Tag Archives: dystopia

Feasting in the Future: Food Within Dystopia and Utopia

By: Maggie Mayer

Food is an integral part of daily life. It has the power to comfort, to connect others, and celebrate a shared heritage. Even more simply, food is a necessity to live: so it is understandable that food has become a constant image and metaphor within dystopian and utopian genres. There are many interpretations of what delicacies would be available in a perfect society and what scraps or modified food could be scrounged up within a dystopia. Food might come in the form of a decadent meal that never runs out, as in The Land of Cockaygne, or a more utilitarian meal of yeast culture vats in Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel series. These descriptions seem like they have contrasting meanings, but these meals are more similar than they appear, and they play a large role in bolstering the overarching theme of a story. 

Utopias are often thought of as an ideal world where one can acquire anything they desire, and food is no exception. The medieval poem The Land of Cockaygne depicts “rivers great and fine / Of oil and milk, honey and wine” and a house made of pies, flour-cakes, and puddings that kings and princes would dine on (Claeys and Sargent 88-89). The entire poem sets up this decadent world where it is impossible to want for anything and the meals are all of 5-star quality. The ideal life, right? This is not always the case, as the gluttonous portrayal of food within the poem is used to show the corruption within the church and acts as a commentary on negative parts of human nature. Monks are seen getting drunk and going against their vows of chastity. Even in such holy places, corruption and the worst parts of human nature can be brought out. This is seen again within utopias such as Julian Barnes’ novel The History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters, which looks at a man who dies and goes to heaven, where he can do whatever he wants and especially eat whatever he wants. The first morning in heaven he eats “pink grapefruit, three slices of grilled streaky bacon, two fried eggs with the yolk looking milky because the fat had been properly spooned over it in the cooking, and the outer edges of the white trailing off into filigree gold braid” (Barnes 310). He orders breakfast for lunch, and breakfast for dinner, until eventually he grows tired of what he has been eating for the past millennia. Barnes presents this as a commentary on how humans crave change and, even in the ultimate utopia of heaven, would never fully be satisfied.

Image via Google Images

These ornate descriptions of food and critiques of our society do not stop with utopias. What a character eats can often reveal some information about that person, as well as their setting. George Orwell portrays food as a way to clue the reader in to how drab the society within 1984 is and reveals how Winston Smith, the protagonist, is a simple man. They eatboiled cabbage, “regulation lunch-a meal pannikin of pinkish-grey stew, a hunk of bread, a cube of cheese, a mug of Victory coffee and one tablet of saccharine” (Orwell 64). This is a stark contrast to the contraband food that Winston Smith receives from Julia such as real sugar, bread, jam, milk and coffee. All simple, homey foods, but they act as signifiers of the past and taste like manna from heaven when a person cannot legally have them. There is also the SecretBurger from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Year of the Flood. Much like soylent green being secretly made of people in the fantasy/mystery film Soylent Green(1973), the SecretBurger is made of unknown meat that is mashed together. The novel explores what it is like for the government and large companies to expect members of society to take their word on what they are consuming and trust their business practices.

A large part of many food representations in literature relates to the notion that controlling food can be a way to control the masses. Keeping people in a compliant state through the use of spiked food makes it so that they will not act out against the dominating class. This is accomplished through the upper-class hoarding all of the higher quality goods and forcing the lower class to eat unidentifiable slop. In both dystopias and utopias, rationing food and forcing the different levels in a caste system to eat differently work to control the people within the fictional worlds. Such control is effective because food is necessary for survival. This control is evident in The Handmaid’s Tale when every single thing the handmaids eat is controlled and, once again, food acts as a signifier of control. Gilead had taken over; “Every piece of fruit had a thought process behind it — when she gets oranges, the implication is, ‘Okay, they conquered Florida.’ If they had artichokes, it meant they conquered California. The evolution of Gilead was always in mind” (Drabble 1). Control and class stratification are common themes throughout many dystopian and utopian narratives, and food choices and descriptions reflect not only the state of the society, but the characters themselves. Through the descriptions of meals, the reader can better empathize with characters, understand what they are going through, and fully understand how oppressive these societies can be.

References:

Anonymous. “The Cockaigne.” The Utopia Reader, edited by Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent. New York: New York UP, 2017. 87-92. Print.

Barnes, Julian. “Chapter 10 The Dream.” A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters:. London: Vintage, 2016. 310-20. Print.

Drabble, Margaret. “Margaret Drabble: Utopian Meals.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 20 Dec. 2003. Web.

Lazar, Mona. “Food in Two Dystopian Worlds. A Comparison: Orwell’s 1984 & Huxley’s Brave New World.” DAZIBAO – Par 1060 En Voor 1060 !N.p., 09 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2019.

Orwell, George. “1984.” George Orwell – 1984 – Part 1, Chapter 5. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2019.

Promoting the Hunger Games

By: Fila’Sha Finley

Have you ever wondered how The Hunger Games became so successful? The Public Relations Director has your answers!

Executive Summary:

The first annual Hunger Games will be implemented in Panem in a couple months and I am one of the reasons that the Hunger Games will be so successful. My name is Fila’Sha and I am the Public Relations Director for the newly invented Hunger Games. I am going to give you all the inside scoop on what it takes to make a nationwide event. Now, some of you may be thinking how dare you help make these barbaric games successful? Let’s start off with the rationale behind The Hunger Games. The Capitol started the games to quell the rebellions in the districts and to bring everyone together in the spirit of national pride. The games, with their lottery system selection of tributes (contestants) and the competition to outwit other districts to win the games and bring glory to a district, are necessary in order to keep the peace among the districts. There is lot to get done in terms of coordinating and planning that comes with executing the perfect Hunger Games.

