Motifs in Modern Literature – Dystopia

Motifs in Modern Literature – Dystopia


Image of Big Brother from Michael Radfords film "1984"


We’ll get to what the word “dystopia” means in a second.  You may have heard a related word, “utopia.”  The word “utopia” comes from Sir Thomas More’s 1516 work of the same name, meaning “ideal society.”   Not surprisingly, many people looked to the future to provide a kind of utopia.  Imagining a future in which society has been logically organized, poverty and crime have been eliminated as social problems, and everyone is equal, some writers and artists have created fictional worlds of a future as slickly clean and efficient as the bridge of the starship Enterprise.   

Ironically (or not), though the word utopia sounds like the Greek prefix “eu,” meaning good or well, and “topos,” meaning place, the word utopia actually means “no-place.”  Even More found the idea of a utopia to be (at best) something achievable only in imagination, not reality.  Some writers and artists, though, have had even darker views of our future: that what we face is not a utopia, but a dystopia, a future in which present-day problems in society have metastasized out of control.  

Prereading Questions   

Please answer the 1984 Prereading Questions here!


  • Please read George Orwell’s novel 1984.  Here is it in a PDF file of 1984 for you to read on your computer!
  • Please read .T.S. Eliot’s poem  “The Waste Land
  • See thisYouTube video matching images to a section from Eliot’s “The Waste Land”

1984 Resources

  • Helpful set of discussion questions for this novel!
  • Lecture notes for Part II of the novel — 1984 Part II Lecture Notes
  • These study guide questions  from SD 129 are pretty basic comprehension questions, but they could be useful.
  • Teacher’s Guide to 1984.  This site provides classroom discussion questions and activities.
  • See this fascinating comparison between the dystopias envisioned in Orwell’s 1984 and that envisioned by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World.
  • OPTIONAL: Please read the foreword to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, which reflects on issues relating to our modern culture.
  • OPTIONAL: Check out some of these YouTube videos relating to Orwell’s novel.  Many are innovative and interesting versions of the propaganda films or media described in 1984.
  • Commercial for Hate Week
  • War is Peace

The Waste Land


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