Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it ~ Albert Camus
There is something amazing about the protagonists in dystopian fiction. They are ever the optimist and quintessential leader. Though they often wouldn’t have chosen the role outright, they nonetheless rise to the occasion.
All this happens regardless of the cause of the dystopia. Be it oppressive governments, the world of technology replacing the essence of humanity, or zombie hordes spreading pestilence, the heroic lives these characters are thrust into are inspiring.
They possess the characteristics possessed by the greatest leaders. They have vision, they have charisma, they overcome fear, they feel anger and sadness, they demonstrate gratitude, they recognize the power of one person trying to make a difference, they are confident…OK, the picture is clear. They are who we all want to follow when our best friend lets loose a guttural sound that roughly translates as, “we look and smell delicious.” We aspire to have their strength when facing our more mundane adversities.
So what lessons are there to be learned from these characters? The first is to know the what and why of our wants. The other Ws and How are less important. Next is to be fearless, and if not that, then to act as if we are – take risks. And last is to adapt, not give up.
But on that, they almost always get to a point in the story when they do don’t they? It seems like the can’t or won’t go on or find a reason to take another step. Then what happens is along comes some wise being or pivotal happenstance that jars them back onto the path toward their vision. From there on it is inevitable that it will work out in the end and the story becomes one of discovering the how, where, and when.
The reader allows this one period of questioning, of doubt, of giving up. More than one though and it becomes harder to relate. Maybe a second period of doubt if there was a well crafted twist but each additional moment thinking it will never work out makes the person less relatable, less the hero, less the leader we want to follow.
So what is the greatest attribute of the dystopian protagonist? Hope. They instill hope. They allow us to feel like no matter how bad things get – recessions, earthquakes, bombings, genocide, war, oppression, loss of privacy, and whatever a person believes is the worst possible scenario (non-dead, acid and fire breathing, giant beetle-dragons, with poor grammar skills and a penchant for being dramatic taking over my spare bedroom) – we will make it through. We can curl up with a dystopian novel and be comforted and inspired. We start to think, maybe I can be my own hero and wield a sword of hope in the face of everything I fear.