In order to make the Games successful we have a target for every district and the citizens in The Capitol.

With a budget of $2,000,000, we plan to target this audience through innovative social media campaigns, interactive announcements, and community engagement. The Capitol will love these games because they are a form of entertainment that will also promote the greater good of maintaining order among the districts. 

Our current social campaigns focus on showcasing the residents of The Capitol the different locations where the Games will be held. For example, there are rainforests, as well as other tropical and desert simulations. We will play up the exoticness of these locations and the way they will disorient the district tributes, thereby adding to the stakes and excitement of the Games. We will also use social media to promote our event that is mentioned below. T.V. and radio campaigns are at the core of our publicity game plan; these campaigns will reflect the goals of The Capitol.

Because of the large geographic target, T.V. ads will be the best way to reach our audience. We will send out mailers as well to make sure people have a physical copy of our plan and what we want to implement. The mailer will include information on what The Hunger Games are and the rules of the Games.


Situation Analysis: 

The Capitol needs to support the ideas of The Hunger Games before we can implement them to the districts. We will be persuading the residents of The Capitol that supporting the games is in their best interests.

Statement of Purpose:

To implement the Games and ensure there is a victor.

Target AudienceThe Capitol                                                                         

The Plan: Convince citizens of The Capitol that the Games are necessary and entertaining. 

Goal: To advertise the new way to keep peace called, “The Hunger Games”.  

Objective One: To promote viewership for The Games.

Strategy One: Launch a “Hunger Games” commercial campaign.

Tactic One: Target Capitol households with ads.

Description: 30 second advertisements

Deadline: Rolling (10 commercials a day) 

Budget: $525,000

Evaluation: Monitor profile insights/analytics.

Strategy Two: Increase targeting with print ads. 

Tactic One: Send mailers to The Capitol residents.

Description: Distribute mailers through Panem’s post office. 

Deadline: Rolling

Budget: $450,000

Evaluation: Include unique URL to measure response.

Tactic Two: Run radio spots during prime time.

Description: Air on local radio stations, focusing on those targeting young teens. 

Deadline: Rolling

Budget: $400,000

Evaluation: Measure an influx of website visits from targeted area at time of airing.


Timetable:

TacticDeadline
Air commercials during daytime television showsFeb. 15, 2145
Send mailers to The VillagesMarch 15, 2145
Run radio spots during prime timeMay 15, 2145 

Budget:

TacticBudget
Mailers to the CapitolCreatives to make mailers Postage$445,000
Air commercials during daytime televisionProductionDistribution$525,000
Radio spots during prime timeProductionDistribution$400,000
Total Budget$1.4 M

Challenges:

  1. Districts
  2. Support from residents 

Additional Benefits:

  1. Peace in Panem
  2. Entertainment
  3. No more wars

We will direct a wide variety of advertisements at the Capitol in a four-month span. This will get the residents excited for the first ever Hunger Games to take place in Panem. Through the T.V. advertisements, radio segments, and mailers we should be able to gain the audiences’ interest in the games, and particularly in the competition it promotes among the districts. The tagline for the campaign plays on the element of change in the Game’s tribute lottery system, proclaiming, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” This line will be central to both the T.V. and mailer ads. I hope this campaign gives you an idea of how the games will be promoted and what it takes to implement a successful campaign.

A Guiding Star in a Dying World

By: Rachael Carmichael

In “The Rain,” a Danish post-apocalyptic series, a group of survivors fight to keep their humanity and search for hope in their newfound dystopia. Two siblings, Simone and Rasmus Andersen, are forced to take shelter in a bunker with their parents when a deadly virus sweeps through Scandinavia by rainfall. The siblings’ father is a scientist who works for the corporation Apollon, who created the well-equipped bunkers. He leaves his wife and children in search of answers. After a short while, Simone hears someone trying to get into the bunker. Thinking it is her father, she opens it, revealing a stranger who has been exposed to the virus. Knowing her family will be infected if he touches them, their mother quickly tackles the stranger and she too gets exposed to the rain and dies. While the idea that nature can turn against humans is hair-raising, the fall of morals within mankind becomes more sinister in this series. However, ultimately, “The Rain” shows that those living in a dystopia continually rely on hope to help them cope with their dystopian conditions.

With both parents gone and no knowledge of what is going on outside of the shelter, the siblings only have each other for support. Isolation still seeps into their lives, being left alone for six years after their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance. As they prepare for their journey above ground, a group of five survivors come in search for food and shelter. After being forced out of the shelter by covered vents that cut off their oxygen supply and held at gunpoint, the siblings quickly realize that their once normal world has been replaced with one where the strong and clever make it out alive. Survivors struggle to hold onto their humanity, doing whatever it takes to survive. In this new survival-of-the-fittest environment, Simone is tasked with keeping her brother and herself alive. In order to assure their safety, she convinces the strangers that she knows where all of the other Apollon bunkers are, which will keep them alive. The other group hesitantly invites them to travel with them to another bunker where Simone discovers her father’s possible whereabouts. 

Image via Google Images

During their journey through Copenhagen, Lea, one of their new group members, believes that Simone is a symbol of hope and calls her “their guiding star” (“Avoid the City”) in the third episode, proving that even though their world is in shambles, there are still glimpses of light to be found in darkness. The loss of hope, as well as the potential for it, brings people together. While the group only has each other and feels like they are not able to trust anyone else, the idea of finding a better life reminds them why they continue to survive. 

