Dystopian Fiction: Themes, Elements & Examples in Literature

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When we talk about dystopian fiction then it has to start with Utopian literature which was first introduced in 1516 with Sir Thomas More book, Utopia which presented an imagined ideally perfect place or state where everything is pleasant, where the citizens of the state are living in a perfect society free of sufferings and poverty.

Related: Dystopian Writing Prompts

Later, this Utopian concept of Sir Thomas was responded with dystopian fiction, which showcases the opposite of Utopian philosophy and presented an imagined state where everything is unpleasant, where human life is full of disparities, suffering & hopelessness and surviving is often the central focus of the people of the dystopian state.

What is Dystopian Fiction?

Dystopian fiction novels are based on the subject of an imagined future world where dehumanizing, frightening & anarchist society prevails after going through an environmental disaster or a world war and humans struggle with anarchy, oppression, brutality, survival, etc.

  • In dystopian fiction, the world is often presented under lawlessness (under no governmental control), or under the control of a single oppressive and hypocritical government, or some highly technologically advanced force.
  • The dystopian genre is also speculative fiction like science fiction & fantasy and is used as a subgenre for both, as dystopian science fiction and dystopian fantasy fiction. 

Common Themes of Dystopian Fiction-

These are the common literary themes which most dystopian novels follow-

  • Good vs. Evil
  • Totalitarianism
  • Rebellion
  • Family
  • Politics
  • Violence
  • Surveillance
  • Nature
  • Corruption
  • Oppression
  • Class
  • Corruption

5 Common Elements of Dystopian Fiction-

These are some common elements that you can find in dystopian fiction-

#1 Governmental control

Government is one of the prominent elements in most of the work of dystopian fiction. The government is presented as a powerful and oppressive entity suppressing the society and state or even a no government scenario where anarchy prevails.

  • Example-
examples of government control dystopian fiction

Georges Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four showcases the world after a world war is under complete governmental control and under total surveillance by a fictional dictator called ”Big Brother”.

Other Popular Examples-

#2 Technological control

An advanced technology controls society. Robots, computers, or some highly advance and scientific means are used to control society, place, or the character’s mind.

  • Example-
example of technologican control dystopian fiction

M.T Anderson’s Feed, showcases the world where people’s brains are controlled by a computer network called Feednet. Similar to the internet this network controls the citizens by connecting everyone’s brain through the network implemented through installed the feed into the brains of citizens.

Other Popular Examples-

dystopian fiction themes, elements and examples in literature

#3 Environmental destruction

Showcasing the setting of a place inhabitable for humans often after destruction or the story of a probably upcoming disaster.

  • Example-
examples of environmental destruction in dystopian fiction

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road showcases the story of a father and his young son trying to survive in a post-catastrophic world.

Other Popular Examples-

#4 Loss of individualism

Showcasing the danger of conformity, loss of individualism presents a world where personal choices of an individual such as their physical appearance or their way of living are control by an authoritarian state.

  • Example-
example of loss of individualism in dystopian fiction

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We tell the story of a world where citizens of a place called the One State are identified by number.

Other Popular Examples-

#5 Survival

Fend for yourself or die is the common element found in dystopian fiction. The citizens or the characters living in a dystopian world often have to survive on their own in between the ruins, destructed environment, collapsed society, inhabitable places, powerful and oppressive dictators, etc. The quest for survival is prominent in dystopian fiction.

  • Example-
example of survival in dystopian fiction

Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember tells the story of a post-apocalyptic underground city called Ember, where a group of teenagers living in the place is trying to find a way out to reach the outside world as the underground city which was made for survival for humans is now running out of food and the light system of the place is collapsing which too will soon put the whole Ember into darkness.

Other Popular Examples-

Want to learn more about dystopian fiction?, Then do watch the below video by TED-Ed on “How to Recognize a Dystopia”.

Examples of Dystopian Fiction in Literature


Fahrenheit 451

BY Ray Bradbury


The Handmaid’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood


The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins


The Giver

By Lois Lowry


Lord of the Flies

By William Golding


The Wall

By John Lanchester


The Maze Runner

By James Dashner


Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley


Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel


The Time Machine

By H.G Wells

Want to know more about dystopian fiction then read this article on Masterclass explaining more about the genre.

Neel Rana

About the Author- Neel Rana is a YA short story author, flash fiction writer, literary enthusiast and the founder of Pandora Post. Neel holds a degree in BA Honours in English Literature and has been writing since 2017. Neel’s magnum opus YA short storybook, “The Drunken Ghost” has been well received by the readers.