TO BE HUMAN: COMPARISON OF DYSTOPIAN EXPRESSIONS IN MODERN EASTERN AND WESTERN LITERATURES BASED ON ECONOMIC GROWTH

Open Access
Author:
Jeon, Roland
Area of Honors:
Interdisciplinary in Comparative Literature and Finance
Degree:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Charlotte Diane Eubanks, Thesis Supervisor
  • Sydney Sue Aboul Hosn, Honors Advisor
  • James Alan Miles, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • growth
  • economic
  • dystopia
  • utopia
Abstract:
Over time, humans have envisioned the perfect civilization built on the best of all things. Beginning with the early utopian society mentioned in Republic by Plato (427 BC – 347 BC), to one based on science and Christian philosophies as described in Christianopolis by Johannes Valentinus Andreae (1586 – 1654), and to a pagan utopia founded on reason and philosophy by Sir Thomas More (1478 – 1535), utopia is based on varying principles of idealism, but idealism nonetheless. In the modern century – specifically twentieth century after World War II – rapid advancement of science and technology also brought forth the idea of progress. With groundbreaking discoveries and inventions bringing significant improvements to the way people live, utopia could finally overcome the age-old restriction that limited its potential: scarcity. After the war, the impact of multiple industrial revolutions echoed throughout the world. Wealth and technology that accumulated in the relatively intact Western economies found their ways into war-ravaged countries in forms of foreign aids and direct investments. Production of goods and services grew exponentially as workers and machines became more efficient. Industries demanded more and more laborers, and cities expanded at great speed to accommodate the exploding population. Hungry investors poured money into newly established stock exchanges and industrializing nations around the world had all the access to global capital they wanted. Profit surged in many thriving economies, and everyone had more money than before. Twentieth century seemed like a great step forward for humanity, with economic utopia now within reach for all. However, people began to notice that the consequences of unfettered economic growth reached far beyond raising living standards. As these consequences began to appear in tangible forms – i.e. the violent labor movements – society itself began to shift away from uncritically lauding the ideal world that utopians thought that science, technology, and wealth would bring. Industrialization had led to modernization that adapted societies and civilizations to artificial features instead of humanity. Although modernizing societies initially appeared to be headed in the right direction of progress, there were qualities that were not part of what utopian promised, and people suspected that perhaps economic gains should not be a part of utopia after all. Thus came modern dystopia – a sect of anti-utopia that formally reversed the ideals of utopia. For most nineteenth century intellectuals, utopia was the inevitable future. They saw it as the development being prepared by all the most powerful and progressive movements of modernism: democracy and science. To dystopians, those forces were instead feeding depravity and misery. The impact of the new developments was already evident in their own times and societies. Literature became one of the primary grounds on which, and tools through which, to examine the budding sense of dystopia: a vision of society overrun by oppression, brought on by the ‘evils’ of modern economic growth. Reflecting the birth of technological utopia in Europe – the frontier of scientific progress in the nineteenth century – dystopian thought appeared first and developed most rapidly in the sophisticated nations of Western Europe, and later in America as the United States surpassed rest of the world in economic power. Further into the twentieth century, newly industrializing nations that mirrored the Western development showed similar social and economic patterns. At first, they embraced and exploited technology for all the riches it could bring, and then realized that without proper reform, technology was simply a modern gateway to human suffering. Like globalized industrialization and modernization, dystopia was no longer limited to the West. Adapted and nuanced by their own background, dystopian literatures of the world share similar themes of dissatisfaction with modernization, but still stand apart through culturally unique characters, plots, and settings. This thesis compares the differences and similarities between modern cross-cultural literatures with concentration on dystopian expressions based on economic growth. The works are drawn from both sides of the Eastern and Western cultures, specifically from South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. Utopia carried humanity’s potential for a better future until the Soviet Union’s experiment with socialism proved disastrous and the world saw man’s capacity for violence and destruction in two world wars. The pieces of utopia that survived early twentieth century were invested in science and technology in hopes that without the human element, they could finally achieve favorable results. However, the society’s economic growth, according to some, another failure for also causing degradation of humanity. The repeated disillusionment with the idea of ‘perfect world’ led to rise of dystopia that now threatens utopia’s survival as a social construct. Whether one will win over the other cannot be decided in the near future, but as sociologist and utopian Karl Mannheim (1893 – 1947) wrote, “the elimination of the reality-transcending power of utopia would mean the decay of human will… with the relinquishment of utopias, man would lose his will to shape history and therewith his ability to understand it.”