Why is Animal Farm a dystopian novel?
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I would define a dystopian novel as one in which an author creates a world that is a total nightmare to live in. A utopia is a perfect world, a dystopia is the opposite. In this novel, Napoleon creates a world that is not exactly the worst possible, but pretty close for the animals.
The world that Napoleon creates is one where the animals (except for pigs) have no power. They have to do what the pigs say and they are liable to be killed if they do not. The pigs use the other animals for their own gain. This is no better than it was when the humans ran the farm. In fact, it is worse because now the animals have had hope (they though Animalism would improve their lives) only to have that hope completely dashed.
So this is a dystopian novel because Orwell depicts a world that is really unpleasant to live in.
It might be intereting to start with a comparison of utopia with dystopia. In the original Greek, utopia means "nowhere"; most uptoias have been written about places that are nowhere --- they don't exist, and it's unlikely that they ever could exist. An interesting example is the latest Utopian novel that I am aware of, "Walden II" by B. F. Skinner. This novel presents an idealized community based on Skinner's faith in behavior modification and the application of the scientific method to creating a society (don't just talk about it --- try it and modify if necessary). Many of my students have read this book and suspect that it might be a dystopian novel in disguise, but you'll have to make up your own mind.
Based on this definition, I take dystopian to be the opposite of utopian --- somewhere (the original Greek meaning is "bad"). They are places where the ideal has been replaced by the shocking reality of what could be ... a "possible" place, usually ruled absolutely. Take the world of 1984 where Big Brother wields absolute power in the first world that does not pretend to use power for any beneficial end for its citizens ... it uses power not because it does good things, but because it's there and it can. A similar reality presents itself in Brave New World where the rulers control reproduction and keep its citizens in control without the use of external power ... it uses mindless entertainment, free sex, and drugs and let the people "control" themselves. These are clearly places that have a "somewhere" about them that utopias don't have.
Animal Farm is a dystopia because it is a "somewhere" --- a place that could be and probably has been, where, in the words of it's sister piece 1984, whoever controls the present controls the past; whoever controls the past controls the future. There is no brute forced used in controling the farm; Just present the truth you want the people to believe and let it go from there.
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