The development of friendships and love interests in the face of isolation leaves the characters feeling more whole again. Simone and Rasmus have found a new family among the other survivors, showing that blood is not the only thing that makes people family. Even with the destruction of the world, their livelihood has become a little easier, more bearable, and worthwhile. The desire to survive and rebuild their world motivates them not only to find answers about the destruction of Scandinavia, but also to heal themselves. The demons of each character’s past are brought up throughout the series, showing how the dystopia has affected them in different ways. They use each other to not only help them move forward from external destruction, but internal as well.

Prodigious corporations, like Apollon, want extreme power. While they are living a utopian life with the hopes of inevitable fame and fortune, those outside of this corporation are living in a hellish dystopia. They live their lives in fear, kept in the dark by their enemies. Watchers will see that Apollon’s need to be a hero is not justly obtained. Simone’s group become the heroes when they take action after believing Apollon may be the cause of the genocide. Even though the survivors do not have answers as to what they should do next, they continue to focus on living to the best of their abilities. They refocus their new goals, finding hope in other things that will keep them determined to continue living. Sometimes the only thing victims of a dystopian world can do while they wait out the vile treatment is to survive and continue dreaming of a better future. There is strength in numbers and sometimes that’s enough.

References:

Christian Potalivo, Esben Toft Jacobsen, and Jannik Tai Mosholt, creators. The Rain. Miso Film, Netflix, 2018. 

“Avoid the City.” The Rain, season 1, episode 3, May 4th 2018, Netflix.

“Keep Your Friends Close.” The Rain, season 1, episode 6, May 4th 2018, Netflix.

Childlike Imaginings and Positive Thinking in Disney’s Tomorrowland

By: Kirsten Cooper

When seeking out a modern utopian work, Tomorrowland stands out because it depicts a substantial first step to solving some of the world’s problems. Tomorrowland is a movie based loosely off of the Disneyland theme park which explores the possibilities of the future that bears the same name as the film. In the movie, Tomorrowland is a futuristic other dimension created by scientists of Earth who then inhabit the place to peacefully pursue knowledge. Scientists of Tomorrowland have a device that can see into the future on Earth. They see that Earth will end soon. Casey, the teenage protagonist who will not lose hope, Frank, an older and less optimistic ex-tomorrowland-er, and Athena, the sophisticated AI who catalyzed this chain of events, work together to prevent the end of the world. For the intended audience of children, the film’s message inspires hope. When analyzed, the film provides an important guide for shaping children’s worldviews. While a message of “never giving up” may seem commonplace in children’s films, this movie separates itself. Tomorrowland offers, in the context of a utopian world, the solution of positive thinking as a means to help save the world.

Image via Google Images

The movie works to suggest that the beginning of a solution to the world’s problems is to believe that the problems can be solved. When children are inspired not to lose hope over issues such as climate change, they may grow up to become scientists, inventors, and discoverers. Casey is optimistic and her dreaming, in and of itself, is the key to saving the world. In the film, themes of hope, positive attitudes, and perseverance are weaved throughout. These themes are important because they help children gain an outlook through which to view the world around them. The main character challenges the pessimistic older character Frank. When he asks if she would want to know the future and the exact moment she would die, Casey responds that she would want to know, but that she would not believe him. When he says it would be absolutely certain, she states “don’t we like make our own destiny and stuff?” (Tomorrowland, 1:05:07). When she says this, the probability of the Earth being destroyed flickers from a 100% chance to a 99% chance.

When children grow up seeing the world as a place where problems can be fixed, they will invent and create solutions that people with more pessimistic world views could have never dreamed of. While suggesting that a positive attitude can solve all the world’s problems may seem a bit overstated, Samantha Rae says in her TedxUofM talk, “A positive attitude can be an essential stepping stone in developing the ambition needed to tackle some of these seemingly impossible issues” (Rae). When children are brought up with the ideal that nothing is impossible, then consequently more things become possible to them in life because of their outlook.

Utopias are designed so that people can dream of what a better world would look like and how attaining such a world could be accomplished. The utopian ideal most expressed here is the power of positive thinking. In the talk, Rae states, “When everyone seems to be giving up and a situation seems so hopeless a positive attitude can be a driving force for change, but that change is only possible with the belief that things can and will get better” (Rae). With this understanding, adult viewers can better understand the impact the movie could have on the perception children have of the world. Tomorrowlandsuggests utopia is possible by giving the children who watch the film the sense that they, too, can become world changers.

References

Tomorrowland. Directed by Phillip Bird, Walt Disney Pictures, 22 May 2015.

Rae, Samantha. “Positivity: The Power of Choice| TEDxUofM.” YouTube, Tedx Talks, 6 Apr. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4nbt6afV3o.

The Land of Faerie: Honesty, Desire, and Other Dystopian Themes

By: Sammy Bredar

The land is perfect: endless partying, harmonious subjects, and the inability to lie. This appears to be a utopian land for the fey, or the magical creatures who live in the world of Faerie. This seemingly perfect world is riddled with betrayal, which lends itself to dystopian themes, such as isolated society, a sense of despair, and institutions to ensure order. Holly Black’s series Folk of the Air currently consists of two novels which further expose the crumbling utopia of Faerie. The series begins with The Cruel Prince,​ which introduces readers to sisters Vivienne, Taryn and Jude. Vivi has the same human mother as twins Taryn and Jude, but her father Madoc is a fearsome general of the High Court of Faerie, the ruling group of the society. The novel opens with the murder of Taryn and Jude’s mortal parents. Madoc discovered that his wife betrayed him by running away from Faerie and marrying a mortal man. He exacts his revenge by killing both his former wife and her new husband. The three sisters Vivi, Taryn, and Jude are then swept up into the life of the fey. Vivi wants nothing to do with the world of Faerie, but twin sisters Taryn and Jude are fascinated by the magic and intrigue of the land. Which lends itself to the tension between Fairie existing as a utopia for the fey, but a dystopia for mortals like Jude.

