Welcome to tomorrow, Shmoopers.
This course is dedicated to the dystopian genre—a.k.a. the emo one. In these dark and not-so distant futures, society as we know it has collapsed and been replaced with a repressive regimes, insane anarchies, or desolate wastelands. Sometimes all three at once!
Here, we’ll explore and analyze a wide variety of the most famous foreboding futures. We’ll witness Big Brother’s oppressive reign over the hearts and minds of an entire populace. Books and ideas will be burned as sacrifices to the gods of ignorance. Sex and drugs will mask a social-hierarchy built on human suffering. Teenagers will kill each other for the amusement of the masses. Memories and emotions will be locked away from humanity. Sounds fun, right?
As we question and extrapolate ideas from these painful ridden realms, we’ll learn that one man’s paradise is another’s Hell, and that what we consider warnings about the future might just be the condemnations of today.
Here's a sneak peek at a video from the course. BYOP (bring your own popcorn).
Unit 1. A Tale of Two (or Three) 'Topias
To kick this thing off, we'll survey two old-school utopian texts, Plato's Republic and Thomas More's Utopia. Then, because we can't go a whole unit without trying to destroy the world, we'll crack open H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, a rip-roaring adventure through time into a future society that is anything but ideal.
Unit 2. Beware Dystopia's Great-Grandfather
This unit will discuss the dystopian society that we most often think of when imagining a dystopia—the totalitarian regime. We'll start with George Orwell's 1984 and then take a look at V for Vendetta, which is basically 1984 but with superheroes (or maybe super-anti-heroes) and bald Academy Award winners.
Unit 4. Funny Because It's Sad (Except for When It's Just Sad)
In this unit, we're talking about Fahrenheit 451,Ray Bradbury's novel in which burning books is all the rage. And once the smoke clears, we'll introduce some humor into the mix with Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron." Bradbury and Vonnegut were contemporaries (i.e., they were around at the same time), so we'll see if their views of dystopia line up, too.
Unit 5. The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Memory abounds in this unit, as we read The Giver and "The Defenders" and watch Blade Runner. Yeah, it's a motley crew.
Unit 6. Get Ready to Rumble
Both Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games(2008) and Koushun Takami's Battle Royale (1999) are overflowing with ultra-violence as their characters engage in a pastime that seems to be both an American and Japanese favorite: kids slaughtering kids for the entertainment of others. Talk about killer ratings.
Unit 7. Blurred Lines
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 11: 'Ello, Eloi. Move over, Morlocks.
Our intrepid Time Traveller finds himself cavorting with the Eloi—who are beautiful, fragile, and lazy—and running from the Morlocks, who are strong, dark, and scary. These two races of far-future humans are so extreme, you might start thinking Wells is making some sort of social commentary here. Yeah, he's about as subtle as a boot to the head.
In The Time Machine, Wells creates something that's the complete opposite of the utopian romances of the past. Where Plato and More were, in their own ways, dreaming of a perfect future (regardless of its possibility), Wells is all but saying that perfection will never be achieved and, in fact, it's all downhill from here. In other words, these are the golden days, so enjoy them while you can.
See, Wells is playing with the expectations readers might have from reading Plato's or More's utopian literature by turning those conventions on their head and shaking them until all the good stuff falls out of their pockets. By doing this, he's creating a dystopia (yes, we finally said it): a world where everything has gone wrong, even as it was striving to do right.
In this lesson, we'll take a look at the horrors humanity might become if we continue down the same path. We'd give you the choice between Team Eloi and Team Morlock, but neither one seems like a winner to us.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.11: Clan of the Cave Barely Bearable
19th-century dinner parties: snore. 8028th-century cave people: can't get enough. Well, they can't get enough of you, the carnivorous beasts.
