Finding Light Through Darkness in Dystopian Fiction – Part Two

In part one of the dystopian book series, we discussed how tales like 1984 raised our collective consciousness to the horrors of totalitarian systems. If that’s true, why is it difficult for us to join together and articulate current events to lessons we’ve learned from the book? In my mid-twenties, I had the realization that ideological beliefs can lead to a blind trust in authority. The visionary fiction novel that opened my eyes was Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus Trilogy. The book challenged my worldview by prompting me to question my beliefs, and I realized they had all been programmed! Parts of the novel are quite raunchy, but I enjoyed the absurdist style of storytelling. This was before I heard of Albert Camus! The humor helped me drop my guard and led to many aha moments. While the novel isn’t pure dystopian, many passages focus on submission to society and the state:

As a spiritual agnostic, I tackle the construct of belief in all my novels, leaving it for readers to draw their own conclusions. Plato’s Cave served as the foundation for my first book, Unison – The Spheral. The protagonist, Damon, starts out as part of the ruling elite. He unmasks the horrors of  his dystopian society and breaks out of its dark mythology.  After his liberation, he performs his version of Plato’s Cave for his lover, Flora, to wake her up from her dystopian delusion:

Characters in dystopian novels are either open to the truth, or they languish inside the darkness of the cave. We see the consequences of their choices as they meet their fates. Within their journeys, we learn from both their strengths and weaknesses. What compels some authors to visit the dark side of human nature in dystopian fiction? Neil Gaiman eloquently expresses this in his introduction to Fahrenheit 451:

UNIVERSAL WORLD VIEW

I interviewed my daughters about their reactions to 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 and got some surprising responses. My youngest daughter, 15, mentioned that societies tell us how the world works and what is considered normal. “If we see something abnormal, it discomforts us, and we have varying reactions. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 characters viewed censorship and book burning as normal.” Can we connect to this construct in reality?  What do we identify as “normal,” in our society and how did we arrive at that consensus?

 In 1984, regarding the Ministry of Truth, my oldest daughter, 17, explained that it’s easy to erase history and it can even happen in the real world. She realizes that the news doesn’t report everything, and “even current things are hidden from people.” How do we know what we know? Are we certain of it? The characters in dystopian novels answer those questions, but it doesn’t always lead them out of the cave.

In Brave New World, characters either live in harmony within the World State or with the reality of pain and suffering outside its borders. Helmholtz Watson is an Alpha who loves poetry.  He rebels by reading a heretical poem to his students and later helps John the Savage destroy the Delta’s soma rations. Mustapha Mond exiles Watson to the Falkland Islands. What Mond reveals to him and the Savage illuminates how people may react when forced to choose between safety of the cave and the dangers outside:

The characters in Brave New World respond differently to the polarity of bliss versus pain and suffering. Mond reveals that in his youth he was an unorthodox physicist and was almost exiled. He chose to trade in his love of science for power. Watson views his exile as an opportunity to find meaning and become a better writer. John the Savage leaves the World State and lives on his own in a lighthouse where he becomes a spectacle for his self-flagellation. He later hangs himself because he couldn’t live up to his own statement to Mond about wanting comfort and freedom along with sin. We can relate to these internal struggles in our current world. As humans, we conform, so we can be part of the social community. However, outer reality doesn’t always align with our ability to consciously evolve as individuals. Brave New World shows us the dark side of that struggle. Through Watson, we see a sliver of hope that no matter how lost we might feel, we can break our chains, leave the cave and liberate ourselves.

The desire for humans to want a better world is Universal. Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle shows us an alternate history where the Nazis had won WWII. It’s written as a book within a book. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, authored by the character Abendsen, is based on the I-Ching and depicts a world where the Germans had lost the war. Juliana Crain is determined to find Abendsen and discover the truth about the book.

In Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Equality 7-2521 lives in a closed system, where no words exist that define individuality. He takes on the role of the light bearer and brings electricity to a regressive dystopia that’s lit by candles.

Rather than being thanked, Equality 7-2521 is jailed for upsetting the balance of his society. The theme in this book is the individual versus the collective. This construct’s universality relates to the spiritual problem of the modern person, as explained by Carl Jung. “Every step forward means tearing oneself loose from the maternal womb of unconsciousness in which the mass of men dwells.” Jung viewed that individuals who awaken into consciousness become solitary. It sounds stark, but fear not, for within darkness, there is always light!

EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS

We now arrive at the heart of our question as to whether dystopian stories can be visionary fiction.  Can reading these dark stories lead to an expansion in consciousness? 

In 1984, O’Brien brings Winston into the Brotherhood, which supposedly exists to fight the Party.  After Winston’s arrest, O’Brien shape-shifts into his torturer. Something I’ve only just picked up on is that O’Brien inverts the meaning of spirituality! 

O’Brien later claims that “reality is inside the skull” but in the context that only what the Party dictates is true. Revisiting this scene filled me with dread, and I had to meditate afterwards to clear my head. Perhaps first-time readers would have more of a consciousness expanding experience. A lesson my oldest daughter learned from the book is that “When you see something, sit back and think about it. Is it true, or this part of some bigger picture thing that I can’t see because it’s all kept from everyone.” My youngest daughter added that we can’t truly discern the truth from the news or with politicians. “Whether they show themselves to be bad or good, you don’t know what their true intentions are.” When I asked her about the Ministry of Truth and the problem with rewriting history and censoring, she replied, “We are going backward, and we’re also diminishing success.” How can we discern truth from fiction? She explained that if we understand that what we’re told is not always the truth, we go through life with less worry. “It’s important to keep an open mind and question everything we’re told. Is it true? Is it not true? If you find that something is false, it doesn’t hit you as hard.” She learned her Stoic lessons well!

While Winston lost his individuality and submitted to the collective, in Anthem, Equality 7-2521 and the woman he loves, connect to the word “I” and become individuals. They name themselves Prometheus and Gaea. In Greek mythology, Prometheus steals fire from the gods to give to man, and Gaea is a goddess known as the mother of life. Although Ayn Rand was an atheist, there are spiritual elements that can be found throughout the book. 

The Man in the High Castle  has several examples of inner-growth. Rudolph Wegener, who goes by the name of Banes, is a Nazi secret agent. He questions the party’s imperialistic approach. In the following quote, he introspects after Lotze, a Jewish man, comments how a baseball stadium appears to be designed by a Jew:

Juliana Crain finds the mysterious author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Abendsen. She consults the Oracle (I Ching), and the words inner truth come to her. She interprets it to mean that the Germans had lost the war. Her revelation angers Abendsen, who refers to her as a little chthonic spirit (underworld spirits of ancient mythology). Towards the beginning of the book, we get a glimpse into Juliana’s Inner Truth through another character (Robert Childan) who muses over understanding the Tao:

In Fahrenheit 451, Granger  reveals to Montag that humankind is a phoenix that rises out of the ashes and is born anew.  I asked my youngest daughter to break down what she’d learned from the book. “What we see is not what it has to be, and we can change reality.” That hit me because it demonstrates how we create the reality we live in, and it’s up to us whether it’s an evolution or devolution of consciousness. 

INNER TRUTH AND VISIONARY FICTION

 To pass the visionary fiction test, we need to ask whether the dystopian books mentioned in this article can lead to the evolution of human consciousness. I believe I made the argument that they do, but there’s a caveat with this assertion. In 1984 and Brave New World, the protagonists tragically regress in their journeys. However, Orwell and Huxley both used visionary elements that awaken us to potential dangers that can be inflicted on us by despots and governments. The Man in the High Castle, Anthem and Fahrenheit 451 all have characters that evolve during their journeys. We feel the horror as they face their dark challenges. In the end, we feel a spark of hope as they leave their caves and see the light. The growth of these characters shows us that the evolution of consciousness happens individually. When it’s forced, destruction follows, as John the Savage discovers when the Deltas turn against him. Visionary fiction also affects people individually. Did you have any inner truths revealed while reading these stories? Are any or all of these books visionary fiction? I leave it up to you,  the readers, to decide. 

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13 thoughts on “Finding Light Through Darkness in Dystopian Fiction – Part Two

  1. Robin Gregory says:

    Terrific article, Eleni! It is clear that levels of conformity conjure an illusive sense of security and power. How fortunate that your daughters have been raised to check in with reason before believing what they hear or read. And, how sad that our leaders (so-called public servants) can’t be trusted. Accordingly, if we look at what is happening in the world right now, and respond by aligning ourselves with culture, science or politics, we might as well withdraw to a cave… the cave of inner knowing. It seems that the external world to some degree will always appear inharmonious and broken. I love Jung’s quote: “Every step forward means tearing oneself loose from the maternal womb of unconsciousness in which the mass of men dwells.” So, what can one do? You said it: Transformation is an inside job. Thank you.