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Protagonist Jude longs to be a knight of the High Court, but she soon discovers that the land of the fey is not as beautiful as it initially seemed. She lives her life as a quasi prisoner to Madoc, a man who pretends to be her father after killing the three girls’ mother. Taryn and Jude know that it was Madoc who killed their parents. Despite her inner hatred for Madoc, Jude admires his dedication to the High Court and longs to be a knight within it. Jude’s journey to knighthood is riddled with hardships, and, eventually, her recruitment to become a knight for Balekin, an in-line ruler of the High Court of Faerie. Jude must make difficult decisions in her journies in Faerie, such as commitment to her family, her knighthood, and her lover, Locke.

The Folk of the Air series is a prime example of a dystopian landscape with present themes such as control and order, altruism and egoism, and hope and despair. The land of Faerie seems to be free and abundant with endless partying and ecstasy. Upon further inspection, however, it is clear that all who live in Faerie are under tight control of the High Court. Constant schemes of manipulation and betrayal infect this society. Jude serves as a spy for Balekin, scheming and plotting to manipulate those who threaten Balekin’s rise to power. In terms of altruism and egoism, Jude consistently must decide between her own benefit and desires, or the good of those she loves. More often than not, Jude makes choices for her own benefit, such as her decision to become a spy for Balekin, or her love affair with her sister’s betrothed, Locke.

Jude faces constant hardships and despair, characterizing her as a dystopian literary figure. She faces internal conflict with her family in regard to her sister and her “father” Madoc. Jude has a great love for her sister, but she must lie to her to conceal her love affair. The inner conflict that pervades Jude’s thoughts is one of desparation and heartache. Jude finds a constant need to both impress Madoc with her skills in knighthood, but she also broods a deep hatred for him, as he took away the life she could have had within the human world.

Though the land of Faerie is a utopia for the fey, it is a dystopia for the humans who come to live there. Humans are not meant to live among the fey, but special circumstances such as the marriage of Madoc and his former human wife, permit humans to live in the world of Faerie. The temptation of indulgence and the ability to lie make it difficult to be a human living among the fey; the fey who can stop indulging, the fey who cannot lie. Humans who live among the fey are often manipulated to lie and do favors for those in power. Jude, as well as other humans living in the world of the fey, must decide how they want to view the world they must live in: is it their dream utopia, or their worst nightmare?

Utopias and Dystopias: The Potential of Human Nature

By: Katrina Brown

“Good and evill we know in the field of this World grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is… involv’d and interwoven with the knowledge of evill”

                                                                                     -John Milton, Areopagitica

Dystopias and utopias have remained a point of fascination because of both their extreme nature and their ability to imagine the grand and grotesque. Recently, dystopias in particular have seemed to capture the public’s attention, with their portrayal of all the ways society can go wrong—one needs only to think about examples from pop culture such as The Hunger Games, DivergentThe Good Place, Handmaid’s Tale, and The Maze Runner. This is perhaps an indicator that society’s fears, rather than its hopes, are at the forefront of its collective minds. But what is it that keeps dystopias and utopias so fashionable, so perpetually intriguing, and most of all, so diverse? How is it that we keep coming up with infinitely many ways for the world to go so perfectly right or horribly wrong? 

The truth is that, at their core, utopias and dystopias are a reflection of human nature itself, and the potential within that nature. It is this potential that enables humans to build cities and destroy wildlife, to dramatically increase human lifespans and happiness but also to create (and use) the atomic bomb. It is an undeniable fact that for better or worse, humans have changed and shaped the world to their liking– in a way that could lead to our demise or to a yet unprecedented level of prosperity. Indeed, in many people’s conceptualization of the future, extreme prosperity is followed by extreme destruction. However, like human nature, dystopias and utopias, the good and the bad, are intricately wound up in each other. As John Milton argued in Areopagitica, a speech decrying the censorship of books, one cannot know good without also knowing evil. He says that it is only through confrontation with evil, through temptation, that true good can be expressed, as a “good” choice is meaningless without an alternative. 

The reason why utopias and dystopias ultimately stand the test of time and keep society’s fascination is because they reflect the polarity of human nature—extreme violence and destruction; extreme healing and unity. Utopias and dystopias then are an exploration of those poles; a journey through which society better understands its limits and potential downfalls. Utopias hold perpetual interest because, like a cockatoo with a mirror, humans are fascinated by this vision of themselves that behaves like them yet remains apart from them. In the same way, dystopias hold within them the power of the abject, the ability to show society what it is it fears most about itself. 

Utopias have always existed in the imagination as what society could look like if human nature was purely good, and many religions have painted the picture. In Christianity’s Garden of Eden as well as in Heaven, humans are imagined without evil, purified by God. Religion has imagined the evil of human nature as well in the purest form of dystopia: Hell.

The dramatization of humanity’s good and evil, and the exploration of what that would look like, has taken form in more contemporary ways as well. The Handmaid’s Tale explores the potential of human nature to oppress, as well as the potential to survive adversity. The Hunger Games, explores the same, and evokes the question, “what are we capable of?” Within both of these works, the good of human nature is illustrated as well, a tiny flame that cannot be suffocated no matter how great the darkness. Another contemporary example is The Giver, which instead of exploring what we are capable of, explores the idea that it is the range of emotion, of good and evil, that makes us human. Were society ever to try to change or limit human nature to create utopia, the resulting lives and society would be less meaningful, for what is happiness without sadness? What is good without evil? Milton would argue that we cannot know one without knowing the other. These facts of life, like the light and the dark, must operate in tandem to create the dimensionality of human experience, and the meaning found in it. 

