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The Many Faces of Dystopia

Page history last edited by Brittany Choi 7 years, 6 months ago

The Many Faces of Dystopia


By Brittany ChoiDystopian Novel




     The re-emergence of the dystopian literary genre has been a recent phenomenon, especially within the current young adult generation. There are many ways to approach the study of this genre, one being the use of digital tools to analyze and dissect the genre and role of the novel. A study at UCSB used digital tools to look into this genre as a whole, and its development over time. Through the team’s preliminary research, patterns of change of the novel were found in many articles and brought to the forefront of the project. Much of the project’s structure was based off the finding of a Goodreads infographic showing the three distinct waves of the dystopian genre.  Using four different tools, the Dystopian Novel team at UCSB examined the rise and re-emergence of the dystopian novel, as well as how it changed over time. The four methods consist the uses of an interactive timeline, topic modeling, textual analysis, and an infographic.


Methods of Research


     In the first method, one team member used an interactive timeline to provide a general overview of the dystopian genre, along with the historical events contemporary to these novels. The range of novels covers from 1898 with “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells to Alien Species Intervention Books in 2013. This range spans over around forty novels. For each novel, a short blurb is included to show some of the themes or topics covered. For more information there is a link to novel summaries, most of which are from Wikipedia. This tool also allows for additional media including pictures and videos such as movie trailers. The inclusion of categories creates a space for simultaneous timelines. Using this feature, the team was able to place historical events and novels separately but also along the same timeline. One is able to place events with novels in an organized and appealing layout. The Tiki-Toki timeline has another feature that adds to its aesthetic appeal. One can view the timeline in 3-d form. However it is more difficult to see and understand when many events are placed closely together. For a more specific view, it is better to use the 2-d version. From placing these novels and events side by side, one can see the historical context in which these novels were written and received in. It is much easier to place a novel in its context when one can see its contemporary political, technological, social, and cultural events. The further benefit of the timeline is actually placed in its ability to consolidate much information into a clear and cohesive presentation. The span of over one hundred years and forty novels, especially the themes of these novels, is difficult to see unless presented in this way. This provided a base on which the team could make preliminary assessments through evident trends and correlations. The first of these trends seen was the correlation between historical events and more previous novels. Later on however, the novels seem to stray from this correlation. The latter novels seem to be less representative of its contemporary events, and more focused on fictional and imaginary worlds. Another trend is the shift from predominantly adult dystopian literature to an overwhelming dominance of young adult dystopian literature. This trend has been noted especially within the last decade. The timeline was successful in providing a general overview as well as in giving insight into this genre and its change over time.


            Another tool used in this project was the topic-modeling tool. The topic modeling tool, MALLET, was used to find the main topics of three time periods crucial to the development of the dystopian novel: first wave of 1930-1960, the second wave, and the most recent wave dominated by young adult fiction.  From each time period, forty lines of topics were found. These topics were grouped together by relevance to the researcher. Following this the researcher imported these topics into Gephi to create graphs for a more visually impactful representation of these topics. Through these two tools, the ideas presented in the Goodreads infographic and seen in the timeline were further proved. These topics show the main themes and concerns in these novels. They point to the previous observations of the distinctiveness of each wave. The first wave was characterized by the fear and control of authority: fear, authority, time, and power. The second wave was characterized by its concern over the body, as well as the role of women: domesticity, woman, body, mind, expression, and feeling. The final wave, dominated by young adult literature, was characterized by a mixture of seemingly unrelated themes: family, time, body, and thought. Finally, a comprehensive cluster of the most frequent topics from all the novels exhibited the genre’s unchanging focus on time, and specifically on the future, with words such as time, back, and remember. The topic modeling and graphs tool were successful in pinpointing the more specific themes contributing to these time periods. However, there were some limitations of the tools and of the team’s research. Due to the short amount of time as well as of access to many of dystopian novels that could have been used in these tools, the results are not comprehensive enough to provide conclusive results.  With more time, adding more novels to the research would give a better look into these periods, and would highlight more of the differences between them.


