To Struggle is Human
In my last essay, I opined that the number of dystopias read in class seemed to show a lack of faith in humanity's ability to keep from destroying itself. Now, after reading the few utopian pieces, I wonder if maybe those dystopian settings allow the characters to be more human than their utopian counterparts. There can be no perfect utopia for everyone. Maybe writing as if such a utopia exists does a disservice to the diversity of humanity. Perhaps writing characters with flaws and vulnerabilities better showcase what it means to be human. To illustrate my point, I will be looking at The Time Machine, Parable of the Sower, Stone Lives, Chocco, and Burning Chrome.
Flawed, Human Motives
We all have desires. There is something we all want, be it love, respect, money, or an infinite number of things, that we will move heaven and earth to attain. Johnny, from Johnny Mnemonic, wanted above all else to survive, while Molly Millions wanted to kill the Yakuza assassin and prove that she was the best killer around. For both characters, getting paid was an afterthought. "I'm gonna get that boy. Tonight. He's the best, number one, top dollar, state of the art." (JM 3.3). Bobby Quine, and Automatic Jack rob a criminal blind through a computer terminal and leave her to die in Burning Chrome. Bobby believes he is doing it for his girl Rikki, but is really doing it because he knows no other life. Jack on the other hand genuinely cares for Rikki, who prostitutes herself in order to buy a pair of robotic eyes that can livestream what she sees. Chrome, the criminal who gets bankrupted, runs the brothel where Rikki worked. All the characters had their own desires, some objectionable, and they all used questionable methods to attain them. These morally ambivalent, but ultimately human scenarios could not have existed in a utopia, because there is already total contentment.
In Stone Lives, Stone's immediate goal was survival. After that seemed assured, his goal became learning about his savior, Alice Citrine, and retaining his sight. As he saw more of affluent society, he began to see how the actions of the powerful could affect the weak. When he learned about what he was, it is only after Alice is killed, and his immediate desire was to survive and regain his sight. When he attains a position of power, his first reaction is to "clean up this mess." (SL). This could be a reference to the rubble of the building, but it could also be a foreshadowing of Stone attempting to right the wrongs of his predecessor. Stone rose from the gutter, to the most powerful position in the city in only a short time. He is in a unique position to know how both sides live. In a dystopia, people can try to better themselves. In a utopia, there is no need.
Contentment is a Cease to Struggle
If one is in a utopia, one wants for nothing. There is no desire to improve, to create. We see evidence of this in the Eloi in The Time Machine. Eons of having every need met, reduced the affluent humans to a state of child like helplessness. "Indeed there was something in these pretty little people that inspired confidence... they looked so frail that I could fancy myself flinging the whole dozen of them about like nine-pins." (TM 4.2). The Eloi did not build; they did not create. They couldn't even build a fire, make clothes, or even grow or hunt they're own food. They didn't even question where they're food and clothes came from. The Morlocks raised them like cattle, and the Eloi didn't even know it. All the self preservation the Eloi had was a vague fear of the dark. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. If this is so, then the end of need spells the end of innovation.
In Chocco, a person's profession, and even his or her marriage and number of children a couple can have is decided on by the community. A person's desire does not enter into it in any way. The Machine People nearly ended the world, so now the River People husband every resource carefully in order to survive. The entire community supports this system. Even Michael accepts his role when he is not selected to be Memory Keeper. A world where every choice is planned by someone else is a world stripped of individuality, and a life stripped of true meaning.
Beauty in Pain
In dystopian literature, character can be and are often hurt or in pain of some kind. Seeing how they cope with the pain, and how others help them uncovers something uniquely human. Lauren from Parable of the Sower actually feels the pain of others. This causes her to be efficient when she is forced to kill, but uneasy around her group. She was afraid to tell people what she was, but in the end, she was accepted, and even became the de facto leader. After they're community was attacked, Lauren met with Harry and Zahra. Harry had a head wound, and Lauren and Zahra nursed him back to health. When Allie lost her sister, caring for Justin kept her from falling apart.
In Hinterlands, Toby and Charmian are surrogates, employed to keep the surviving space travelers alive and sane. The success rate for surrogates is 0%. They feel the pain of every loss. "Charmian stirred beside me, muttered a stranger's name.... she kept a man alive for two weeks until her put out his eyes with his thumbs. She screamed all the way down, broke her nails on the elevator's plastic lid. Then they sedated her." (H 8.4). They share each other's pain, help each other cope with the loss.
In my midterm essay, I thought dystopian literature had no faith in humanity. Now I think perhaps it is a showcase of the human condition. All of the veneer stripped away, showing all of the blemishes, scars, and ugliness of a life lived with struggle. Perfect in its imperfection. While a utopia is a nice dream, it will never be reality. Reality may not be as dark as some dystopias, but there is struggle, and pain. Without those, could we really know what joy is? Is it so awful to have a flawed world? "...even worse, it could be perfect." (GC 68.)