Date of Award


Degree Type


First Advisor

Randy Malamud

Second Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Third Advisor

Jay Rajiva


Utopian literary expressions are typically hopeful narratives that depict a socialist society as the ideal; however, in the wake of totalitarian regimes such as those led by Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, socialism became an untenable formal expression for utopia, and dystopia emerged, in form and function, as an alternative. Dystopian literature, like its utopian counterpart, exists as an agent for social change. This project focuses on the evolution of the utopian and dystopian traditions, with specific attention given to contemporary dystopian texts including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The form and function of the dystopian novel are inextricably linked to the object of each novel’s critique. As issues evolve so do the mechanisms for change. Notably, the narrative form shifts from the socialist utopia to apocalyptic dystopia, and although the primary function, instigating social change, initially remains the same, I argue that in recent dystopian texts such as Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and McCarthy’s The Road, the function of the dystopian novel undergoes a metaphysical transformation. Because dystopian literature has historically existed to provoke social change, there is a vested interest in the issues dystopian literature explores. Common issues authors analyze in dystopian novels include women’s rights, racism, classism, and a range of environmental crises. Many dystopian texts have been adapted for other mediums including television, film, and theatre, which has increased dystopian literature’s sphere of influence and, by extension, its attendant formal and informal criticism. Dystopian literature creates a kind of imbricational relationship between academia and the non-academic public, with academia exerting extraordinary influence on not only discussion about dystopian literature but also conversations about the larger issues the literature explores. As academia becomes an increasingly homogenous environment, so, too, does the presentation and evaluation of issues in dystopian literature evolve concomitantly. This project employs an array of hermeneutical approaches and contributes to existing scholarship by challenging academic orthodoxy as it pertains to issues of cultural belief often inculcated by academia through literature.


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