What does this passage remind you of?  Why?

These are some definitions of DYSTOPIA, which one do you prefer? Why? 

Is there one that fits the extract below better than another? 

After reading the short passage, can you come up with your definition of dystopia in Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things?  Do you think it presents dystopic qualities or not?  What do the words chosen by the writer make you feel like?

A negative utopia: a place where instead of all being well, all is not well. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 are the best-known fictional examples.

An imaginary society in which social or technological trends have culminated in a greatly diminished quality of life or degradation of values.

A dystopia (alternatively anti-utopia) is a fictional society that is the antithesis of utopia. It is usually characterized by an oppressive social control, such as an authoritarian or totalitarian government. In other words, a Dystopia has the opposite of what one would expect in a Utopian society.  Some academic circles distinguish between anti-utopia and dystopia. As in George Orwell’s 1984,and Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s "We", a dystopia does not pretend to be good, while an anti-utopia appears to be utopian or was intended to be so (e.g. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or Andrew Ryan’s Rapture in BioShock), but a fatal flaw or other factor has destroyed or twisted the intended utopian world or concept.


Excerpt taken from Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things, Faber and Faber, 1987, page85-86 

In spite of what you would suppose, the facts are not reversible.  Just because you are able to get in, that does not mean you will be able to get out.  Entrances do not become exits, and there is nothing to guarantee that the door you walked through a moment ago will still be there when you turn around to look for it again.  That is how it works in the city.  Every time you think you know the answer to a question, you discover that the question makes no sense.  I spent several weeks trying to escape.  At first, there seemed to be any number of possibilities, a whole range of methods for getting myself back home, and given the fact taht I had some money to work with, I did not think it would be very hard.  That was wrong, of course, but it took me a while before I was willing to admit it.  I had arrived in a foreign charity ship, and it seemed logival to assume that I could return in one.  I therefore made my way down to the docks, fully prepared to bribe whatever official I had to in order to book passage.  No ships were in sight, however, and even the little fishing boats I had seen there a month before were gone.  Instead, the whole waterfront was thronged with workers – hundreds and hundreds of them, it seemed to me, more men than I was able to count.  Some were unloading rubble from trucks, otherws were carrying bricks and stones to the edge of the water, still others were laying the foundations for what looked like an immense sea wall or fortification.  Armed police guards stood on platforms surveying the workers, and the place swarmed with din and confusion – the rumbling of engines, poeple running back and forth, the voices of crew chiefs shouting orders.  It turned out that this was the Sea Wall Project, a public works enterprise that had recently been started by the new government.  Governments come and go quite rapidly here, and it is often difficult to keep up with the changes.  This was the first I had heard of the current takeover, and when I asked someone ther purpose of the sea wall, he told me it was to guard against the possibility of war.  The threat fo foreign invasion was mounting, he said, and it was our duty as citizens to protec our homeland.  Thansk to the efforts of the great So-and-So – whatever the name of the new leader was – the materials from collapsed buildings were now bieng collected for defense, and the project would give work to thousands of people.  What kind of pay were they offering?  I asked.  No money, he said, but a place to lvie and one warm meal a day.  Was I interested in signing up? No thanks, I said, I have other things to do.  Well, he said, there would be plenty of time for me to change my mind.  The government was estimating that it would take at least fifty years to finish the wall.  Good for them, I said, but in the meantime how does one get out of here? Oh no, he said, shaking his head, that’s impossible.  Ships aren’t allowed to come in anymore – and if nothing comes in, nothing can go out.  What about an airplane? I said.  What’s an airplane? he asked, smiling at me in a puzzled sort of way, as though I had just told a joke he didn’t understand.  An airplace, I said.  A machine taht flies through the air and carries people from one palce to another.  That’s ridiculous, he said, giving me a suspicious kind of look.  There’s no such thing.  It’s impossible. Don’t you remember? I asked.  I don’t know what you’re talking about, he said. You could get into trouble for spreading that kind of nonsense.  The government doesn’t like it when people make up stories.  It’s bad for morale.

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47 risposte a Dystopia?

  1. anonimo scrive:

    I’ve just read the passage, unfortunately I cannot associate it at anyone storic event because I have only few memoris about the historic period that goes from 1900 to 2000 because I don’t study it since elementary schools!

    About dystopia I don’t like any of this definition because all of them implies that men are men and in a dystopian society man are machine, robots, computers, because they cannot think!

    The only definition that fits the extract is the third because the first implies that the “place” is apparenty well, and in the extract the “place” is not well and not bad (because people acannot think); the second contains the world “diminished” so is not good because people inside cannot think; the third fits because introduces the world “oppressive social control” that is the dystopia of the extract (there is the police that supervise the men at work).

    Paul Auster maybe think that dystopia is a “thing” or a kind of society or something else where when you enter you cannot exit and when your mind is sucked by the power so you begin a grey people, part of the mass! This could be another definition of dystopia worst that the ones at the begin of the article! Looking at the language we can see the fear of the protagonist beusa description are not detailed so the narration goes fast, the terms are simply, the same term that a scared person could use!


  2. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Lorenzo,

    I appreciate the fact that you read the definitions of dystopia very carefully and you chose with insight the one that suits the extract best. However, there is something I would love to invite you to consider. You say that in a dystopian novel men are robots, computers, because they cannot think. Well, I do not quite agree with this view. First of all because this view does not take into consideration the process of alienation that the writer genrally traces in a dystopic novel. Characters are not born incapable of thinking or feeling, they are turned into “alienated” beings by the totalitarian regime/society they live in. Secondly your view does not take into considaration that in a dystopic novel there is always a character (in “1984”, as in the excerpt you read by Auster) that tries to escape, to survive, to go against the system to preserve the human and humane qualities that for whatever reason have escaped the smothering annihilation activated by the System (to be read as the Government). There is then the element of langauge that you do not seem to analyse with due insight. Hope some of your classmates will do that. Just a hint: language in a dystopic novel conceals manifold meanings. The author, for example, refers to the building of the wall to criticise something about our society. Perhaps the wall between Israel and Palestine, the wall between Mexico and the United States, and other invisible walls. Who wants these walls? Who constructed them and why? Why are they legitimated by other countries? How is it possible that in certain parts of the world walls are pulled down (Berlin Wall) and in other parts they are raised? By posing these questions I am not at all claiming that I have an answer, I am only trying to point out that a dystopic novel has the objective of making the reader question certain things, of deconstructing what is taken for granted.

