5 Influential Dystopian Novels of the 20th Century

Fiction That Mirrors and Amplifies Our Nightmares

Let’s face it: since humankind’s first thought we’ve collectively feared the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Every century and every generation has its own set of fears. But lo and behold, we’re still all here, and still all fearing imminent disaster. Few things, though, have so eloquently, artfully, and thoughtfully realized and encapsulated our terrors as dystopian novels, and these dystopian masterpieces in particular.

Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley

Among the most highly regarded novels of all time, regardless of genre, Brave New World foresees an ordered and apparently happy world as a result of a one-world government and technological advances controlling and stratifying the population into a rigid caste system, whose physical and psychological needs and wants are fully satisfied. It’s a new world without want but also absent individuality, curiosity, and humanity.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell

Also a highly regarded literary work, Nineteen Eighty-Four envisages a world built and maintained on absolute thought control, deceitfulness, complete distortion of reality, and terror; there is only one truth and it is the truth of the moment. A brilliant neologist, Orwell through his novel gave the world concepts such as thoughtcrime, blackwhite, and unperson embodied in a new language any totalitarian would love, Newspeak.

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury

Considered among, if not, his best, Fahrenheit 451 offers up a future of nonreaders, who take their viewpoints whole from media, thus eliminating any unpleasant thoughts or nonconforming actions; books, after all, stimulate thinking and imagination, the process being an active interaction between the printed word and thought.

A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess

Another book elevated to the literary ranks, A Clockwork Orange explores a subculture of ultra violence among youth and society’s active methods of intervention, questionable and invasive reactions to what may simply be a normal, though progressively intensifying, cycle. Like Orwell, Burgess invented a language for his young characters called Nadsat, lending English a few more words, among them droog and gulliver. 

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood

Depicting a military theocratic state in what was the United States, it deals with the complete subjugation and absolute control of women down to the most elemental levels, their identities and their bodies. Still, thirty years out from publication, The Handmaid’s Tale continues to find itself challenged in school systems. Another novel providing us with interesting twists on language, among them unwoman (sterile women, lesbians, widows, feminists, and others who do not conform to the state’s gender divisions) and handmaid (fertile women whose function is to bear children).

Why not pick up and read a copy today? See how much of today you see on these pages. w/c

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