What we can learn from dystopian literature

Shae Slaughter

In the past several years, there has been an uptick in dystopian literature. Books and movies like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” seem to be all the rage. Still, these series aren’t the first to describe a world of “what ifs.” Great authors like Octavia Butler have also made it a point to use literature as a way to warn the masses of possible future scenarios that will happen if we don’t change our ways. Of course, these books are fiction, but they aren’t always too far off from reality. So, why aren’t we learning from them?

One of Butler’s books, “Parable of the Sower,” was released in 1993 around the time that many of us millennials were born. The novel takes place in the years 2024-27, which is no longer too far in the future. The frightening comparison between “Parable of the Sower” and today’s world is the problems they’re facing. Much like our world, the setting of the novel is essentially destroyed by environmental disaster, selfish people and corporate greed. 

Their world, and by some connections our world, is on a downward spiral. In the story, crime is at an all-time high, government is ineffective and the basic necessities of life are completely unattainable. Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? 

Of course, our world is far from being destroyed, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t adopted habits that are pushing us in that direction. We already know about global warming, poverty and governmental instability, but what else is to come? The book shows a correlation to our world, but not necessarily causation. That’s something for us to figure out.

As a population, we seem to have a fascination with dystopias, but there is always the possibility that our world will become the same way. Most of the literature that describes these fictional societies pushes the envelope past being feasible in our minds, but Butler doesn’t do that. Instead, she gives us a realistic scenario of the world we live in today being pushed past its breaking point by people who are apathetic, greedy and careless.

Take a moment and think about the mistakes we’re making as a nation and as a planet. As we continue to progress, we need to acknowledge that our environment will not continue to bear the weight of deforestation and pollution. Our citizens will not continue to accept mistreatment and suffering. Our government will not be appreciated and effective if we don’t utilize it the right way. 

The world that Butler describes is only six years away from being reality. Maybe as of now that fact is only figurative, but in the blink of an eye it could become quite literal. It will be easier to address the possibility of that kind of future now before it happens than it will be six years down the line. So next time you’re looking for a good read, pick up “Parable of the Sower” and think about how we can learn from Butler before it’s too late.