  3. anonimo scrive:

    Already from the first superficial reading, the third definition seems to be the best, as the clearest and the most complete out of the three. But, in my opinion, the first, with its exaggerated way to be sinthetic, manages to spot the principle point of Dystopia: inside a dystopian world either Hope or Happiness cannot exist. Everything is upside down, everyone is strictly controlled. There is nothing that could ever help people to express their mind as that it’s the first forbiddance in such a fictional world.

    “Dystopia has the opposite of what one would expect in a Utopian society.” The definition of Dystopia could be summarised just in this sentence, because all the rest then goes without saying. The means by which the inhabitants of that world are oppressed could be different and various, as everything you may think in a positive way, there it is simply thought in a deep negative way.

    In fact reading this extract you start feeling anxious from the beginning, when the protagonist says that being able to get in doesn’t mean to be able to get out: and that is very important in a dystopian society,because, since you were a child, you are forced into this endless chain that never makes sense, but from which you can’t escape.

    As concerning dystopia definition taken by Paul Auster text, it is perfectly presented in this methaphorical way: “Ships aren’t allowed to come in anymore – and if nothing comes in, nothing can go out.” In a dystopian novel there is no inside or outside, the System(or the Government) is the only thing that counts. And when someone try to call into question something that belongs to the reality the System has created, all the other well-indoctrinated people can’t even imagine something that goes beyond it. Moreover they advice this “inconsiderate man” not getting into trouble while spreading “nonsense” against the Government.

    I think an author of dystopian novels always wishes the world he had described was just fictional and that none of his characteristics couldn’t be found in real life. Unfortunately sometimes that’s not true! you take the example of the wall between Israel and Palestine, which is a thing that cannot be explained and shouldn’t exist in 2008!(actually it should never exist)…but maybe there are even worse walls around the world that people can’t or doesn’t want to overtake: for istance xenofobia and racism, which are huge walls that unfairly divide peoples; or ideological and political thinking; or some prejudices that may move away a person from another. There are lots of those invisible and psychological walls which are raised between people or territories. Maybe reading a dystopian novel and feeling caught into that terrible condition can make the reader more aware of the existence of those walls that have to be taken down for the sake of humanity.

  4. anonimo scrive:


    I think that the better definition of dystopian society is: “a place where all is not well”. Where everything is controlled by someone and you cannot decide anything. You can only obey to rules and be oppressed. If you believed is something that is not the government, you would make a mistake. If do you think that you can came back from where you are coming, you are a deceived man!

    Dystopia is control, laws, deprivation of any freedom, anxiety, difficulty; “entrances do not become exits, and there is nothing to guarantee that the door you walked through a moment ago will still be there when you turn around to look for it again”. That is dystopia!

  5. anonimo scrive:

    The extract recalls very closely the scenario of Orwell’s 1984: a world dominated by a totalitarian government, by an excessive social control, and by fear of a threatening external essence (which may be the war). The definition I prefer is “[Dystopia is]a fictional society that is the antithesis of utopia. It is usually characterized by an oppressive social control, such as an authoritarian or totalitarian government.”; it expresses well the concept of Dystopia, also in light of what is said in this short extract. The definition explains the idea that also the author –probably- has of Dystopia. “In the country of last things” is certainly a dystopian novel: it is the representation of a world dominated, controlled and conditioned in all aspects of life. The words used by Auster express a very strong sense of oppression, they describe a world where you can come in but you cannot get out. Someone decides and plans for us our future and our lives. A society without dialogue, without freedom to express ideas.

    Raggiotto Francesco

  6. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Simone,

    Thanks for your insight. To the “material” and appalling walls that we must witness nowadays, I would add the one between Mexico and the United States. The dystopian movie “The day after Tomorrow” seems to mock this wall, when American survivors climb over the long fence to seek refuge in Mexico. As to the extract and to the qualities it shares with other dystopian novels, I would love to add that in this fantastic novel (by the way, very shortly there will be a film based on it) there is utter desperation, there is a claustrophobic succession of difficulties characters must go through, yet, there is the regenerating power of love and friendship and finally the hope of a better place where characters can escape and start afresh, regardless of having been reduced to living dead creatures. As you saw in “1984”, in dystopian novels there is often a way out, regardless of how “tiny”, “invisible” or “dark” it may be.

    Pierluca, your reflections on the meaning of dystopia are fine, but you missed to link the definition to the excerpt you read.

    Francesco you certainly got to the point. Well done.

    If, one day, you happen to have some time (I know you are overwhelmed with things to do and study for school now!), do read “In the country of last things”. I loved it immensely, it is a page-turner, a fascinating novel.


    Your teacher of English.

