The Dystopian Tradition

The Dystopian Tradition

This class will consider historical and current “what if?” thought experiments, including classics such as 1984 and bestsellers like The Hunger Games.

DURATION: 12 Weeks
ID: LITB 5303

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.


Amy H. Sturgis
Visiting Lecturer
Dr. Sara Brown
Dr. Sara Brown
Language and Literature Department Chair; M.A. Thesis Coordinator; Lecturer; Preceptor
Kristine Ainsworth Swank
Librarian; Preceptor; Lecturer

What is the dystopian tradition? Why is it still so relevant today?

Over the years, thinkers have used dystopias — stories of worlds gone wrong, of worst-case scenarios – to warn their contemporaries about what they viewed as dangerous trends in society and challenge their readers to make the world better. This class will consider a variety of historical and current “what if?” thought experiments, including classics such as 1984 and current bestsellers such as The Hunger Games. Students will explore the specific conditions that inspired these dystopias, the general warnings inherent in them, and the broad trends in dystopias over time.

Course Schedule

Week 1 – The Dystopian Tradition and the Rise of the Modern Form

The Complete Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1927), film

Week 2 – Industrialization and Mass Production

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)

Week 3 – Totalitarianism and the Surveillance State

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

Week 4 – Consumerism and Advertising

The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth (1953)

Week 5 – The Bomb and the War-Minded World

Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald (1959)

Week 6 – Conformity and Overpopulation

  • “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut (1961), available online
  • “Billennium” by J.G. Ballard (1962), provided as PDF

Week 7 – Environmental Collapse and the Post-Human

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (1977)

Week 8 – High Tech and Low-Lives

Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut) (1982) film

Week 9 – Sex, Separatism, and Faith

The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper (1988)

Week 10 – Urban Upheaval and Societal Collapse

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993)

Week 11 – The Internet and the “Process of Dumbening”

Feed by M.T. Anderson (2002)

Week 12 – The Capitol, Reality TV, and Control

  • The Hunger Games (2008), film
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)

Required Texts

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

The Dystopian Tradition Offerings
Summer 2019Dr. Sara Brown & Kris Swank
Summer 2013Jessica O’Brien

Course Artwork

Course artwork adapted from an original illustration by Elia Mervi. Used with permission. All rights reserved.