Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why the YA Dystopian Novel is Maintaining its Relevance

A recent blog entry on Huffington Post’s website narrowed down the four hottest YA trends that will take readers by storm in 2015. The opening line of the blog is, “Tired of dystopia?” While I can understand some readers’ annoyance with a mainstream genre (I could never stand vampires), I find it hard to believe that the idea that the dystopian novel is losing ground in popularity. If anything, this is one of the recent mainstream genres that young adults need to realize is based on the possible future of their world.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is a fictional tale of an Indian servant destined to live in a low caste (and is not considered dystopian in any way). The novel focuses on the corrupt financial and political nature in India and how even those who have undergone abuse or neglect will forget about their past and rise to the top in any gruesome way it requires. Balram, the protagonist, writes the story through letters to the Premier of China, explaining his murderous past and how he became one of the richest men in Bangalore. While The White Tiger describes a real world in fictional conflicts and characters, its corrupt and greedy core is why the YA dystopian novel is gaining relevance with young adults and why it needs to maintain its influence, and the novel illustrates the validity of this in the way the characters challenge the government.

The hilarious novel that is White Tiger.

They Refuse to Challenge

The first matter of White Tiger follows the characters’ resistance to change or their disbelief in the possibility through the Rooster Coop hypothesis.

Balram explains the Rooster Coop as the animalistic ritual that low caste members and servants of India have assumed as their role. In a real rooster coop, roosters watch humans take their fellow animals out of the cage and butcher them in front of their eyes, but each time the cage is open, all the roosters crowd around because they are so anxious to be free they do not concern themselves with the deathly fate they witnessed moments ago (147). In this same manner the Indian men understand the neglectful future for them as servants, drivers, or as other service workers, but still they fight to be in these jobs because they need the money more than they want to change their future. They are as slow as roosters because they accept the status quo and choose to live in distress.

India is an extreme example of a society that is unhappy with its government, but why do they not fight back? Could it be the ritual, tradition, routine of living the way a father, brother, or uncle did? Even though it is a terrible place to be, it is all these characters know and understand so they fear changing it because whatever is next could be worse. Spouses choose to remain in abusive relationships, children do not fight against neglectful parents, and few dogs would bite the hand that feeds them even if it hits them. It is animal instinct to find a routine and stick with it because there is something to be said for trusting the familiar. Even though Balram’s life involved abuse, he chose to live because he knew life and had seen it better for others, but death was not something that could be accounted for. Therefore, even if dying would have been easier and less painful than living, the hope of the better things they have seen encourage individuals to keep moving and to not change things. If one is killed for driving too slowly to a destination, but fifty are killed for rebelling, it makes logical sense to let the one die for the sake of the others to live horrible lives.

As per the definition of dystopia, this is a world where people are unhappy with their lives but are afraid to change it. Why, then, is it viewed as a normalcy to hear of corruption in India where few fight back and the rest accept their fate while this book genre has blown up? Dystopian novels provide a sense of hope and direction for young adults who actively want to change their lives and stop those who strive to control them. If authors write stories of fictional characters who were too scared to take risks, then the readers have to much at stake to even think of aiming for a higher standard of living.

They Cannot Challenge

Balram did not refuse to challenge the government and the hierarchy of power, but he was not given the option to challenge because the government officials had control over his actions.

Balram opens the letter to the Premier of China by stating that he is wanted for murder, but the police will never catch him because they are too corrupt. Later in the novel, he includes that if the police truly wanted to arrest him, they would simply need to visit the voting booths on each election day to find him casting his ballot. Because of local corruption and the action of stealing identities and fingerprints, “[Balram is] India’s most faithful voter, and [he] still [has] not seen the inside of a voting booth” (86). Balram cannot even challenge his government because the local police force is in on the greed.

Dystopian novels often begin with this exact revelation of truth for the protagonist. Once he or she decides to gather the courage to change, the government prevents it. In America, the majority of the population refuses to vote. If government officials looked into records, would they be able to narrow down names of individuals who never voted and cast their ballot for them? For those who think this kind of corruption cannot be found in America, simply turn on the news to hear of the police corruption and debates going on in dozens of communities. If the police act above the law, then there is a greater percentage that those in higher governmental positions could be corrupt.

While the intention of this blog is not to analyze American politics, it is an example that a reader can relate to White Tiger or a dystopian novel. Because individuals have a mindset that they should not make changes, the government takes the opportunity for them to rebel away. Therefore, a refusal to challenge erases the possibility of a challenge.

They Lose the Challenge

The core of a dystopian novel focuses on when the protagonist finally makes that change, challenges the government officials, and succeeds, but a dystopian novel would not be believable if it didn’t involve realistic outcomes of death and loss, and White Tiger illustrates the truth of this as well.

Balram finally succeeds in becoming wealthy, powerful, and most importantly independent, but he recognizes where he came from. After an accident involving one of his drivers, Balram visits the police station with the young man who wants justice done for his younger sibling. The police, as corrupt as ever and bought out by Balram, turn the argument around and say the sibling’s bike did not have working lights and that if they registered the case, they would find more faults that would leave the man to pay his brother’s murderer (265). This kind of control is what Balram sought, and while he does pay his respects to the boy’s family, he does nothing more to rectify the situation. It is an act of paying it forward, letting someone else take the blame because they either will not fight or cannot.

This boy lost his brother, a life, but the government still wins. How can this kind of thing go unpunished? White Tiger is a fictional account of events that could and most likely have occurred in India, and still the dictionary refers to a dystopia as an imaginary place (285). Does this mean that the world is a dystopia or that people should accept that their fate is not as horrible as the person beside them? Young adults need dystopian novels to remind them that they will experience loss, but something built on hate, greed, or money will not stand forever because these are not survival instincts, and all people are trying to do is survive in the least painful way they can.


The YA dystopian novel is gaining relevance and will maintain its influence because novels like The White Tiger resemble realistic broken societies and young adults still have enough fire in them to fight corruption. Without these novels to inspire and lead, the current generation would accept problems as they arose and would not consider a safer, more efficient, or more equal alternative. Dystopian novels have been around for a long time, but now they are roping in the attention of the readers who will be inspired enough to do something. You may be able to put down a dystopian novel if you’re tired of reading about failed communities and angry citizens, but you cannot ignore the same news playing on your television.  


  1. I have never understood the vampire fascination either!

    1. Right?! Perhaps the supernatural things just never grabbed me, but that whole genre never held my attention for long. Political corruption and flawed societies, however? Yes please!