Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gail Ivy Berlin, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Susan I. Gatti, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Christopher Orchard, Ph. D.


In selected twentieth and twenty-first century Anglo-American literary representations of dystopia, writers argue that language serves two fundamental purposes: first, to reveal restrictive structures of thought created by and essentially serving the interests of hegemonic forces seeking control of the citizenry; second, to show the ways in which protagonists undermine those power structures by building and owning their own language and belief systems. The political consequence, I contend, is exposing the discursive impasses created by hegemonic language and, ultimately, inventing dramatic new ways of engaging in constructive dialogue. The introduction outlines the tangled relationships between the concepts of utopia and dystopia. Adapting Greimas’ semiotic rectangle offers a new way of depicting these relationships and suggests that dystopias offer a solution to political impasses rooted in hegemonic systems of thought. Though literary critics have labeled language a defining characteristic of dystopian fiction, none has closely analyzed the specific ways in which political language and discursive processes operate within societies. Early in this study, I look closely at Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” where the writer warns of the dangers of hollow languages and ready-made phrases and proverbs. Nineteen Eighty-Four, Riddley Walker, the film V for Vendetta and The Handmaid’s Tale provide striking examples of the controlling power of language and attempts by the oppressed to speak back to the hegemonies suppressing thought and self expression. I then examine the value of place-based knowledge as well as location-specific belief systems as requisites for survival and sanity. In such texts as The Mars Trilogy, Parable of the Sower, the Year of the Flood, Woman on the Edge of Time and “The Birds,” writers of dystopias provide evidence for the necessity of reading and reconfiguring human expression. Lakoff’s work on metaphor and political dialogue helps to unpack both dystopian texts and current contemporary situations that highlight the importance of reaching compromises. In sum, these writers demonstrate that new strategies can be applied not only to a dysfunctional landscape but also to addressing impasses in today’s broken political discourse.