     Following the topic modeling research, textual analysis was also used. This provided a better understanding of the more specific themes within each novel. While the other tools provided a more broad scope of the genre, textual analysis tools allowed for a detailed observance of the novels. Using the same novels as used with topic modeling, the researcher used Links and Cirrus. In Links, text from the novels was inputted in order to find the most prevalent words. The tool created a visual representation of words: the bigger size of the words representing a greater usage of that word in the novels. The three different periods of novels were examined through this tool and presented by their word webs. The researcher then compiled a list of all the most common words used in the novels. Of these words all had some correlation to government, future, past, genders, war, freedom, choice, and love. The greatest of these occurrences was the prominence of time related words. In another tool, Cirrus, the researcher again inputted the text of each novel.  One problem that occurred was the tool’s inability to remove irrelevant words such as definite articles. In further research, a tool with this ability would help researchers in their studies. Despite this, the tool still provided much insight. The most prevalent words stuck out from the other words in size. These words were recorded and overall studied in order to find any commonalities among all the novels. The aspects of time, yet again, proved to be a common theme throughout all the novels and different waves.


            Finally, the information gathered from the other tools was presented in a well-organized and aesthetically appealing infographic. The infographic categorized the three different rises of the dystopian novel into three different major themes. It even provided background on each individual novel by tracking many different factors. This infographic was an expansion on the Goodreads infographic, including the information gathered from the other tools used. Expanding on the Goodreads infographic, the infographic included other aspects not previously included. Drawing from the timeline, the infographic included historical influences pertaining to that particular wave. It also included the common dystopian traits found in those novels. From the common themes to the influence of each wave, the dystopian novel was clearly transformed over time. The most interesting development was the more recent inclusion of romance, especially love triangles, as a means of appeal to the young adult audience. Also, the idea that a female protagonist, female author, or combination of the two had met great popularity is not only interesting but also a proof of the development of this genre. Looking into the change in audience by gender would be another interesting aspect to do further research into. In conclusion, this digital tool and form of presentation provided a way to quickly inform others of the changes and development of the dystopian novel.


            The use of four different tools and methods of research into one topic may have been ambitious, but in the end it proved to be successful in bringing different aspects of the study of this genre: historical, topical, textual, and change of appeal. They all came together in affirming the same or similar points, yet in different forms of presentation.


Further Development


     The team was able to present a good foreground for further research into the topic. There was not enough information or time to reach to a full research report and conclusion. The results were all helpful in shaping the hypothesis presented in this project, but not conclusive enough to answer fully to the goals set out by the team. In conclusion, this project used a variety of tools in order to look into and to present the overall rise and regeneration of the dystopian novel over time. While the tools did provide a good base of research and background, they were not able to provide all the information necessary to complete the research project. The team was able to start tracking the changes within the novel and provide speculation of how and why these changes came to be. As a continuation of this project, one could try other digital tools and even broaden the study with larger breadth of novels. The use of more digital tools, and even more advanced tools, would greatly increase the insight obtained by teams looking into this literary genre.




     From the results taken from each of these methods and tools, the team was able to gain a better understanding of the trends of dystopian literature. The dystopian novel has gone from historically relevant to less focus on contemporary events. It has moved toward young adult literature as a recent phenomenon in its most recent wave of popularity. Overall however, the team found that the genre of dystopia, while covering many different themes and commentary, had a close relationship with the concept of time. The looking forward and looking back proved to be commonalities among the entire timeline of novels. Though the dystopian novel has gone through many changes, its many faces all seem to include its deeply rooted obsession with time.


Works Cited


“Dystopian Books Again Seize Power.” Goodreads Inc., 21 March 2012. Web. 15 Dec 2014.


Miller, Laura. "Fresh Hell." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 14 June 2010. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.



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