Many of us have described the past year as “apocalyptic” or “dystopian.” We’ve been living through a global pandemic, a critical presidential election, ravaging wildfires, and a national reckoning with our country’s legacy of racism and police violence. Utopic and dystopic fiction can help us make sense of our experience and ask questions about our future.
In this seminar we’ll read three works of utopic and dystopic fiction written by women authors. In our reading and discussion of each text, we will focus on a few core questions: Who are we, as a society? Who do we want to be? What gets in the way of becoming the society we dream of? What do fictional dystopias and utopias teach us about what we fear and what we could become if we had less fear?
We’ll read a selection of utopic and dystopic novels, short stories, and novellas. We will start with Station Eleven (2015) by Emily St. John Mandel, a dystopic novel set in Hollywood. Together we will dig into questions of fame, ambition, and the ingredients of a meaningful life. We’ll contrast Station Eleven with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopic fiction, Herland (1915). The novella is set in a community made up exclusively of women and where no men have lived for 2,000 years. Perkin Gilman asks us to consider the role of gender, competition, and collaboration in our ideal society. Finally, we’ll read two short stories: “The One’s Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula LeGuin (1973) and “Bloodchlid” (2003) by Octavia Butler.