  7. anonimo scrive:

    reading this passage I think about the society spoken in “1984” by Orwell.mankind is dominated by someone who decides for all the other.there is a sort of totalitarism but I don’t notice a leader.in both “1984” by Orwell and this passage taken from “In the country of last things”by Auster,I don’t know if a leader exist.it seems that this regim is inside human being,they totaly done their body and their soul to the government ideas.in either there is a man who isn’t already taken by the ideology.he tries to understand why this nightmare is become reality.he tries to go against the sistem but he finds only a wall in front of him.in “1984” the protagonist is really convinced that he will not be part of the sistem but at the end he is forced to yield.it seems that he is not aware,they take his mind and he isn’t in him anymore.reading the book and this passage I think also about a sort of alienation of men like Marx said about work for workers.I’m reading “Animal farm”.I’m only at the beginning but I noticed that pigs are the boss,the leader without a democratic decision,maybe they will create a regim and the other animals will revolt to this injustice.

    I choose the third definition because is the one that gives me the best meaning of dystopia.it gives also examples such as “characterized by an oppressive social control such as an authoritarian or totalitarian government”.it mentions Orwell’s book that is a perfect example of dystopia.

    all three belong very well with the passage maybe the best one is the second one.reading the passage “what about an airplane?…it’s bad for morale”,the sistem decided to eliminate things like an airplane that are part of modernity.

    in “The country of last things” dystopia is a passage from a reality to another.it is an unaware passage,the man finds itself in this new world were people is creating a see wall to protect theirself.he finds itself in a world that in his mind exist only years ago,not today.”the world GO BACK ROLLING”.

    in this passage there are lots of words or sentences that make the protagonist and me feel confused,discouraged,loss of hopes and surprised.

    1)”in spite of what you would suppose,the facts are reversible”

    2)”does not mean you will”

    3)”there is nothing to guarantee”

    1,2,3 suggest us to be careful

    2every time you think you know the answer to a question you discover that the question makes no sense”this makes me feel confused

    “but it took me a while before I was willing to admit it”this is link with the discovery of reality

    “it seemed to me more men than I was able to count”is a sort of surprise

    “is often difficult to keep up with the changes”is a loss of hopes

    1)”no money,he said,but a place to live and one warm meal a day”

    2)”and if nothing comes in,nothing can go out”

    1,2 from these answer is clear that people is subdued from government.

  8. anonimo scrive:

    This passage has a lot in common with Orwell’s novel “1984”. People can’t leave the country, they are controlled by the police and the government has people’s minds in its power: they cannot decide on their own what is morale. Only the government knows the truth. Of course there are also some differences, for example in “1984” the chief of the government is always the same, whereas here it changes very often.

    The definition of dystopia I prefer is the third one, which is exhaustive and includes the main points of the others: it says that a dystopia is a society usually controlled by a totalitarian government in an oppressive way. I think it also fits well the passage taken from Auster’s book, but if I had to add something, I would say that in a dystopic society people are brainwashed, they blindly obey the government. And it has dehumanazing effects. If I’m not wrong, then this passage can be considered dystopic, even because the writer conveys an idea of degradation through expressions like «a place to live and one warm meal a day» as salary for the workers, or just because there are people who can’t remember any longer what is an aeroplane; but the most meaningful to me is «Every time you think you know the answer to a question, you discover that the question makes no sense». It makes you feel lost, powerless.

    federica zille

  9. anonimo scrive:

    When i read this passage i immediatly remembered of “1984”, the book written by George Orwell. In the two different books happen the “same” things:in one hand,in 1984,there is the society submitted to the power of Big Brother,which spies upon everyone’s behavior,even their thoughts.It seems to be in a jail where you are controlled 24 hours to 24.In this totalitarian regime there are 4 Ministry,each of them is occupied in something.The Ministry of Love is the worst,it is a rehabilitation centre which uses tortures and brainwashing techniques in order to conform its prisoners into the thinking and beliefs of the party.In the other hand there is the book of Paul Auster “in the country of last things” where the resemblance with the other book is clear: here people are building a wall and the Government says that it is useful because it is used in order to protect the society from the enemy,but it’s a lie because there aren’t enemy.It’s a way to brainwash people and to mould them into the new society:the totalitarian regime.A wall which sorrounds the city in order to create a sort of world divided from the rest of humanity…

    I prefer the third definition of DYSTOPIA because it is linked to the two books:”a dystopia is a society usually characterized by an oppressive social control,such as an authoritarian or totalitarian governmnet”. I think dystopia is a negative word and represents a society where there isn’t freedom and where people are submitted to the power of government.The title of the book is linked to the word dystopia,i mean, “in the country of last things” is pessimistic,it underlines the fact that in this society you can’t waste your time because you had to do your last things before losing in all ways your freedom.Also the language is going to change and many words would be forgotten.Another link to the word is the passage:”just because you are able to get in,that doesn’t mean you will be able to get out”, it is relevant because it tells in advance that you are going in a sort of real cage,prison where everything will change and you will lost your freedom for ever….

    Santarossa Barbara

  10. anonimo scrive:

    This passage makes me immediately think to 1984, by George Orwell. The rapid succession of different governments reminds me of the different countries the Big Brother was in conflict with. Then, the building of a wall, that will take 50 years, and that does not seem to be so useful, and the workers who won’t get money but just a place to live and food. But mainly is the brainwash that the government does on the workers that reminds me of Orwell: a man can’t remember of airplanes, and it seems impossible that he forgot it, but this is the power of totalitarism. Exactly as in 1984, where people don’t remember anything of freedom, of England, of our lives.

    I prefer the purple definition: I think the lack of freedom is the element that mostly distinguishes a dystopia. The third one is the definition that points this out.

    I think both the second and the third definition can fit the extract. Maybe mainly the third one, because it underlines the totalitarian regime, that I see as one of the worst thing ever existed.

    I think the passage is a description of a distopian world. You can’t go away, and nobody can come in. You are not free to think freely: “The government doesn’t like it when people make up stories. It’s bad for morale.” Everybody has to think and to do what the government wants. These are all elements that in my opinion identify a dystopic society.

    The first part of the passage is quite anguishing: it destroys my certainties, it presents me a world where you can’t be sure of anything.