Ultimately, utopias and dystopias are so compelling because they reflect human potential exaggerated on a grand scale. The potential of a single human who is actively good, multiplied by a million humans who are actively good, results in a utopia. The way in which this delicate balance swings ultimately rests with the author of such societies, and their belief in whether human nature is good or evil—as well as how “good” and “evil” is best expressed. In fact, this conflicted duality of human nature itself is what relegates both utopia and dystopia to the realm of fiction and prevents them from being achievable in reality. Such is the reason why utopias and dystopias become so prickly to write about and analyze; to reconcile the pure good of utopia with the duality of human nature is impossible. To truly have utopia, human nature itself would have to change to allow for an elevated state of being.  

Humans are all mixtures of good and evil, of right and wrong, of negative outcomes born of the best good intentions. Humans are both the terrorism of 9/11 and the heroism of its first responders. Because of this duality, pure utopia will never exist, and neither will pure dystopia. Instead, society will always be a mix, and must not only come to terms with, but also celebrate the real world ramifications of this fact. 

Red Queen: A Series of Inclusivity

By: Sammy Bredar

The book series Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard follows some dystopian stereotypes but takes the concept of a dystopian society in an entirely new direction by incorporating LGBT characters Evangeline Samos and Maven Calore into her world. Red Queen introduces readers to Mare, the protagonist of the series. Mare is a Red girl in a world full of Silvers. Silvers have supernatural abilities and can manipulate worldly elements while Reds have no powers of their own; they are forced to serve the Silver elite. Though Silvers make up only a small percentage of the population, their abilities allow them to hold a tyrannical rule over Reds. In this dystopian society, those with Silver blood hold the power, and those with Red blood are treated very poorly by the wealthy and powerful Silvers.

Mare is a young girl who finds herself thrown into the royal lives of the Calore family. She discovers, as a Red, that she has the ability to produce and manipulate lightning. Silvers can manipulate elements, but they cannot produce them, setting Mare apart from Silvers. While Mare has the gift of lightning, Evangeline can manipulate metals, and both Calore princes can manipulate fire. Evangeline Samos is a Silver and Mare’s competition for Prince Cal Calore’s hand in marriage. Maven Calore is Cal’s younger brother and, eventually, worst enemy. Both Evangeline and Maven are painted as villains, and they are also the only LGBT characters that are consistently present throughout the series. While Aveyard does follow some dystopian novel commonplaces with a heterosexual forbidden love story and a love triangle, her incorporation of LGBT characters into her series separates her writing from other dystopian works.

LGBT characters are often portrayed in literature entirely based on their sexualities and nothing more; they are who they love. Aveyard recognizes this fault in literary representations and turns it on its head, introducing a lesbian character, Evangeline, and a bisexual character, Maven. In both cases, these characters are much more than these identifiers. Evangeline is modeled throughout the series as a powerful woman and talented manipulator of metal. Maven is the main antagonist throughout the series, often known for his love of power, prowess, and confidence. Both Maven and Evangeline are much more than just their sexual orientations. Aveyard addresses the issues of same-sex marriage in royalty with the character Evangeline not being allowed to be with the woman she loves because of her predetermined destiny to be Queen. Evangeline longs to be with her lover Elaine, but her royal status does not allow her to do so. Rather, she must be with a man because it is what is seen as “proper.” 

While Evangeline struggles with the marriage requirements of her elite position, the character Maven Calore internally battles with his romantic complications as a bisexual man. Maven is in love with Mare, heroine of this series. The reader discovers that Maven was once deeply in love with a boy named Thomas, their love affair resulted in Thomas’s death. Maven, overcome with joy in embracing his sexuality, accidentally kills Thomas in a fire started by his own passion. Maven’s guilt in regard to this incident creates conflict in terms of his sexual orientation, and he feels a great sense of shame for his past love for Thomas and his current love for Mare. There is a sense of residual guilt in Maven throughout the series.

Evangeline and Maven are eventually allowed to live freely in a new utopia toward the conclusion of the series, but this makes a clear statement about modern society: these characters could not be their true selves in the real world, but rather are only allowed to fully embrace their sexual identities in a utopian, perfect world. The critique presented then is that even while living in a dystopian society (perhaps one closer to our own than the series’ utopia), they should still be able to embrace their true identities and live authentic lives, but cannot due to external pressures and societal expectations regarding sexuality. Evangeline and Maven can only embrace their sexualities in an idealized world. Red Queen’s LGBT community represents the real world’s LGBT community and the safe space that it needs, yet still does not have. 

Dante’s Inferno: Fire, Brimstone, and Utopia

By: Ben Sapet

It might seem like a stretch to call Hell, the realm of eternal torment, a “perfect place” but, in his epic poem Inferno, Dante (the 13th-century Italian poet) writes it as just that. Dante writes of taking a highly allegorical journey through Hell in order to meet his courtly love in heaven. The Roman poet Virgil serves as his guide through the nine circles of Hell, each circle with its own set of sinners and corresponding punishments. In his trek through the fiery underworld, Dante meets important figures from history and myth, contemporary people in power, and even people from his own life—all suffering grotesque punishments for the sins that defined their lives. 

