Dystopian Fiction as a Genre

Students are often quite familiar with dystopian fiction as it is ubiquitous in popular culture and movies (e.g., The Matrix, The Hunger Games). However, they may not have explicit knowledge of its characteristics and purposes as a genre, so texts and activities at the beginning of the second semester can be used to make this knowledge explicit, providing a basis for understanding the main novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Hunger Games

Students can watch a video clip of the Hunger Games in order to start thinking about he characteristics of dystopian fiction, such as government control and the existence of a dystopian protagonist. The video can be followed by a whole class discussion to generate ideas.

Harrison Bergeron

Students can then read and annotate Harrison Bergeron for the elements of the genre that they discussed. The idea of the dystopian protagonist as someone who helps the people and goes against the government should start to become clear. Students can start to keep a list of criteria for determining the dystopian protagonist.

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

This story is more complex than either of the previous two texts. In particular, it is not clear whether or not there is a dystopian protagonist. Students can read and annotate the story and then discuss it in small groups. A culminating task might be to write a short argument essay arguing an interpretive claim about whether any of the characters functions as a dystopian protagonist.