We're going to skip the first few chapters of The Time Machine and get right to the good stuff. Here's what you need to know about the events of Chapters One through Three, from How It All Goes Down:
After a dinner party, the Time Traveller argues that time travel is possible. Since the narrator calls him "the Time Traveller," and since it's impolite to argue with your host, we're going to go out on a limb and agree with him. The guests mostly don't believe the Time Traveller, though, not even after he makes a model Time Machine disappear and then shows them the full-scale machine.
The following week, the Time Traveller is a half hour late to his own dinner party. This is not only improper from an etiquette standpoint, but also pretty inexcusable if you have a Time Machine. (We're guessing his Time Machine is not so precise.) The guests are astounded at his disheveled look, so he tells them his story.
Okay, now you're all caught up with the Time Traveller in the year 802,701. Now read Chapters Four through Seven to figure out what humanity will be up to tens of thousands of years from now. Then visit our summary to help you get to know what's what.
Next, to get a better idea of the types of humans (or at least human-ish beings) you'll meet in the future, read what we have to say about the Eloi and the Morlocks.
Is Wells' world a utopia or a dystopia or a mix of both? What's a dystopia? If you need a refresher, we have the definition here. But remember: It's never that simple.
Finally, a word to the wise: don't think you can cheat and just watch the 2002 movie version in lieu of doing the reading. Sure, there's a time machine, and the words Morlock and Eloi are involved. But that's about it when it comes to similarities (Source).
Plus, it's terrible. Every time someone watches it, Guy Pearce cries himself to sleep that night.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.11: We Don't Mean No Dys-respect
You've met the aboveground Eloi and the belowground Morlocks, and you've gotten to know their ways.
Are either of these societies utopian? Or dystopian?
To answer that question, you'll first need to write your own definition of both "utopia" and "dystopia." Ponder what you've learned so far, and have at it. And hang onto that document; you'll be adding to it in a sec.
Done defining those oh-so-important concepts? Good.
Next, let's make a list. We love lists. We'll be checking them twice, Santa-style.
In your Word document, make a T-chart labeled "Utopia" and "Dystopia," and write your own definitions for the terms directly under the column headings.
In the first column, under your definition of utopia, make a list of the characteristics that make The Time Machine a utopian story.
In the other column, under your definition of dystopia, make a list of the characteristics that make The Time Machine a dystopian story.
Include pictures to represent each characteristic in each column, each with a short caption, instead of just writing them all out. Get your Google on.
In addition, add three direct quotes from The Time Machine to each column. Pick the three quotes that you think best illustrate the future as a utopia or a dystopia. Here are a couple of examples:
"So far as I could see, all the world displayed the same exuberant richness as the Thames valley. From every hill I climbed I saw the same abundance of splendid buildings, endlessly varied in material and style, the same clustering thickets of evergreens, the same blossom-laden trees and tree-ferns. Here and there water shone like silver, and beyond, the land rose into blue undulating hills, and so faded into the serenity of the sky." (Chapter 5, page 5)
This quote belongs in the Utopia column because it describes the future as a beautiful and idyllic place. The Time Traveller is admiring the wonder of the natural world he finds in the future, like the trees, flowers and lakes. These are all very positive descriptions of the future.
"The question had come into my mind abruptly: were these creatures fools? You may hardly understand how it took me. You see I had always anticipated that the people of the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand odd would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything. Then one of them suddenly asked me a question that showed him to be on the intellectual level of one of our five-year-old children--asked me, in fact, if I had come from the sun in a thunderstorm!" (Chapter 4, page 2)
This quote belongs in the dystopia column because it shows the Time Traveller's disappointment with the future. He finds out that the Eloi have the intellectual capacity of children. He thought the people of the future would be smarter, not dumber than we are.
For each column, you need:
- three to five characteristics that make The Time Machine utopian/dystopian.
- an image that represents each characteristic.
- three to five direct quotes from The Time Machine that describe the future as utopian/dystopian.
Upload your completed T-Chart below. We'll be coming back to this list with every book and movie we discuss, so don't get behind. Also, you'll want to keep this document somewhere handy on your computer. We'll be adding to it as we go.
- Course Length: 18 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Elective
- High School
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1