    Even the dialogue is anguishing, but in another way: reading the answers of the man, you think you are crazy because it seems everybody has another way of thinking. “What’s an airplane? he asked, smiling at me in a puzzled sort of way, as though I had just told a joke he didn’t understand.”

    Pietro Perin

  11. anonimo scrive:

    “A Dystopia has the opposite of what one would expect in a Utopian society”

    At first reading, I chose the third definition: it explains well how a dystopian society grows up, and that a dystopia is characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian government. However after I read the passage proposed, I realized that the first definition is the best: it’s concise, synthetic but it simplifies with clarify the term Dystopia – Negative Utopia. “A place where instead of all being well, all is not well”. An example of that is the text In the Country of Last Things of Paul Auster. Reading this except I fell worried and anxious. The words used expressed a sense of oppression: it’s like labyrinth where you enter but you don’t know if there is an exit. Here, you are able to get in, but it does not mean you will be able to get out. I must also underline another phrase taken from this passage: “What’s an airplane?… There’s no such thing. It’s impossible…You could get into trouble for spreading that kind of nonsense. The government doesn’t like it when people make up stories. It’s bad for morale.” So I agree with Simone’s quotation: in a dystopian world there is no inside or outside. Government controls you, he drives your thoughts or your hopes without any possibility to modify his decision. The system is your head, your eyes or your ears. He enters in your body: you are always controlled.

    We can do a parallelism with “1984” of Orwell, or also with “Animal farm” of the same author. In the first, there is the “Big Brother” who controlled all the society. There are two people –Winston and Julia – who want escape from this life; they thought they were not driven by the System. At the end, they were compelled to follow the “bipensiero”, the only acknowledged thought. In this Society, the texts which are not on the same wavelength as the ideas of the Socing, are written in a new way. We can read this passage in another way: the fact that the man doesn’t know what an airplane is, is due to the Government that doesn’t want this kind of progress.

    Monica Santi

  12. anonimo scrive:

    Guarino Ilaria

    This passage reminde me of the book by Orwell “1984”.In this passage I found the key theme of this book.Both in “1984” and in this extract taken by “in the country of last things” we can see the “system” that hang over the people and controll and manipulate their mind.Is a sort of authoritarian regime in which noone seems to rule.But we can percive a kind of “spirit” that is around and controll everithing.The purpose of the regime both in the book and in the passage is to eliminate common words to adopt less vocabulary different from the previous so that people cannot express their thought.there is fear and somehow “silence” in this kind of society.People prefer to hide their heads in the sand and no to face the reality.Seems that noone want to escape orm this situation and the people who still understand what is happening can t manage to escape.Because of this “oppression” the mind of the people became flat,empty and the way to come back to he country of last things seems to be disappeared.

    I personally prefer the third quotation because is te most complete and sum up clearely the meaning of what distophia is.

    I think that both the second and the third definition are suitable to the extract the we read.In spite of the briefely of the passage the degradation of value” and the “oppressive social controll” strikes immediately our attention

    Dystophia is for me an imaginary society in which the past seems to be forgotten.In this kind of society rule the regession in spite of the progress.

    This extract is the embleme of dystrophia.Paul Auster describes to us a reality where “all is not well”.When i first read this extract i felt a sens of anxiety.I wore the woman’s shoes and i felt like i wsa in a cage.The words chosen by Auster opened my eyes and makes me think about my reality.

  13. anonimo scrive:

    This passage taken from Paul Auster’s “In the country of last things” remind me the book of George Orwell “1984”.

    Both novels tell the story of a society that is controlled and submitted by someone more powerful. In “1984” there is the Big Brother that with his “eye” watches his subjects to make sure that they follow the rules. They are tightly controlled and they absolutely can not rebel to the system.

    This happen also “In the country of last things” where people are all submitted under a system and they are instucted to work for a huge project: they have to build a wall to defend themselves from a possible enemy. The only purpose of this “thronged with workers” is that of building the wall and they can not refuse because they are controlled by the Government.

    They can not escape from this place. Who manage to get in, is not able to get out. Entrances do not become exits and the only solution for whom who find himself in this system is to get use of it.

    Among the three different definitions of Dystopia i prefer the last one because i think that in its meaning it includes the other two. It is the more complete definition and it is also the best that fits the extract of Paul Auster and that of Orwell.

    In my opinion a dystopian society is a state in which the conditions of human life are so miserable that they are almost considered beasts. It is a place characterized by human misery, oppression and desease and where all is negative.

    In the passage of Paul Auster one of the dystopic qualities that struck me was that the Governmetnt had so much power to oppress, control and educate the workers to the rules of the system that they do not even know the meaning of a common word such as “airplain”.They have also fear to pronounce it because it sounds nonsense and it is bad for the moral.

    They are frightened and say something wrong or against the system can be a big mistake.

    Marson Chiara

  14. anonimo scrive:

    This passage reminds me of the dystopia “1984” by George Orwell, because there are a lot of common features. (the list is below, in “my definition” od dystopia).

    I prefer the definition written in pink (the third one) because I think it is the most exhaustive and I completely agree with the idea of “dystopia” proposed. I really like the distinction between “anti-utopia” and “dystopia”, because I didn’t know about it and this definition motivates me to read an “anti-utopia” (in fact I’ve never read this kind of books, my first and only experience, for the moment, is 1984 by George Orwell, that’s a dystopia).

    Both the first and the third definition fit the excerpt above. The first one because the place presented is “a place where instead of all being well, all is not well”: I don’t think the construction of the wall is a good sign, it could be interpreted as a metaphore of separation between the world in which workers live and the narrator lives. It is clear these worlds are completely different, because the worker does not know what is an airplane any longer and looks the narrator as if he was mad when he mentions it. Are these beliefs consequences of an oppressive and authoritarian government? I think so, because of the sentence “The government doesn’t like it when people make up stories. It’s bad for morale.” So, I think that also the third definition fits the extract.

