Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Utopian Fiction

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English Literature

Utopian fiction features idealistic places where everything from politics to the laws and societal customs are practically perfect, creating complete harmony.

A relatively new genre, it is closely linked to the even newer genre of dystopian fiction, which portrays the more pessimistic versions of our potential futures.

Utopian Fiction Definition

Utopias as mythical places of the past have existed in many different cultures for centuries. From The Greek Golden Age to the German Schlaraffenland, the concept of an ideal, harmonious society is not new. The difference between utopian fiction and utopian myths tends to be that the fiction takes place in an alternative present or the future.

The Greek Golden Age or, more specifically, the golden age of Athenian culture dates back to 449 to 431 B.C. It was a time of relative peace between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars.

Schlaraffenland is the German equivalent of Cockaigne or the Land of Milk and Honey. These are all places of legend, where pleasures are plentiful and the harsh realities of medieval life do not exist.

The word utopia comes from ancient Greek and can be translated literally as ‘no place’ or less literally as ‘nowhere’. The Greek for 'good place’ is pronounced almost the same way in English. This pun or play on meaning and words inspired Sir Thomas More, who wrote the first novel of this genre, Utopia, in 1516. At the core of utopian fiction are the questions 'Is nowhere a good place?' and 'Is the ideal society possible?'

Lyman Tower Sargent, a renowned utopian fiction academic, highlighted potential utopian paradoxes, too. Oscar Wilde had a different view on utopias, believing them to drive progress and always provide something new for humanity to aim for.

There are socialist, capitalist, monarchical, democratic, anarchist, ecological, feminist, patriarchal, egalitarian, hierarchical, racist, left-wing, right-wing, reformist, Naturism / Nude Christians, free love, nuclear family, extended family, gay, lesbian, and many more utopias [...] Utopianism, some argue, is essential for the improvement of the human condition. But if used wrongly, it becomes dangerous. Utopia has an inherent contradictory nature here. - Lyman Tower Sargent 1

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country in which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias. – Oscar Wilde 2

Whatever the answers to these questions or paradoxes might be, you will find that utopian fiction tends to feature highly detailed imaginary worlds set in a certain time and place, often with an underlying message to share.

Utopian Fiction Characteristics

Although there are differences of opinion on the possibility of actual utopias and a wide range of fictional utopias depicted, some common threads do run through many works. These include:

  • Freedom of information is allowed, with censorship and propaganda not featuring at all.
  • Creativity, independent thought, and personal freedom are actively promoted.
  • A benevolent figurehead or concept unites the citizens without limiting their individuality.
  • The population does not live in fear.
  • Technology is used to benefit citizens rather than to control them.
  • The existence of a harmonious society is featured.
  • The natural world is respected.
  • Innovation and evolution are encouraged.

Utopian Fiction Examples

There is a wide range of novels in utopian fiction, as this is a broad and not very well-defined genre. Works may include utopian science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, adventure, or fantasy. Let's look at the first utopian fiction novel in more detail to better understand the genre's development up to where it is today.

Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More is considered the original utopian fiction novel. It depicts a largely peaceful and prosperous society based on an island off South America.

Utopian fiction, Utopian fiction examples, Studysmarter

Utopian island. Unsplash

Context

As a statesman, lawyer, writer, and one time Lord Chancellor of England, it is unclear whether More intended Utopia to be a satire or the genuine projection of an ideal society. Or perhaps both.

Satire is a form of humour that uses irony and exaggeration to highlight or ridicule politics or society.

Lord Chancellor is one of the oldest roles in England, dating back to about 1066. As a high ranking member of Cabinent, the Lord Chancellor is responsible for the running of the courts.

Many scholars regard his Utopia as a work of pro-Socialist idealism, but many others regard it as a satirical critique of Socialism. Still others view it as a satirical criticism of the existing politics and society that he lived in. It is known that More published many other texts both critiquing and promoting Socialism. It has been suggested that he was perhaps highlighting the difference between the idea and the practice of political and social theories.

Outside of these apparent contradictions, in his time as Lord Chancellor, More was also a persecutor of Protestants, so the religious tolerance of his utopian society is also in contrast to his known reality. Additionally, as a powerful lawyer himself, he magnanimously created a utopia where no lawyers were necessary in his fiction.

There are many different readings of More's work and many unanswered questions, so it is worth exploring a few different perspectives to get a well-rounded understanding of this original utopian text.

Themes

In line with current utopian fiction norms, More goes into great detail in Utopia, creating a unique society. Many of his ideas were revolutionary in his time, especially considering his prominent political role. Some of the most discussed, factual elements of his novel include:

Law

There are no lawyers at all in Utopia. The law has been made extremely simple so that anyone can easily understand what is lawful or unlawful.

Politics and economics

There is also no private land ownership in More’s Utopia. Houses are rotated between citizens and no one locks their doors. Goods are stored in warehouses and distributed on request. Gold and silver are used solely for chamber pots, chains for slaves, and potentially bribing other countries. In addition, More's Utopia has a limit on permitted work hours, free hospitals, and euthanasia is legal.

