Dystopian & Post-Apocalyptic Lit: Still More Questions

Dystopian & Post-Apocalyptic Lit: Still More Questions

Figure 1. People in post-apocalyptses & dystopias want slurpees.

Figure 1. People in post-apocalypses & dystopias want slurpees.


Today’s questions:

Why are a lot of post-apocalyptic books violent?

Why do so many dystopian stories feature unlikely endings (happy ones)?

Short/Dumbshitty Answers:

1) The world is violent, now, in the pre-apocalypse.

2) Readers like happy endings.

Longer/More Thoughtful Answer:

The definition of “apocalypse” is a good place to start:

APOCALYPSE: a great disaster : a sudden and very bad event that causes much fear, loss, or destruction

Okay, so we know that even in the best of times, we live in a world where people are stampeded to death while lining up in front of Walmart to get discounted DVD players, right? So if people are capable of violence over things that are petty and trivial, then imagine what they’re capable of when all social order has been removed.

Granted, most people don’t obey the rules because there are rules. They obey the rules because they know that they wouldn’t want anyone stealing their stuff or fucking their husband or knocking over their trash cans in the middle of the night. Plus they know doing that kind of stuff is terrible; not a lot of people feel good doing terrible things.

But laws/rules also represent more than punishment. Breaking the law and getting caught also happens to be a pretty goddamn big hassle. Normal people don’t want to go to jail or trial or any of that crap. So it’s just easier to follow the rules.

Figure 2. Sometimes you just need to ask yourself: WHAT WOULD MICHONNE DO?

Figure 2. Sometimes you just need to ask yourself: WHAT WOULD MICHONNE DO?

However, rules aren’t just words on a sign. Rules have whole institutions behind them that shore up the punishment and consequences. There’s a whole battalion of processes behind rules. Social shame, loss of reputation, fees and fines, future employers finding out you’re a goddamn criminal = just a few of those processes. So punishment – incarceration – isn’t the only reason people follow rules.

But living in a post-apocalypse means that the institutions backing up the rules are gone. The other ramifications of rule-breaking beyond punishment are gone. So if you are hungry, it’s that much easier to steal food in an apocalypse. And if you have to kill someone to steal food, because you and your loved ones are starving, then you either learn to be violent or you starve.

At least this is my guess. Since I’m an expert on watching The Walking Dead and so on. Not because I like to break rules.

Because, RULES: I like them. Anyway.

Figure s. These things tend to happen in the post-apocalyptic/dystopian world.

Figure 3. These things tend to happen in the post-apocalyptic/dystopian world.


As far as happy endings for dystopian stories? Well, for that, I will have to expand from the short/dumbshit answer, but I only have a few speculations:

— Readers and writers alike enjoy happy endings.

— Readers want to see their beloved characters prevail; writers want to give their readers hope.

— Readers get pissy if you kill off their favorite people.

— Writers want to take readers through a full story arc.

But happy endings aren’t necessarily a part of the dystopian genre. Dystopian lit often serves as a warning in many ways. These stories’ messages often suggest to readers that if we continue following certain paths, we’re going to end up in this awful situation. Much classic dystopian lit, such as 1984 and Brave New World does anything but end happy. I think YA dystopia tends to end happy, though probably readers of Veronica Roth’s Allegiant would have issue with that, obviously.

Also obvious: I don’t know everything about this. Feel free to comment your take below.




One Comment

  • Anthony Isom on Nov 08, 2013 Reply

    First of all: I am mortified no one has commented on this post yet. Second: I’d like to address the happy ending issue a bit. I am currently working my way through the mass of dystopian literature that’s struck the YA genre of late, and I think Veronica Roth is probably the bravest person for writing a realistic future in which things don’t actually end well. Because, truth is, with all that crap going on in such a morally bankrupt society, three books isn’t nearly enough to wrap up something like that. Happy endings, I think, have their place. For instance, in Andrew Smith’s STICK–I definitely felt like those readers who demand a happy ending. Bosten and Stick didn’t deserve to live despicable adulthoods after the childhood and adolescence they suffered.

    Then again, I am a sucker for sour endings. So all above information could easily be biased.

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