Image via Google Images

As the author, Dante takes great pains to give Hell its nightmarish geography. Located at the center of the earth, Hell is comprised of nine concentric circles—each with crimes and punishments more horrible (in Dante’s opinion) than the last. These range from a fairly pleasant eternal limbo for Homer, Socrates, Caesar, and everyone else who never knew Christ (because they lived before his birth) to the center of hell where those who betrayed their God-appointed leaders spend eternity in a frozen wasteland being chewed up by one of Satan’s three mouths. In between those circles are other bits of nastiness such as gluttons facing eternity lying in filth with excrement raining down on them, heretics in burning coffins, and murderers submerged in rivers of boiling blood. It is an altogether unpleasant place to call a utopia, a perfect place; however, Dante’s hell certainly fits the criteria. 

Utopian thought is often a result of an author diagnosing the ills they observe in the world. Dante uses this imagined world to diagnose the unpunished sins he observed in his own 13th-century Italy (as well as in history and myth) and, in turn, to imagine the divine punishment God might dispense. 

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Utopias tend to mirror the cultures from which they arise, even as the utopia tries to negate that culture. Dante’s hell takes a decidedly Italian/Roman-centric view of history. Dante keeps the Roman poet Virgil in tow, condemns Odysseus for deceiving and murdering Rome’s Trojan ancestors, and equates the betrayal of Caesar to that of Jesus. Dante is nothing if not thorough. Historical and contemporary enemies of Rome, such as Alexander the Great and Guy de Montfort, burn right alongside one another.

Utopias are inherently grounded in the perspectives and biases of their creators. Dante came from a Florence divided by the power struggle between the Vatican and the Holy Roman Empire. Dante was a Guelph, who supported the papacy and opposed the Ghibellines—those who supported the Holy Roman Emperor. The division went even further with a rift between Black Guelphs, the ardent supporters of the papacy, and the White Guelphs, who had reservations about the scope of papal power. As a White Guelph, Dante found himself in exile, but gets the last laugh by placing Popes, emperors, Black Guelphs, and Ghibellines in Hell. Dante’s personal experience informs his depiction of Hell to the extent that he makes God seem very concerned about the minutiae of Florentine politics and almost always in favor of Dante’s White Guelphs.

Dante’s hell is the ultimate cathartic utopia; as an author and architect of Hell, he gets to assume the role of God’s mouthpiece, classifying and judging wrongs by his own compass, then imagining what nasty ironic punishment God might dole out. It is not a perfect world because nothing bad happens; it is a perfect world precisely because God has brought bad things to those who Dante sees as sinners. Prior to Dante’s viscerally realized Hell, Judeo-Christian Hell was pretty vague; it was menacingly characterized as a terrifying land of fire where the wicked are punished. Upon introducing a utopian framework to Hell, Dante radically changed the Christian mythos. Hell became a part of God’s domain with its own kind of perfection, perfection in which grisly justice is meted according to a divine plan. 

Fate Inc.

By: Allison Akers

“Do you really have to babysit me?” Ben slammed the door to his fluorescent orange sports car, watching as Lark slicked back his hair in the sun visor mirror. He had hoped the location alone would get Lark off his back. A dingy place called “Sam’s Diner” in the middle of nowhere-Oregon was beneath the corporate offices and yachts Lark was used to, not to mention they’d driven two and a half hours to meet Ben’s client. Under normal circumstances, he supposed it would be enough to send Lark packing.

No such luck today.

“I wouldn’t have to, if Their Majesties could trust you,” Lark said, finally stepping out and cracking his back. A silver briefcase swung by his side. “You haven’t had a successful deal in months.”

“So? I’ve been in a funk.”

Lark narrowed his eyes. He slammed the passenger side door, wrinkled his nose at Ben’s car, and led them inside the diner. A bell jingled overhead as they walked in, alerting a waitress nearby. She scurried over to them.

“How may I…” The waitress fumbled, seeing the silver briefcase and its infinity symbol. Lark’s grip tightened on the case and jerked his head to one side. The waitress hurried off. 

At a table towards the back of the diner, Ben noticed a stout, middle-aged woman staring at them: his client. Before Ben could take his eyes away, suggest maybe she’d cancelled their appointment, Lark noticed her and elbowed Ben, who gritted his teeth. They walked to the woman’s table and slid into the booth across from the her with Lark boxing in Ben. The cushion underneath them crumpled like rotten Styrofoam. 

“Mrs. Caroline Collins?” Lark asked, cracking a smile.

“That’s me,” she said. Caroline’s eyes flitted between the two of them, like she was watching a game of ping-pong. She pulled a mug of coffee closer. Ben noticed her right hand had a grayish tint. “I didn’t know there would be two of you. Or—is he human?” She nodded at Ben.

Ben took that question with a bit of pride. He’d worked hard to make his human disguise approachable. He certainly didn’t look like a lawyer with a stick up his ass like Lark. He tried to go with an average, college-guy approach; it helped keep attention off him and protected the people around him. One look at his or Lark’s true forms would send any mortal into cardiac arrest, and while Lark would find that funny, Ben wouldn’t.

Lark put his arm around Ben, clapping his shoulder and chuckling, “No, Ben’s all Fate. Served under The Royal Three with me before Ancient Greece, if you can believe it. I decided to tag along and keep him company. I’ll let him take over from here.” 

Ben felt needle points pressing into his skin from Lark’s nails. He forced a smile and shook Caroline’s hand. “Benjamin Porter, Fate Incorporated. Bending time and space since 2002 for your wildest dreams to come true. What can I help you with today, Mrs. Collins?”

Caroline raised her coffee mug to her lips. It clattered on the table as she set it down. “My son—he was hit by a car a week ago—” Tears welled in her eyes and she wiped them on her jacket’s sleeve. Lark expertly took a packet of tissues from his pocket and offered one to her. Ben tried to ignore the way his coworker’s eyes glittered and how the corners of his mouth twitched. Caroline didn’t notice and continued, “He’s been comatose since. Is there anything you can do?”