    Dystopia: an imaginary world (fortunately!) mainly characterized by lack of certainty, because of the negative turnaround of values present in the society. This world represents absurd situations, in which conscious characters feel like they were in a “blind alley”, because of the decline of people’s mind (their lack of consciousness), the presence of a totalitarian regime (that go into people’s private life) and centrality of war, as a means of power.

    In my opinion, the excerpt presents distopic qualities (the list of them is above, in “my definition” of dystopia).

    The words chosen by the author make me feel as if I was him… Language is really effective, because I felt like a prisoner of his/her world by reading the extract… This feeling is really unpleasant, in fact it implies a sense of anguish, anxiety and daze towards things you have always considered differently.

    Giulia Marcassa

  15. anonimo scrive:

    The definition which hit the most the means of distopia is the third.A dystopich society is the negation of all the basic freedoms wich made us humans.A society in wich “entrances not become exits”,in wich a wall precludes all the tryies of going out is absurd to be thought nowadays,but i don’ think that in a dystopich world there is always a way of going out.If we were all grown with brainwashings we would have not the possibilty to think in an other way,we would have been like robots.A dystopi can be thought only were it does not exists,that’s why the concept of the opposite of an utopia could change from man to man and from time to time.The nearest example of a distopich society are .China in wich hundred milions people must work as slaves even eighteen hours a day,in which information can not circulate if are not checked by the governement, and lots of other states with totalitarian regims in wich people are compeled to be poor in order to contrast their will of of freedom.the best definition is:a dystopia is the opposite of n utopia. In the excerpt the construction of the “Sea wall” ,the ”governments wich come and go quite rapidly”,the man brainwashed who has forgotten the excictence of airplanes leave the reader with a sense of consciousness and gratitude with all the people who fought for freedom.

    Perin Marco

  16. anonimo scrive:

    The description of the landscape, the woman protagonist sees, is the picture I made up in my mind everytime I read about the totalitaristic regimes that there were in Europe in 20th century and that Orwell described in his dystopian “1984”, because of the caracteristics he gave to the world he created(people brain-washed that work for a governament they think good…)

    I personally prefer the first one for one reason:it couldn’t be definited an immaginary society, because in real life (and history prooves this), there were (and maybe,unluckily, there are and there will be again) Dystopian society.So I disagree with the 2nd and 3rd definition because I think it could be real and not fiction.

    The 2nd one I think beeing the idea of dystopia from where P.A. started with his novel.

    My definition of dystopia in Auster’s “In the country of last things”:an irreversibile reality in wich a society is forced to live in,in which there isn’t freedom neither personal nor of thinking, in wich people are oppressed and happy with this because of governament brain washed them; it is a condition in wich people are deprived of their identity, in wich merits are not considered, it is a reality that kills civilty and humanity, but that man has created.


  17. anonimo scrive:

    This passage reminds me of prison, where people can come in, but can’t go out. They just receive a place to live and meal, but no salary for working for the government. They haven’t got any contact with the outer world because the government doesn’t want them to have any exchange with it. Furthermore to be under surveillance of armed police guards as they are forced in hard labour.

    Dystopia is a imaginary society, where government and progress have change human values. People are controlled by fear (as in 1984 by George Orweel) or by the promise to absence of suffering (Brave new world by Aldous Huxley). Whatever for the reader, society seems horrible. I prefer the third definition of dystopia because I think it is more complete. This definition, in fact, distinguishes between dystopia and anti-utopia, an important distinction in my opinion. The excerpt has some dystopic qualities, as the author describes the men who work to survive hunger, war, fear, kept under-watch by “armed police guard. They are obliged to work for “a place to live and one warm meal a day”, forced by the government. Government that doesn’t allow people to think and have a own “morale”. People are cut off in a ghost city, where building are half-destroyed and rubble covers streets.

    Nicola Truant

  18. anonimo scrive:

    This passage reminds me immediately “1984” written by George Orwell. In his same way, Auster is building in the book a society based on people controlled by the government, who subjects everybody. The character we find here, does not think with his head, is subjects to the government and he is perfectly the same as the other. In this kind of society there are no differences between people who live there and who tries to change his situation is a peril for the state.

    I prefer the last definition of dystopia,the which one in pink. I found it more complete and I think that corrisponds better to what Auster said in this estract.

    Reading the estract it seemes to me that Auster wants to create a parallel world and so, dystopia may be modifying the actual world in a way that it becomes completely different to this world. This book is based on dystopia in my opinion and so all the descriptions give the idea of a very different place.

    Auster uses very strong phrases that stopped the reader think a minute on what is said. When I read the passage I feel like one character of the story who observed and listened the conversation and beginn to reflect on what happen…

  19. anonimo scrive:

    I think that the definition which fits better with the text is the third, because of the expressions “social control” and “totalitarian government”, which are the most appropriate and suitable words to summarize and define a dystopian society.

    To put it as simply as possible, a dystopian society can be described as a dark vision of the future, a fictional (often near-future) society where current social trends are taken to nightmarish extremes, an imaginary place where people lead dehumanised and often fearful lives. The word ”dystopia” denotes so hypothetical societies containing images of worlds worse than our own, images that point fearfully at the way the world is supposedly going, in order to connote and suggest a change in direction. Dystopias in fact are frequently written as warnings or as satires, showing the trends of the present extrapolated to a nightmarish conclusion, as happened in Orwell’s “1984”.

