Character and Dystopia : The Last Men book cover
1st Edition

Character and Dystopia
The Last Men

ISBN 9780367543310
Published May 6, 2022 by Routledge
286 Pages

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Book Description

This is the first extended study to specifically focus on character in dystopia. Through the lens of the "last man" figure, Character and Dystopia: The Last Men examines character development in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Nathanael West’s A Cool Million, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years, and Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male, showing how in the 20th and 21st centuries dystopian nostalgia shades into reactionary humanism, a last stand mounted in defense of forms of subjectivity no longer supported by modernity. Unlike most work on dystopia that emphasizes dystopia’s politics, this book’s approach grows out of questions of poetics: What are the formal structures by which dystopian character is constructed? How do dystopian characters operate differently than other characters, within texts and upon the reader? What is the relation between this character and other forms of literary character, such as are found in romantic and modernist texts? By reading character as crucial to the dystopian project, the book makes a case for dystopia as a sensitive register of modern anxieties about subjectivity and its portrayal in literary works.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Last Men in Europe

2 The Character of Dystopia

The Language of Despair

Realist Dystopia

Setting and Character

Setting as Character

3 What We Talk About When We Talk About Dystopia

The Good Place

Anti-utopianism and Anti-utopias

Dystopian Narrative

Dystopian Law


Future (Im)Perfect

Section II De-forming Character

4 The Last (Hu)Man(ist)

Humanism in Crisis

Utopian and Dystopian Humanism and Anti-humanism

Dystopianism, Naturalism, and Modernism

Defensive Forms: Humanism, Anti-humanism, and the Dystopian Novel

Dystopian Humanism

Dystopian Anti-humanism

5 Anti-Bildungsroman: Dystopia and the End of Character in Zamyatin, Burgess, and Ishiguro

The Novel of De-formation

Allegories of Progress

Divine Minus: Zamyatin’s Reverse Bildungsroman

The Predator’s Progress: Burgess’s Satiric Bildungsroman

Crimes Against Posthumanity: Ishiguro’s Bildungsroman Incarnate

6 Paranoid Plots: Dystopia and the Fantasy of Centrality in Dostoevsky and Orwell

Romantic Paranoia

Paranoid Poetics

"Streets that follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent"

Diseased Romanticism: Dostoevsky’s Psychological Dystopia

He Loved Big Brother: Orwell and the Fantasy of Persecution

Section III Dystopian Variations

7 American Anti-pastoral: Running Down a Dream in West and Mamet

Dystopian Design

What Happens to a Dream Deformed?

West’s World: Dystopian Picaresque in West’s A Cool Million

Utopian Plots: Dystopian Capitalism in Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross

8 Romancing the Child: First Teens in Lowry’s The Giver and Butler’s Parable of the Sower

First Teens

New Worlds for Old Desires

A Family Affair: Romantic Humanism in Lowry’s The Giver

On the Road Again: Anti-romantic Anti-humanism in Butler’s Earthseed

9 Epilogue: The Dystopian Real

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Aaron Rosenfeld holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from New York University and is Associate Professor of English at Iona College, teaching classes in 20th-century literature.