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  2. Eleni Papanou says:

    “It is clear that levels of conformity conjure an illusive sense of security and power.”

    Love that. It is illusive. I raised my daughters with critical thinking lessons because I knew they wouldn’t get them in school. That’s the tragedy of our school system because kids are capable of so much more than what they’re taught.

    Admittedly, I get the feeling of withdrawing, at times. The atmosphere is full of projections of shadows. I find solace in philosophy and am fortunate to have people in my life with whom I can speak openly. I think more of us are transforming from within, and there may just be enough of us dispel the shadows.

    Thanks so much for your comment!

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  3. Margaret Duarte says:

    You conclude: “Did you have any inner truths revealed while reading these stories? Are any or all of these books visionary fiction? I leave it up to you, the readers, to decide.” Yes, Eleni, after all your research, questions, and possible answers, it’s up to individual readers to decide. “How do we know what we know? Are we certain of it?”

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    • Eleni Papanou says:

      Yes, exactly! We all have our own interpretations when we read these stories. I would love to hear positive experiences about Brave New World and 1984. So far, I have only seen reactionary comments to world events. But, what I’d like to know is what’s going on inside, before the reaction?

      Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Saleena Karim says:

    Thanks for this profound review, Eleni. As someone who has long been interested in the question of whether dystopian fiction can also fall under VF, this mini-series was a fascinating read. Of course all genres can possess VF elements and you demonstrate this ably. I’m in agreement with your conclusions – and your daughters offered some compelling insights.

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    • Eleni Papanou says:

      My daughters were a key factor at linking to the visionary aspects to these stories because they just read the books this year. The timeliness helped because the stories were still on their minds.

      Thanks for your comment!

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  5. rea nolan martin says:

    There are so many planes of shadow and light, and, I believe, planes of all shadow and planes of all light. Where does one fix one’s attention in a brief lifetime? Where does one concentrate one’s consciousness or seek growth? I believe, as writers of VF, we affix it wherever we are most drawn. Everyone’s focus will be different. We learn from each other as we tend different gardens on different planes. No need to settle one one, as the food from each is vital to the growth of the awareness of all. We can discover so much more together than we can alone. I love this examination of shadow, Eleni! Thanks for an eloquent examination of its worth across all planes.

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    • Eleni Papanou says:

      I actually had a change of mind about 1984 after writing this article. My meditations after revisiting the book led me to confront my shadow, which revealed a fear to me about losing my personal autonomy. Freedom of mind is something we all find important, but I especially love thinking divergently. Through all that’s been going on, it feels as if there’s a suppression of that particular thought construct. It took me several days to understand the depths of my fear, and I was able to confront it. So, I can now say that some dark dystopian books, such as 1984, can lead to an expansion in consciousness, at least from my experience. What I learned is that confronting–not intellectualizing–the dark aspects of human nature is also a way to evolve. I do that with my writing, but not as intensely as Orwell did! Is it possible that we need to dig deep into the darkness in order to defeat it and stop the atrocities that happen in the world? That’s something I’m pondering over now.

      Thanks for commenting!

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    • Victor Smith says:

      Great question, Rea: “Where does one fix one’s attention in a brief lifetime? Where does one concentrate one’s consciousness or seek growth?” As one who has gone through 7 decades plus as a professed generalist, I often have to ask: what did I miss? Excellent meditation stuff as is much of what Eleni writes about here.

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  6. Gerald R Stanek says:

    Thank you, Eleni, for this insightful article. It was wonderful to be reminded of these classics, each in their own way weighing the value of the individual against the value of the collective. Perhaps future VF authors will find a way to embrace the paradox that we are both individual and inseparable, that each of us is the collective.

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    • Eleni Papanou says:

      The dichotomy of self as a unique individual and as a spiritual being as part of a collective is challenging to write about. I love using a dystopian setting to play out both of these aspects. Unison was the most complex book I had ever written. The sequel I’m currently working on is as complex, but I absolutely love this aspect of visionary fiction, so it’s worth every ounce of effort. Although, it’s a strange time in history to be writing about dystopias!

      Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Victor Smith says:

    Wonderful series, Eleni, and a commendable lot of thought and work on your part, It will remain a part of the VF library of open questions for discussion. I’ll leave it at that for now, other than to say I would love to be a fly on the wall at your dinner table and able to hear your discussions with your daughters. It gives me hope that there will be some people capable of handling the future after the “fallout.”

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