    The dystopian fiction (as “1984” or “In the country of last things”) looks at totalitarian dictatorship as its prototype, a society that puts its whole population continuously on trial. The “Sea Wall” in the text is the clearer example of all what I said. The wall represent the contradiction and the ambiguity of our society: the closer the population get to finish it, the further away they are from their freedom, until it becomes the wall of terror they are building around their own lives. It seems that this hypothetic world of law and order needs this wall in order to protect itself from freedom and justice. It’s simply absurd. The Sea Wall Project is for this reason a nonsensical building. It prevents people to get in or go out of the nightmarish Country of Last Things; it is a building that symbolize separation, isolation, urban alienation (actuality themes) and that represent the walling in of the space and the incinerating of the past.

    The protagonist, Anna, decides to try to escape from the city, but all sea and land routes have been closed or are carefully guarded. The summit of the passage is achieved in the final lines, when she asks a guard about the possibility to escape using an airplane: “What’s an airplane?” replies the guard to Anna “in a puzzled sort of way”.

    Alessandro Piccin

  20. anonimo scrive:

    The excerpt taken from “in the country of last things” reminds me of the totalitarian society described in 1984 by orwell ,where the government led by the big brother censored everyone’thoughts feelings opinions and controlled his citizens thanks to screens hided in the walls,the eye of the government was always present and people couldn’t rebel to that regime,they were immediately eliminated or brainwashed as happened to the protagonist, who didn’t accept that tragic reality,he tried to change it,but unfortunately he got arrested and tortured. This passage written by Paul Auster deals with the same theme,he creates a dystopian society where the political leaders manipulate people’s mind and behaviour.even in this work the protagonist isn’t completely subjugated by the regime and still tries to escape but the perspective of a life in another place seems to be unaittanable.

    Auster used words that recall the theme of oppression,the reader enters into the mind of the characters and feels the same sense of dejection,and anxiety,as if he were in a labyrinth.

    The definition of dystopia that I prefer is the third one,I think it is the most detailed and explain very well the features of that kind of society.

    My personal definition of dystopia is: a place where people aren’t human beings anymore, they haven’t feelings or personality they are only pawns moved by the oppressive hand of a despicable player who lacks values.

    Montrasio Valentina

  21. anonimo scrive:

    The passage reminds me a communist totalitarian regime because of the works at the Sea Wall Project contracted out at the Government (a state institution) and also for a strictly presence of police guards, who are the authority to make the workers respect the rules, also with the use of violence if necessary.

    As far as the definitions of dystopia are concerned, I prefer the second one because I think it would better embody the concept a have of it. In fact, like an utopian world arises from a criticism of the present, of the reality in which the person/ the author lives, carrying out a better future(Thomas More), in the same way a dystopia is originates from fear of the future, for disagreement in the progress, which is seen as a negative thing. Actually I don’t share part of the third definition, in particular when Dystopia is considered antithetic of Utopia. As a matter of fact, also in a utopian novel like “the City of the Sun ”( written by the philosopher Tommaso Campanella) as in a dystopian one there is a totalitarian government, which takes control on everything and has also the power of deciding wedding between people (eugenics) .

    Of the tree definitions above the only which fits more the extract taken from Paul Auster is the third, because are presented some elements (which I consider right for a dystopian novel):

    • the oppressive social control (“armed police guards surveying the workers”)

    • the authoritarian regime (“The government doesn’t like it when people make up stories. It’s bad for moral)

    In my opinion a Dystopia is characterized by a pessimistic vision of the society and of the whole reality in which we live in, in which we feel imprisoned, like a room in which you are oblige to come in, without sureness of going out from there. In addition to the elements I have already pointed out , in a dystopian world you can’t keep in touch with answers at your questions, because this different dimension is completely dehumanized , out from a human way of thinking, so “every time you think you to know the answer to a question, you discover that the question makes no sense”. Eventually the totalitarian regime typical of the Dystopia is also characterized by fear in its enemies, so it is based on violence, aggressiveness and it always pays attention to have a efficient armed militia.

    Carolina Braghin

  22. anonimo scrive:

    The situation described in this passage reminds me obviously of Georg Orwell’s 1984. Even if many aspects are diffrent from Georg Orwell’s book, even this story takes place in a totalitarian regime characterized by an oppressive social control ( I choose the third definition of dystopia, as,in my opinion, it perfectly depicts what a dystopian society is about). In this regime the government imposes social rules, lots of prohibitions, a way of thinking (that becames THE way of thinking), it imposes how the population must behave, and, the most emblematic element that I want to add to the definition of dystopia I choose, is that the people are soo brainwashed by the government to act, think, behave in the way the System wants to, that they are no longer able to persive what is happening, they don’t notice that the government continues to mislead them, they don’t doubt and question what they are made to believe.

    The words chosen by Paul Auster make me feel the astmosphere of psycological oppression, and the fact that there is no way out to this situation.

    Chiara Pinardi

  23. anonimo scrive:

    I think that the best definition of dystopia is the last one because firstly is the only one to determinate the role of the social control in the dystopian vision. In fact in all utopian and dystopian vision there is an important role of the totalitarian government that controls in good o bad way the society. In the utopia this political power is seen like a good thing that can order and improved the way of life of people. Dystopian vision otherwise see the social control as an oppression of a totalitarian goverment that does not serve the interests of citizens but uses his power to oppress them for political interests. Dystopian novels rappresent the fear to be controlled by authoritarism. The first greate example of dystopia was infact Orwell’s 1984. Orwell, since he lived in the period of totalitarisms, he criticize this tipe of social control after had seen its effect in his contemporary Europe. Orwell criticize the autoritarism also in the novel “animal farm” where the compre the comunistic party to a group of pigs that are able to reach the power by using the rhetoric. In this extract of Paul Oster we can see that the interlocutor of the protagonist was a brainwashing by the propaganda of the dictature.