“Well, yes,” Ben started, “But he might recover on his own.”

“Might being the key word,” Lark said. He shared a look with Ben, one that said Ben better keep his thoughts to himself and stick with the script. Fate Inc. wasn’t a charity. The Royal Three and their subjects had a job to do, an order to keep each time humans asked them to tinker with time. Fates selected favorable individuals in their good graces, who made the most persuasive appeals—so they said. “Why don’t you take a look at her threads?” Lark set the briefcase on the table and clicked open the locks. He slid it over to Ben, who suppressed a sigh and opened it.

Inside was a mirror-like surface with strands of white, glowing tendrils writhing across it. The other diner patrons noticed the radiating light of the suitcase and stared at Ben like he had a million-dollar check. It was a desperation and hunger he’d seen around the world, wherever he or other Fates went. It broke his heart. Still, he wasn’t about to let Lark know that, so he kept his face expressionless. The human-like covering for his eyes sizzled off to reveal fiery, silver stars, and matching claws pushed through the tips of his fingers. Ben delicately lifted one of the white strands from the mirror. Lark and Caroline studied it.

“Well, what do you see?” Lark asked.

Ben shook his head. He wished he was lying. “Your son won’t make it, Mrs. Collins. Not in the current timeline.”

“But you can fix it,” Caroline pressed.

“For a price.” Lark peered over his nose at Caroline’s stiff, gray hand before taking it in his own. “Hm. This is unnatural paralysis. You’ve been a client with us before?” 

Caroline nodded, although she kept her gaze fixed on the table. “To keep my marriage together.”

“Fancy that. This looks like Lux’s work. Don’t you think, Ben?”

Ben nodded. 

Lark turned over Caroline’s hand a few times. He patted it. “I’m afraid a life is going to cost more than a bad marriage, Mrs. Collins. Let’s say—to restore your son’s health with no side effects—terminal cancer for yourself?” Caroline gasped and Ben glanced at Lark. The pupils of Lark’s eyes rippled silver. “What do you think, Ben? Fair trade?”

Caroline turned her attention to Ben. She had clasped her good hand on top of her bad one, as if praying for a second opinion. If Lark wasn’t here, Ben would have given her a stubbed toe or even a free pass in exchange.

But both their necks were on the line. And Ben wasn’t about to lose his.

He nodded.

Lark continued, “I’m sorry it has to be this way, Mrs. Collins. Do we still have a deal?” Caroline, tears streaming down her face, nodded. “Get to it, Ben.”

Ben gathered the strands of time between his claws, snipping and rewiring them. Each strand offered glimpses of strangers, births, deaths—all affected by saving Caroline’s son. Ben tried not to think about it. The problems he caused others by reworking the timeline just meant more work for Fates. More lives to toy with. To destroy.   

Ben took the cancer thread, hesitating for a moment before he fused it to another. He hoped Lark wouldn’t check the threads. He did give Caroline cancer, but not until she was ninety. They’d never specified a time frame. Ben couldn’t be faulted for that.

He hoped.

When he was done, Ben retracted his claws and his eyes changed back to their human appearance. He and Lark gave some last, consoling words to Caroline and exited the diner after Lark had passed out his business card to curious patrons. Ben had already tossed the briefcase in the backseat when Lark stepped out of the diner, letting the screen door clatter behind him.

“I see why you like the little cases, Ben. Not quite as thrilling as toppling governments and rigging elections—” Lark grinned, letting Ben see the rows of his razor-like teeth. “—but certainly more personal.”

“I guess.”

“They’re so gullible.” Lark leaned over and rested his arms on the hood of Ben’s car. “It’s like slow-boiling frogs. They don’t know they’re dead until it’s too late.”

Ben clenched the car door handle, his claws scratching the paint. He flinched and retracted them quickly.

Lark locked eyes with him. “Careful.”

“Lark—” Ben started. His throat closed and he looked towards the diner, to Caroline crying inside, and then to the forest behind him. He wondered if he could run for it. Or teleport. Be anywhere except here and on this miserable planet doing this miserable job. He stepped back from the car and Lark raised himself slightly. They gazed at each other. Lark shook his head almost imperceptibly. 

No matter that wide, worried look in Lark’s eyes, he’d catch Ben if he ran. Kill him.

Ben put his head in his hand.

“If we keep this up, there won’t be so many of them in a few years,” Lark tried. He lowered his voice, “We’ll be able to take off our disguises. Live on Earth peacefully. Alone. You’ll like that, right?”

Ben didn’t reply. He smiled and hoped that was enough.

Seemingly satisfied, Lark drummed his hands twice on the car roof and smiled back. “Let’s get to the next one. At least when I’m in your car I don’t have to look at its obnoxious color.” He hopped into the passenger’s seat and Ben climbed in the driver’s side. 

They sped off.

Hunting Trip

By: Jacob Garrett

My finger is twitching on the trigger as I struggle to hold my rifle steady. A rogue drop of sweat is rolling down my forehead, creeping across the bridge of my nose, trying to see how far it can get before driving me insane.  My fingers are itching to leap up and scratch it away, to fling the offensive salt water as far from my face as possible, but I can’t let the man in the black suit out of my crosshairs.  He doesn’t know I’m watching him; he doesn’t even know for sure that I live here anymore. If my name is still out there, it’s only a brief mention in a registry somewhere, maybe some old letter to my sister that they made a copy of at the post office.  I know they looked at those letters; at least twice when letters came back from her, the glue on the envelope had already been unsealed.

