonist? Are we able to use these imaginary spaces to examine issues in black and white before they become grayed out by living?
  • Does this quality of literature in general trigger in us a hunger for the true victory of pure good over pure evil that we will find in Heaven?

Many of these questions did not originate with me, but in conversations I was just privileged to hear, between women much smarter than I. Thank God for conversation and for women, like our friend Farrell, who encourage it. Because isn’t silence of thought and silence of word even more deadly than Foxface’s Nightlock berries?

I would love to hear your thoughts.


Be sure to check out the other Hunger Games themed blog posts:

And So it begins: The Hunger Games by Farrell

The Hunger Games Cast Guest Post by Jennifer L.

Is Jennifer Lawrence the Real Deal? Guest Post by Rose

Cooking through the Hunger Games Guest Post by Victoria

Dystopian People Guest Post by Erik