  24. anonimo scrive:

    All the definitions emphasize the significance of Dystopia, even if focusing on different aspects: the first as the juxtaposition to utopia, in which everything is going bad, the second as a result of social deprivation, for where everyone loses sight of its values, leading to a regression of society (in my opinion this definition is more effective and frightening than the first one, because it presents the Dystopia as if it were created by individuals themselves, as a gradual process that starts from our technological trends).

    However, I think the definition that best clarifies the meaning of Dystopia is the third, since it talks of an oppressive social control, as can happen in an authoritarian and totalitarian government (and this is not something that can only be imagined, is something that has really existed, is something which has the power to deprive people of their individuality, to turn them into numbers, objects, tools).

    In extract from “country of last things”, we understand perfectly what is the result of social oppression: the protagonist, as an outside observer, does not understand the logic on which wall construction is based; it seems absurd to build a wall, which construction will last 50 years, and that workers will not be paid, but will have only a place to live and eat. This is the most frightening and anguishing part of the extract: the fact that the social oppression and the lack of freedom gradually deprive men of ability to think and of the awareness of what they are doing (it seems that the workers know just what they are doing at that moment, that is nothing strange; everything seems to be normal and natural, they has no doubt about what must be done, and they consider the man crazy).

    Federica Cozzarin

  25. PaulAuster2008 scrive:


    you point out an interesting aspect, that any form of repression, any form of nasty limitation to human freedom is created by human beings. THere are no aliens who smother the expression of feelings or choke hope. The enemy is man himself. However, there is always someone who (for whatever reason: more sensitivity or sensibility, etc.) does not bow to a maddening and inhuman/inhumane system. That someone embodies hope and a possible way out. In some dystopian novels that SOMEONE does not survive, in others s/he DOES and represents the possibility for a NEW BEGINNING.

    Federica, you chose a quotation that could be used as a “motto” to the novel by AUster, to the dystopic novel and to life itself. I do not perceive it as negative, in the sense that if life endless investigation, is continually changing, then it goes without saying that questions cannot always remain the same. They need to be, somehow, adapted to the changes that have occurred or that are taking place. Of course, there are questions that will always remain with us and those are questions about faith, the existence of God, moral values, etc.

    Barbara, your quotation, as you pointed out, is open to different interpretations. The door may stand for decisions you take in life. Sometimes you can come back, sometimes you can’t, so you need to take full responsability of your actions and decisions. This is a possible reading. Another one could be that doors may be built by a system that wants to trap you, wants to put you in a cage (as you wrote) to control you, so once again we should be wary when we walk through a door, we should question it and ask ourselves about the why we are on the point of going through that door, etc.

    Write to you later!

  26. anonimo scrive:

    This passage remind me of plenty of things; while reading it I immediately imagine the big walls that in the past was built as the Berliner one, but even the walls erected now-a-days thinking about the Gaza one or, nearer us, the Padova one. All the governments that build walls want to protect their way of life and obstacle communications that are fundamental for people pacification, so they don’t want to protect their citizens but, with this barriers, they foment hatred.

    I think that the best definition is the pink one because it analyze in a deeper way the differences between something “mean” from the beginning and something changed by a fatal flaw and it provides example.

    For me the second definition is the one that fits best for the extract, because we read that the people work for food, so the human conditions are very low but they work for a great product of technology as a sea wall is.

    Auster’s dystopia is filled with dystopic qualities: an armed and authoritarian government that makes people forget of the past in order to control them better.

    Auster’s words are very powerful because you have vivid images and makes you feel a little bit loss.

    Francesca Cazorzi

  27. anonimo scrive:

    This passage reminds me of the novel by G.Orwell, 1984. When I read both of them I was attacked by feelings of oppression and loss of dignity. Both in the book that in this extract, people are brainwashed, their speaking’s capability has been altered and minimized into few words. Influencing people’s minds was too easy that powerful people have taken advantage from it to reinforce their power. The naiveness of simple people is set against the harmful cunning of the powerful, as if the stories were setting under a totalitarian regime. That is why I’ve chosen the third definition of Dystopia; in my opinion, it is a world made up by immagination, illusion and pretence, too far away from real world. Dystopia is also a technique, used by authors to denounce misfacts and the sad reality around them, underlining and exasperating some aspects, often with an ironical tone. The extract is an example of dystopia, with ironical and disenchanted words , P.Auster wrote a story completely engrossed in a world that seems to be far from our reality, but it is also a characteristic in the history of the mankind, it’s enough only think at the XX century, under the totalitarian regime, Hitler and Stalin, people’s way of life was not so different from the way of life of people who are characters of ”Country of last thing” and 1984.

    Carla Cipolla

  28. anonimo scrive:

    This passage makes me think of an absurd world, check overdone, workers without a conscience specifies well. this excerpt makes you really remain to mouth opened, even if you do not want! Paul Auster has been certainly affected by Orwell, from his book “1984”. both the works expose an idea of unreality: you think that the workers are crazy, but this is only a consequence of the company who surrounds them, of the government which has done them the washing of the mind. things that seems unbelievable to us, for Auster’s characters are normal, it is their life, neither the problem is not placed, if this reality is indeed like them it they live, they are as dragged by a storm, jolted of here and there without gave any questions. interlocutors, and personally, reading the passage, my facial gesture was saying “I do not believe us, it is impossible, how can he say certain things”?. this is what a totalitarian regime can produce on the human mind, a control thoughtless, uncontrolled, which limit does not have, to the point to say about not knowing what a plane is. I agree with the third definition (pink), I think that it is the most exhaustive and realistic also in the case of Paul Auster.

    Matteo Cervesato

  29. anonimo scrive:

    This passage makes me think to “1984” by George Orwell, where people don’t remember anything of freedom and happyness.

    I Prefer the third definition of Dystopia because it’s more exhaustive and it’s the only that clarified the totalitarism that exists in a dystopia. A totalitary regime explains better what lack of freedom means such as can’t express thought and position and can’t move troughtout the country and the city.

