Dystopia or Negative Utopia?

I had never read George Orwell’s 1984. I have been reading so much dystopia lately (Matched, Hunger Games, I Am Number Four) that I thought I should go back and read the classic and the pinnacle of this genre. I was at Target today when my husband who has been begging me to read this book and a few notable sci-fi novels saw a new Signet Classics cover of 1984. So I picked it up came home and started reading. I am really loving the world-building and the creepy factor that he wrote this in 1949 and so much of the technical gadgets are reality to us all now.

The thing that really got me thinking was the excerpt on the back where Orwell had called his novel a “Negative Utopia”. I like this term. I like it so much in fact that I want to use it someday in conversation. It’s one of those terms I keep on the back burner of my brain to use sometime when the need arises. What I want to know is why did we not coin this genre of books we are all wolfing down Negative Utopia, why did we go with Dystopia? Which apparently isn’t even a real word because it always has the red squiggly line under it.

Which do you like best and why?

19 Responses so far

  1. Gravatar

    Yes! Red squiggly line that always makes me think I have misspelled dystopian! (There is it now! Look! *points*)

    I have no answer to your question but I have the same curiosity, so I shall stalk these comments to see if someone else has the answer!

  2. Gravatar

    I think that dystopia is nicer because it’s one word, as opposed to negative utopia, which takes up more space and breath. That being said, we could distinguish between the two.

    A Dystopia could be somewhere where there once was a utopia, but now the masses are generally unhappy.

    A negative utopia can be a place where people think they are happy, but something more sinister is going on underneath.

  3. Gravatar

    Cat: I hate that squiggly line haha.

    Robbie: That is an interesting idea, separating the two. Hunger Games would stay dystopian but Matched for instance would be Negative Utopian.

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    The squiggle is annoying. I like Robbie’s explanation. As I understand the difference, a negative utopia is a society where there has been an extreme response to a social issue. Books like The Wanting Seed and Brave New World fit this category.

    For dystopia, there are more problems than just a controlling government. Poverty, disease, violence, and environmental problems/ isolation from environment are a part of daily life for the majority of the population. I think that Fahrenheit 451 is a pretty good representation of all of these characteristics.

    But, these terms are fairly similar. So, you get to choose!

    Great disussion–You made me want to reread 1984!

  5. Gravatar

    Mrs. DeRaps: I did find “Dystopian” in the dictionary so I don’t know why I have to have the little squiggly line haha.

  6. Gravatar

    I always just figured “negative utopia” was the definition of dystopia, and the latter is shorter. :D

  7. Gravatar

    btw, 1984 is awesome.

  8. Gravatar

    I always really liked the word dystopia for the mere fact that it uses the Greek prefix “dys-” and I will admit to liking all things Greek. :) Okay, that’s a really silly reason, but I will also mention that I’ve seen the term “Anti-Utopia” used in some essays and pieces of literary theory I had to read in grad. school. It seems that they all have similar meanings, but we’ve all picked up the easy, one-word version!

  9. Gravatar

    Oh now I like Anti-Utopia

  10. Gravatar

    The day I let the red squiggly line dictate to me what is and isn’t a word is the day I lose my soul. :P

    To me anti- or negative-utopian would be “against utopia,” which would suggest the author argues utopian is a bad thing. Whereas Dystopian implies a perfect (or near-perfect) society that is broken, but has the possibility of being repaired or made better.

  11. Gravatar

    We all know I pay no attention to the squiggly line LOL. I never thought of it that way Tasha. Good way of looking at it.

  12. Gravatar

    I love the idea of having separate definitions for all of these terms. Perhaps Dystopia can be the umbrella term and then negative utopia, anti-utopia, et. al. are divisions of it. Okay, I’m geeking out, so I’ll stop now.

  13. Gravatar

    Brilliant plan Trisha! I love the umbrella system.

  14. Gravatar

    I like Robbie’s idea! what about anti-utopia?

  15. Gravatar

    Yes, I like negative utopia better. Dystopia makes me think about a not perfect world. But negative utopia is more like someone’s idea of a perfect world but life still sucks. I have read 1984, and although I can’t really say that it’s my new favorite book, (which right now is Hunger Games), but it’s interesting. If you have read this, I recommend reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

  16. Gravatar

    The squiggly line is always under my name, so I tend to ignore it.

    Does anybody else have suggestions for negative utopian/ dystopian/ anti-utopian books?

    There’s that dang squiggle again… under all my utopia words… :/

  17. Gravatar

    Robbie has it correct. And the two classics, 1984 and Brave New World are perfect examples of the difference between the two definitions.

    1984 is a dystopian story. Life in general sucks and no one is happy. Oppressive government, no liberties to speak of, thought crime, social manipulation though language control, etc.

    Brave New World is negative utopian. Life is good on the surface and the general populous believe everything is groovy (but there’s that pesky torturing of babies thing happening behind the scenes).

  18. Gravatar

    I agree. One of my favorite books of all time. Loved the term NU so much I use it as my video game company name. Cheers.

  19. Gravatar

    I think a negative utopia is a better word to use because I’ve read 1984 and Brave new world I think that they’re both negative utopias because it depends on the characters if they think the society is perfect or not so I think it’s a better word choice

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