Religion

All religions are tolerated and there are many religions practiced in Utopia. The only stance that is disapproved of but tolerated is atheism. Priests can marry and widows can become female priests. Divorce is permitted. In contrast, there are severe punishments for pre-marital sex, and women are required to confess their sins to their husbands once a month.

War

War is condemned and viewed as something to be avoided at all costs. Enemies are captured and turned into slaves rather than killed.

Would you like to live in More's Utopia today? Which parts would you choose or not choose?

Utopian Science Fiction

Closely linked to utopian fiction is utopian science fiction. While utopian fiction deals in a general way with utopias, utopian science fiction usually focuses on ideals of science and technology.

The definitions of what constitutes science fiction are more blurred than those of utopian fiction, but many novels and series have been clearly classified as utopian science fiction. These works tend to feature ideal societies, are often set in the future, and usually depict harmonious, prosperous societies with highly advanced technologies.

Science fiction is a subgenera of speculative fiction that depicts often futuristic societies and technologies that don't exist in the real world.

Utopian Science Fiction Books

Many utopian science fiction novels are pure utopias, but some are utopias within dystopias. The interplay between dystopias and utopias in science fiction can get a little complex.

Pioneering examples of utopian science fiction include some of HG Well's works such as Men Like Gods (1923).

A few more recent pure utopian science fiction books or series include The Culture Series (1987-2012) by Ian M. Banks and the Commonwealth Saga (2004 - 2010) by Peter F. Hamilton. These series both depict largely peaceful human and humanoid societies that have achieved near immortality, post-scarcity economies and highly advanced technologies used for the betterment of their citizens.

Some science fiction novels that feature utopias within dystopias are Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower (1993). In this dystopian post-apocalyptic novel the protagonist, Lauren invents her own utopian religion, Earthseed.

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) has also been portrayed as a dystopia with utopian elements. The people in Brave New World are happy and prosperous, but the way that this is achieved is generally what classifies it as a dystopia.

Utopian Fiction - Key Takeaways

  • Utopian fiction is generally accepted as starting with Sir Thomas More's novel Utopia in 1516.
  • The mythical history of utopias is much older than this and is a multi-cultural phenomenon. With a history that stretches back to the Greek Golden Age and the German Schlaraffenland, utopian myths differ from utopian fiction in that they generally existed in the distant past.
  • The word 'utopia' comes from the ancient Greek and can be translated as 'no place' or 'nowhere'. The Greek for 'good place' is almost identical. This paradox or pun is at the heart of utopian fiction.
  • Typical characteristics include freedom of information, independent thought, technology being used to benefit citizens, and harmonious and prosperous societies that do not live in fear or engage in war.
  • Utopian science fiction and fiction generally depict highly detailed imaginary worlds that are ideal in terms of politics, economics, use of technology, and peaceful societies.

1. Sargent, Lyman Tower, Utopianism: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press, 2010.

2. Oscar Wilde, Concept of Utopia, Man's soul under Socialism, Fortnightly Review, 1891.

Utopian Fiction

Utopian fiction features idealistic locations where everything from politics to the laws and societal customs are perfect, resulting in complete harmony.


Utopian fiction is closely linked to dystopian fiction, which portrays the more pessimistic versions of our potential futures.

Utopian fiction depicts harmonious, near perfect societies.

There are many examples but Sir Thomas More, wrote the first novel of this genre, Utopia in 1516.

Utopian fiction is more idealistic and portrays peaceful or harmonious societies.


Dystopian fiction is more pessimistic and depicts societies were the worst elements of the present are taken to greater extremes.

This depends on the author and the work but generally utopian fiction tries to create ideal societies that humanity can learn form.

Final Utopian Fiction Quiz

Question

What is the first utopian fiction book written?

Show answer

Answer

Sir Thomas More, who wrote the first novel of this genre, Utopia in 1516.

Show question

Question

What are some mythical utopias from the past?

Show answer

Answer

The Greek Golden Age

Show question

Question

What is the opposite or antonym of utopian fiction?

Show answer

Answer

Dystopian fiction.

Show question

Question

What other profession did the author Sir Thomas More have?

Show answer

Answer

Lawyer

Show question

Question

What are some common utopian characteristics?

Show answer

Answer

Freedom of information.

Show question

Question

Which of these authors is considered to have written some utopian science fiction novels?

Show answer

Answer

HG Wells

Show question

Question

Which novel is considered an early example of utopian science fiction?

Show answer

Answer

HG Wells's Men Like Gods (1923).

Show question

Question

What does Utopia translate into in English?

Show answer

Answer

No place

Show question

Question

What are some modern utopian science fiction series?

Show answer

Answer

The Culture Series (1987-2012) by Ian M Banks and the Commonwealth Saga (2004 - 2010) by Peter F Hamilton.

Show question

Question

What types of societies exist in The Culture Series (1987-2012) by Ian M Banks and the Commonwealth Saga (2004 - 2010) by Peter F Hamilton?

Show answer

Answer

Largely peaceful

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Utopian Fiction quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.