To Be Awake and Unafraid or Asleep and Unaware: The Essence of the Dystopian Story

Photo Credit: Found on Pinterest. If this is your image, please let me know and I will happily link to you and give you credit.
Photo Credit: Found on Pinterest.    Lyric Credit: My Chemical Romance

Do you ever feel like you are the only one awake? Do you feel that you are the only one who is aware of what is real while everyone else shuffles through life in a mindless stupor? I think a lot of us believe that in our youth. We are angst-ridden because we are the ones who are awake and our elders have given in to the man and the inevitable. What they may view as simply being jaded, we in our youth believe that they have been lulled into a dull existence by the constant cajoling of society. They have given up.

The rivalry that exists between the young and the old is one that will probably always exist. In many ways, Dystopian literature fills this void and responds to this conflict. It is a genre whose hallmark is that the main character, who is frequently young or on the cusp of adulthood and major life change, is aware while the rest of society sleeps. This stream of literature persists because almost every person at some juncture in their lives has felt like they were the only person awake, the only one aware.

My fascination with Dystopian literature stems from its connection to the almighty Gothic genre. I am intrigued by the threads of the Gothic that make their way into a Dystopian novel and I am equally piqued by those threads that differ. I have read a number of examples of Dystopian literature: Lord of the Flies by William Golding, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan and many more. Plus, I have experienced a host of the popular YA series: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth and others. But no book has more profoundly affected me than The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Photo Credit: Lois Lowry & Houghton Mifflin
Photo Credit: Lois Lowry & Houghton Mifflin

Don’t ask me why I didn’t read this book when I was a child. I was as voracious a reader back then as I am today. But, for whatever reason, it was not a book that I picked up as a child. I finally decided to read it because I wanted to read it before seeing the film and also to see how it plays with the genre. What I found in these pages is an explanation of what it means to be awake.

“If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up
in the morning and decide things!”

As a person who reads and writes, I know that I have always been searching for something. I have always felt different and as a child I never felt like I fit in. I know lots of people feel this way as children. I’m not sure how many of us continue to feel this way as adults. But I’m sure there are still just as many. Jonas has never felt different or special. He is a part of his family unit and he fulfills his responsibilities. But even in a world that is black and white, others can see that his eyes are different. With his light-colored eyes, he is not just seen as different or special, his vision itself has a grander capability which allows him to see beyond or deeper than his peers and to find the colors, memories and feelings from which his community have turned away.

Even as an adult I sometime believe that I am awake and others are asleep. I have often felt this way because of the way words affect me. The feelings I get when a sentence is structured just right or when I read something that was beautifully crafted by another is not an awareness or an experience that I have found other people share with me. The world is full of beauty and potential. The things that others value and desire are so different from the things that move me. And sometimes I wonder, why am I the only one who sees that? (I know I’m not the only one. But sometimes if feels that way.)

“The worst part about holding the memories is not the pain.
It’s the loneliness of it.”

But now, I have had a new thought. I think that everyone, in some way, shape or form, believes that they are awake while other sleep. I felt this way when I read The Giver because of Jonas’ frustrations with his friends and his family when he finds that he can no longer connect with them. I felt this way when the Giver tries to explain to Jonas that the people have no emotions, that they don’t know any better.

I have also learned that I am both awake and asleep at the same time. My boyfriend, who teaches me something new every day, is irreconcilably fascinated and concerned with farming practices and how they affect the environment and destroy the land and do not follow the ways that nature intended. From him I have learned who Monsanto is and why their practices are harmful to our future. I have learned of the many terrible food shortages we will be facing in the future because of our ignorant farming strategies. I have learned about what the loss of the bees will mean.

I think in some part of myself, I knew or wondered about some of these things. But I didn’t know how to grasp or acknowledge them. Because of my boyfriend, I have been awakened and I have been forced to acknowledge these hazards.

Even though I have now been made aware of these problems and have, more or less, been awakened, on more than one occasion, I have wished that this knowledge had been kept from me. I have even told boyfriend that the thing he is telling me makes me feel bad about the world and that I wished I had not been made aware of it because it make me feel hopeless. At those moments, I wish that I could go back to sleep.

It was the recollection of these conversations that hit me full-force and really opened my eyes as I read The Giver and followed Jonas on his path to awakening. In these conversations with my boyfriend, I am gaining knowledge, I am waking up. But I also feel like the people who Jonas can no longer connect with who cannot handle the truth and the world in all its reality; I wished that I did not know all of the things that I now know.

I grew up believing in the best in people, in humanity. I was not ignorant. Perhaps naive is the best word to describe the state that I formerly occupied. In some ways, I was awake. In other ways, I was still asleep. And I’m sure that even now I am some parts awake and some parts asleep. When I learn something new, I will be awakened in a new way.

Being awake is equally invigorating and scary. At times I am hopeful. At other times, I feel at a loss. I feel that the world is too big and the problems too great to be solved. It is this space that Dystopian literature occupies and why it is so popular right now. The idea of Utopia is grand. But when we are in Utopia, we don’t know what goodness or happiness is because we don’t experience the bad and we do not know sorrow and pain. Given the choice, would you choose to be awake or asleep?

Also, here are the trailers for the upcoming film, The Giver.