The Dystopian Tradition

The Dystopian Tradition

Original illustration by Elia Fernández, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

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Taught by Dr. Amy H. Sturgis

Over the years, thinkers have used dystopias — stories of worlds gone wrong, of worst-case scenarios – to warn their contemporaries about what they viewed as dangerous trends in society and challenge their readers to make the world better. This class will consider a variety of historical and current “what if?” thought experiments, including classics such as 1984 and current bestsellers such as The Hunger Games. Students will explore the specific conditions that inspired these dystopias, the general warnings inherent in them, and the broad trends in dystopias over time.

The Dystopian Tradition will meet Tuesday and Friday (primary lecture and closing session) from 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm (UTC-5)

Course Schedule

Week 1 (May 13-17):
The Dystopian Tradition and the Rise of the Modern Form
The Complete Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1927), film

Week 2 (May 20-24):
Industrialization and Mass Production
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)

Week 3 (May 27-31):
Totalitarianism and the Surveillance State
1984 by George Orwell (1949)

Week 4 (June 3-7):
Consumerism and Advertising
The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth (1953)

Week 5 (June 10-14):
The Bomb and the War-Minded World
Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald (1959)

Week 6 (June 17-21):
Conformity and Overpopulation
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut (1961), available online
“Billennium” by J.G. Ballard (1962), provided as PDF

Week 7 (June 24-28):
Environmental Collapse and the Post-Human
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (1977)

Week 8 (July 1-5):
High Tech and Low-Lives
Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut) (1982) film

Week 9 (July 8-12):
Sex, Separatism, and Faith
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper (1988)

Week 10 (July 15-19):
Urban Upheaval and Societal Collapse
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993)

Week 11 (July 22-26):
The Internet and the “Process of Dumbening”
Feed by M.T. Anderson (2002)

Week 12 (July 29-August 2):
The Capitol, Reality TV, and Control
The Hunger Games (2008), film
The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)

Required Texts