Dystopia is all the rage right now. Nearly every day in America, someone refers to a dystopia. From The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu to the current administration in America. A dystopian American society seems closer than ever. Discussion usually becomes a lament that “America is turning into a dystopia.” Do you see a dystopia in America? It’s both in the present and the past. We’ll take a look at a few historical examples, but first…
What is Dystopia
Dystopia is “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.”Merriam Webster Dictionary
Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin (1884-1937), a Russian novelist, wrote the first dystopian novel, We. Also a playwright and satirist, he was a “chronic dissenter.” Tsarist censors condemned, arrested and tried Zamyatin. He won an acquittal. He wrote a novel, We, in 1921. His manuscript circulated in Russia but he could not publish it there. An English translation was published in the United States in 1924. The original Russian text was published in New York in 1952. The story tells of a “Single State” where workers live in glass houses and have numbers rather than names. According to Goodreads, the novel is “ a resounding cry for individual freedom.”
So is that what dystopia is? A fictional world of oppression yearning for or postulating that individual freedom is better?
Dictionary.com defines dystopia a “a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”
You can find the definition of society on Merriam-Webster.
Under this definition dystopia is no longer a fiction. Sadly, there are many societies in the world that can fall under this definition.
The first twenty African slaves brought ashore, landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.
Kidnapping African men, women, and children and selling them for slaves continued for years. Hundreds of thousands of Africans lived in “squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.” The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 abolished slavery.
Next, it was the Native Americans. The first Indian Reservation was established in 1758. It was located in what would become Shamong Township, New Jersey.
Later, President Andrew Jackson prompted Congress to pass the “Removal Act” in 1830. The bill forced Native Americans to leave America and settle in the Indian Territories. One relocation effort forced Cherokees on a 1,000 mile march, the “Trail of Tears.” Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on that walk.
In 1850, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act. This act created the reservation system. The reservations put the Indians under government control, to minimize conflict with settlers, and to “encourage” Native Americans to take on the ways of the white man. Another American dystopia.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson established restrictions on German-born males over the age of 14 regardless of their citizenship. Hundreds of thousands of German-born males had to register at their local post office. They had to carry their registration at all times and report any changes of address or employment.
Thousands of German-born U.S. residents were interrogated. More than two thousand people were arrested. Their imprisonment lasted for the duration of the war.
In 1941, hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the FBI arrested 1,291 Japanese community and religious leaders. The FBI had no evidence of any wrong-doing.
From 1942 to 1945, about 117,000 people of Japanese descent—the majority of whom were American citizens—were placed in internment camps.
The immigration determent camps have been in the news. You’ve seen the numbers. Thousands of children separated from their families. Thousands held in camps.
According to global detention project, the U.S. has more than 200 detention facilities.
Some claim the detention facilities are prisons. They use arguments about the legalities in that immigrants (legal or not) are not citizens. There are some who claim the determent camps are equal to concentration camps. That’s arguable. At the very least, these people have been forced to live in a dystopia as defined by Dictionary.com.
I’ve written a post about why we read dystopian fiction. In it, a list of twenty reasons why we read dystopian fiction. You can read that here. But it didn’t talk about dystopia in America.
So does writing dystopian fiction (books, movies, etc.) have a place in today’s world? I would answer with a vehement YES. Authors of dystopian fiction are not advocating this is a good way to live. They tell stories of pain and suffering. And there’s always a struggle to break free of the dystopian society.
Do you see a dystopia in America today? You may not live in it. I don’t live in it. But there are people who do. As long as there are, I will write stories encouraging people to break free of their dystopia.