Young adult dystopian fiction: fantasy or allegory?
1. Introducing new terms and vocabulary.
2. Developing the ability to analyse popular culture critically.
3. Encouraging discussions and exchange of opinions.
4. Raising awareness about a number of social, political and ethical phenomena in the modern world.
5. Spurring on interaction among students.
6. Promoting interest in literature.
Film screening: 90 mins. | 90 minutes/ 2 lessons.
• Watching „How I Live Now„, UK 2013.
• Photos for discussion.
• Working in groups
• Discussing the issues broached by the teacher
• Introducing terms in contemporary contexts: dystopia, feminism, non-conformity, authority, identity, empowerment
1. Discussion of the genre. 25 mins
The teacher divides the students into 4 groups and asks them to discuss among themselves and then note down their ideas about dystopian literature – a rough definition, themes, characteristics, type of protagonists. After they are finished, the teacher leads the discussion, asking each group to present their ideas and writing them down on the whiteboard. Then the whole class engages in a discussion with the teacher whether those ideas are valid and whether they agree with all of them. The students are asked to present arguments supporting their views. The teacher proceeds to provide a definition of YA distopian fiction derived from the introduction to the book Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults. Brave New Teenagers edited by Balaka Basu, Katherine R. Broad and Carrie Hintz, which is as follows:
„With its capacity to frighten and warn, dystopian writing engages with pressing global concerns: liberty and self-determination, environmental destruction and looming catastrophe, questions of identity, and the increasingly fragile boundaries between technology and the self. When directed at young readers, who are trying to understand the world and their place in it, those dystopian warnings are distilled into exciting adventures with gripping plots.” (Basu et al., 1)
The teacher asks the students to comment on this quote.
2. Activity 1. Discussion on the film and its issues. 25 mins
The teacher must encourage students to engage actively in the discussion. Its aim is to make them realize pertinent social issues that are tackled in the film.
• Could you relate to Daisy?
• Did you understand the social pressures she was so obsessed about and had to conform to?
• Do you see such pressure in your own lives (e.g. to find a job, become independent) ?
• How do you see the world you live in, the surveillance, conformity, terrorism? Are you scared or optimistic?
Tips: The teacher must constantly encourage students to express their opinions about the film, popular culture, its contemporary significance and the context of their own lives. He/she is to lead the discussion and make sure every student has contributed to it.
3. Activity 2. „Feminine Heroines” 30 mins
The teacher divides students into approximately 4 groups and distributes sets of four film posters based on popular dystopian fiction novels. Students are to discuss the main protagonists, who are all young women. The groups discuss the heroines, their motivations and personality and have to prepare a speech that will be delivered by one person from each group to the whole class on which character they admire most and why.
Tips: Once the speeches start, the teacher should check whether the rest of the class agree or have some other opinions to express about the content of the other students’ speeches.
4. Activity 3. „Dystopian Fiction Quotes” 10 mins
The teacher displays three quotes from How I Live Now novel and film on the whiteboard so that the whole class can see it. Each person individually chooses only one and then proceeds to write their own response to the quote, as if they were writing to Daisy in How I Live Now. The response should be in the form of a personal note, not longer than a few sentences.
Tips: The exercise is for individual work only. Inasmuch as the whole class is focused on group discussion and interaction, this activity is a brief respite and a moment of personal ruminations.
5. Final remarks.
The teacher concludes the class by reiterating on what the discussions resulted in, namely the dystopian fiction definition, female heroines and contemporary issues.
„I was dying, of course, but then we all are. Every day, in perfect increments, I was dying of loss.
The only help for my condition, then as now, is that I refused to let go of what I loved. I wrote everything down, at first in choppy fragments; a sentence here, a few words there, it was the most I could handle at the time. Later I wrote more, my grief muffled but not eased by the passage of time.
When I go back over my writing now I can barely read it. The happiness is the worst. Some days I can’t bring myself to remember. But I will not relinquish a single detail of the past. What remains of my life depends on what happened six years ago.
In my brain, in my limbs, in my dreams, it is still happening.”
Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now
„Before the war I used my willpower for stupid stuff, like not eating chocolate. I think I thought if I could control myself, then maybe the world around me would start to make sense. I guess I was pretty naive back then.”
Daisy, How I Live Now
„On the warm stone walls, climbing roses were just coming into bloom and great twisted branches of honeysuckle and clematis wrestled each other as they tumbled up and over the top of the wall. Against another wall were white apple blossoms on branches cut into sharp crucifixes and forced to lie flat against the stone. Below, the huge frilled lips of giant tulips in shades of white and cream nodded in their beds. They were almost finished now, spread open too far, splayed, exposing obscene black centers. I’ve never had my own garden but I suddenly recognized something in the tangle of this one that wasn’t beauty. Passion, maybe. And something else. Rage. „
Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now