Bookpocalypse Now: Yesterday’s books speak to modern issues


by Anvi Banga and Maya Valluru

Handmaid’s Tale:

A society where rape isn’t considered rape and women are forced to bear children.

In the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, because of low reproduction rates, handmaids are forced to bear children for wealthy couples who are unable to conceive. The handmaids have to go to the “Rachel and Leah Re-education Center,” where they are prepared for becoming handmaids, and brainwashed into thinking that the sole concern of women is to bear children. This novel follows the story of Offred, the narrator, who is forced to have sex with the wealthy Commander every month, while his wife sits behind them, watching and holding Offred’s hands.

Fahrenheit 451:

Burning books. Wall sized televisions. Firemen who don’t put out fires, but start them instead.

Published in 1953, Ray Bradbury’s story takes place in a society where firemen burn all books in existence. Main character Guy Montag, a fireman, realizes later the emptiness in his life without books that contain opinions and knowledge. This novel is considered one of the classics in the genre of Dystopian literature.

The Lottery:

This short story begins with an innocent town lottery but ends in murder. In Shirley Jackson’s short story, every year, each town gathers for a lottery in their town square.  A black box is placed at the front of the square, in front of the line of people consisting of the family heads. Children run around gathering stones, stuffing them in their pockets and heaping them in the center of the square. Everyone in the line picks a piece of paper from the box and each member the family which picks a paper with a dot on it, has to choose another slip of paper. The person who picks the paper with the dot is then stoned to death by the other town members.


A spying government headed by an unnamed ruler is in complete control. George Orwell’s novel, written in 1949, is a quintessential dystopian novel of the twentieth century. The book follows the happenings of Winston Smith, a man living in a political regime dictated by Big Brother, the leader of the elite Inner Party that oversees the society to ensure the lack of individualism or independent thinking.


A society in which firemen burn books. Individuals living with their eyes incessantly locked on television screens. The power of knowledge quelled at all costs by a government supposedly established to protect humankind. Ray Bradbury’s 1953 story Fahrenheit 451 takes place in this society, a direct criticism of the society Bradbury observed in his adulthood: blue light from television screens flooding through windows as he walked down the street, stealing people’s time to read and communicate with one another. He wrote this story to criticize a seemingly narcotized society, but the classic work came to be known as a tale of censorship and the value of literature.

Adults we know grew up with classics of dystopian tales like these, which provided a commentary for their lives decades ago. From the birth of communist societies to mass destruction and global disasters, these novels rung true in the ears of the youth in the mid-twentieth century with dreams for freedom. Today, these classics continue to inspire the younger generation with values that the protagonists held as weapons in the face of censorship, oppression and cruelty.

Dystopian literature revolves around bleak societies in the future controlled by an oppressive governing body. The constituents live in miserable conditions while those in power call the shots. Often, the citizens of the society are fed propaganda by the government so the people grow to believe in the normality of their situation. While promoting a fear of the outside world, the citizens of a dystopian society are often not allowed to express their thoughts and are forced to conform to uniform expectations, their potential suppressed and their destinies predetermined.

Larissa Tyagi (9) enjoys the different worlds that dystopian literature creates using imagery.

I think it’s really nice to just read books that have such a stark contrast to our society.” Larissa said.

Novels like Anthem (1938), 1984 (written in 1949) and Fahrenheit 451 (written in 1953) are some of the classics in dystopian literature, all including a protagonist who has difficulty in completely agreeing with social establishment. After initial contemplation and due action, these individuals often rise against regimes that has oppressed them since their births or escape the failed utopias to create their own lives. For example, in Anthem, the main character named Equality 7-2521, lives in a collectivist society in which his scientific prowess is quelled by the the overbearing regime that maintains “order” in the collectivist society. When he discovers electricity, he is shunned by the government and decides to run away to the Uncharted Forest, where he finds literature that contains the word “I.” That moment serves as his first realization of the individual self and the joy that results from freedom, and the tale ends with his starting his life again.

Considering how relevant the first amendment is today, it’s difficult to imagine a society with as much censorship as there is in many dystopian novels. The freedom of speech and of the press seems like a given to most people, as it has been around for such a long time, but its implementation is more relevant now than ever before. With the current political climate, the validity of the first amendment, particularly the freedom of the press, is constantly being questioned by both harassed celebrities and concerned politicians. The pervasive problem of fake news spreading through social media brings forward the concern of whether the people are reading the truth, and whether news writers should be allowed to publish the works of their choice.

English teacher Mr. Manjoine believes that this genre of literature pertains to the current social climate, including internal struggle with identity and one’s place in society.

“If you look at any struggle about race or about class or about gender bias, and those are all dystopian realities,” Mr. Manjoine said, “All adolescents live in a dystopian reality because you are on one hand, biologically your minds are set up to see the world in categorical terms … You are also trying to seek your identity out … and make things clear for yourself, and so these dystopian realities snap that into really clear focus.”

Mrs. Cranston, the Upper School Librarian, enjoys the catharsis at the end of a good dystopian book.
“They usually start out in darkness but dystopian fiction often ends well,” Mrs. Cranston said, “It’s always interesting to see how things will be resolved.”


This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on March 28, 2017.