I can tell that he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for; the path that he’s on looks almost like a deer trail rather than a road to someone’s home, and he’s still too far away to see any signs of my house.  He doesn’t look annoyed yet, but I can see stirrings of frustration underneath the frozen ocean of his eyes.  Some part of his reptilian brain is longing to wrinkle up his face in disgust and cringe at the effusion of nature.  His focus is too narrow to appreciate the utopian beauty around him. The intricacies of birdsong, the flashes of late afternoon sunlight on the exoskeletons of rambling hornets, the tips of wild grass sliding between pants and socks to tickle the skin beneath; these were all dead, white noise to those red, curled ears.  Where the wind would normally slink its invisible fingers through my hair, sliding through its waves and twirling it about my head, his refuses to move, stiff and solid with so many layers of gel that it might as well be made of bone.  The sun glints off of his hairdo like it’s made of steel spikes.

His obsidian uniform, as black as the oil percolating under his feet, almost seems to suck the light out of the air around him; any life that comes within a few feet of that fabric falls into a pit of darkness from which it can never escape.  I imagine a bullet from my rifle flying through his jacket and disappearing into whatever hell he scurried out from, coursing through a pitch-dark abyss filled with the chirpings and hisses of cockroaches and crickets, doing nothing but telling the computer inside his head where to find the man for whom he’s looking.  I keep the crosshairs of my scope trained on his temples as he strolls across the twig- and pebble-strewn soil, waiting for my hands to stop shaking.  The bead of insufferable sweat has dropped off my nose already, but my digits still aren’t calm enough to take the shot.  Even though I’ve been living out here for seven years, I’m still not used to taking a man’s life.

He freezes in place, his feet coming together with perfect synchronicity.  He looks to his left, gazing through the pines on the mountainside, looking for something that had caught his attention. If there was any time to do it, this was the best I would get.  I take a deep breath, willing my arms to stop trembling, and recenter my crosshairs, aiming just below the cusp of his shellacked helm of hair.  I pull in another gulp of air and feel the blood vessels in my ears longing to burst as I pull the trigger.  For a fraction of a second, his scanning eyes happen upon where I sit in the tree, and, as the bullet connects with his skull, I swear that those eyes, already so dead and cold, are staring directly into mine. Then his body is on the ground and they’re pointing at the sky.

I let the gun slide out of my sweat-slick hands onto the floor of my blind and collapse against the wall, gasping for air, my heart beating its fists against the cage of my chest.  My hands are shaking again as I pull them to my chest, this time with enough violence to rattle the zipper of my jacket.  I raise my legs to hold them in place, chilling perspiration already soaking through the denim of my jeans, and lower my head to envelop my eyes in darkness. I don’t know how long I sit there, trying to keep the tears from leaving my eyes, feeling as though everything inside of my abdomen was about to make an escape through my throat, but when I finally raise my head again, the light has turned to the burnt orange of sunset.  I sit still for a few moments, drinking in the cool twilight breeze, before I crouch on shaking knees, pull up the trap door in the floor of the blind, and begin to crawl down the ladder.

When I reach the ground, I realize that it’s darker than I initially thought; the sun has fallen behind the clouds, draping the trees in blankets of shadow.  I creep through the sparse bushes on the mountainside, trying to be as quiet as possible on my stiff, ungainly legs, as I look everywhere around me but at the body on the road.  A caterpillar covered in fur creeps across the leaf of a tree above him, inching its way toward a deadly overhang.  Ants scatter around the soles of my boots, fleeing before the stride of the unknowable god above.  The grasses and branches dance in the wind, scraping through the atmosphere and reaching to grab me by the coat, the hair, the boots, longing to pull me into the forest that I’ve made my home.  There’s a Gothic beauty to the trees tonight; the valley that’s normally the picture of idyllic natural bliss now looks as though it jumped from the ink of the pens of Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe.

I push through the branches and emerge on the trail, where the man in the suit still lies.  Now that I’m closer to the body, all the details that had looked so formidable before now seem so neutral, so harmless: his suit is just cheap linen spotted with blood and sprinklings of dust; the gleaming spikes of his hair are nothing but the crunchy remains of a scalp destroyed by hair products and gunfire.  I shuffle toward him, just now realizing that I left my gun back in the blind, and hope that he doesn’t reach up and seize my throat, even though I can clearly see the exit wound on his head still leaking thick, syrupy blood onto the ground.  I slide my hand out and pull back his jacket, revealing the sneering black pistol on his hip. I was right; he was coming here to kill me.  I reach inside the left pocket of his jacket and feel the smooth give of leather. When I pull it out, his wallet looks as dull and dead as his eyes in the growing darkness.  I flip it open.  Out of the dilapidated flaps spills a myriad of photos in plastic sleeves, all depicting the man with a woman of his own age and a boy that looked to be of varying ages from infancy to seven.

I feel my throat close a bit.  This is the third one with kids.

As I toss the wallet on the ground beside him, straightening up and turning away as a sob pushes out of my lungs, a burst of air caresses my skin, reminding me why I’m standing here on the road over the dead body of a murderous father. I breathe in, relishing the taste of the woods around me.  Walk twenty miles in any direction and the crisp, moist aroma filling my lungs would be replaced by noxious, gagging exhaust; the chirping of birds and buzzing of wasps would give way to churning hydraulics and clanging drills.  The government won’t protect the land anymore; I’m the only one who can protect it from those who would do anything to pull the crude underground lake below me to the surface.  As I breathe, I take into myself the spirit and the power of the natural utopia that I’m fighting to preserve.  Then, opening my eyes once more, my hands and my legs steady as car antennae, I turn around and set about cleaning up my mess.