    So the third definition fits better the extract below becuase points out the lack of freedom and the totalitary regime.

    The passage is a definition of Dystopian world itself: nobody can get out because anybody can get in. It makes me mad thinking taht none know what an airplane is only beacuase government says it so. Also the brain-washing is typical of a Dystopia: the wall they’re building is a protection against the invasor not a way to imprison citizen; and people can’t understand that the invasor and the evel is the government, not who wants to escape from Dystopia o comes in.

    I feel anguished at the beginning as at the end: the description about the door that disappers when you turn back is very impressive. The dialogue between two man is absurd and make you question “but am I in this world or not?”. Wearing the shoes of the man who wants to escape from the Dystpia I think I’ll drive crazy or I’ll get the brain washed by government soon. In that situation it’s very difficult to preserve your mind from the totalytarism beacuse of the confusion that it makes to you. You are a man no longer because with lack of freedom what cares to you is only to survive.

    Giulia Raineri

  30. anonimo scrive:

    Well…in front of these controls of thought i’m horrified and worried.i’m agree with the third dystopia’s definition because distingueshes between dystopia and anti-utopia. I’ m worried because in dystopia people is not able to persive what is happening, doesn’t do question about his situation and condition. the mind of people is driven by government’s wills. most people is satisfied and doesn’t want to improve or search some way to change the reality. it’s dangerous beacuse who is powerful, who thinks change the world how he wants, and, very often, these person are petty, hypocritical and egoist. who doesn’t permit to people to think with own head…well…acts to get to own objectives. who is powerful and permit to people to choose and think…well…wants the good for society and for his future. now it’s difficult understand or find who would able to have the power, because not everybody wants to spent own life to the other.we’re living on the edge of razor.

    Laura Sist

  31. anonimo scrive:

    Reading this passage from Paul Auster ‘s “In the country of last things”, I’ve immediately noticed analogies with G. Orwell’s “1984”, that is the portrait of the totalitarian government where people are controlled 24 hours to 24, they cannot think anymore, they are brainwashed and they cannot even decide what “morale” is. The Big Brother “watch you” with his “eye” and if you don’t follow his rules you are out, like the protagonist who tried to go against the system but he was arrested and tortured. This end shows perfectly the repression and the censorship of the totalitarian government where people are not allowed to express their thoughts and feelings otherwise they are eliminated or brainwashed; is this Life!? no! This is not Life! This is DYSTOPIA and I think that the third definition fits best the concept of what dystopia is: “antithesis of utopia”, “society characterized by an oppressive social control”. That is why the passage of Paul Auster is defined dystopic: it represents a society where the government submits people, that are brainwashed and led to think that the “great Sea Wall” is the best solution in order to “save the country by the enemy”. But who really is “the enemy”??? I think, that Humanity at all is The Enemy: on one hand we have the government, the system and power that are enemies because they influence human being and prevent them from expressing who they really are ;on the other hand mans are enemies themselves because they permitt their own brainwashing, they don’t fight against the system, they are afraid by the consequences of their thoughts and actions and making this, they permit the consolidation of the regime, that can reinforce the basis of its dehumanizing policy, that make all people submitted to the power, teaching them what is wrong and what isn’t, the morale, making them all like machine, that works for the wellness of the system wiping off the real essence of people.

    Paul Auster expresses very well these concepts in the passage using simple words but full of meanings, using phrases that catch readers’ attention. Lots of expressions caught my attention and stopped me from reading, for example “ just because you are able to get in, that does not mean you will able to get out”, “ every time you think you know the answer to a question , you discover that the question makes no sense” : in my opinion even these two phrases represent what dystopia is: a condition in which you are able to enter but not to exit, it is a sort of cage in where you live every day but you cannot exit and communicate with the outside and above all you must respect The System rules, it watches you from the outside and if don’t behave, speak, fell and think following the system morale, you will cut out from it and eliminated : “ the government doesn’t like it when people make up stories; it’s bad for morale….”

    -Martina Nadal-

  32. anonimo scrive:


    In my opinion the first definition of dystopia is the one that fits better the extract we read, but I would like to add something to this definition in reference to the text.

    By reading these lines I find out, of course, that dystopia is a place where thing are going bad, but it is also a place where people think (after a process of brainwashing) that all is going well.

    I think that the best word to represent this extract is not dystopia, but anti-utopia.

    People are ‘obliged’ to think that this wall is being built to save them, to protect them against enemy attacks, and they believe in power; but this is not the case: the wall is built to confine the people in the city!

  33. anonimo scrive:

    the definition i like most is the first because it describes simply and concisely the dystopian world: it’s all we won’t desire for our future. but the third definition present the difference between dystopia and anti-utopia and i think in this case the governament pretends to be good and brain-washes all the citizen, saying that all the system does to them is for their safe and their best.

    this passage remind me of george orwell’s 1984. i was really impressed by that book and this passage makes me feel the same: disgusted and puzzled.

    i cannot imagine a world so degradated and also i cannot imagine to believe so firmly and gullibly to a system so totalitarian and fake.even other works of orwell gave me the same feelings: for example “animal farm”

    in my opinion the definition of paul auster’s dystopia is:

    a world ruled by a totalitarian regime tha dominates and governes all the citizen. this system pretends to be good and makes the citizens believe it: in some way we can affirm tha the regime control their brains and it can promote all kind of disposition because they won’t protest. simple people, living in poverty because of the regime and being poor in their culture always because of it, believe that all the rules of the system is made to give a positive changement. they cannot give theri opinion, just because the system has denied all the idea and the culture: no dialogues and so no protests

    giacomin elena

  34. anonimo scrive:

    It could seem repetitive but as soon as I read this passage George Orwell’s “1984” came back in my mind. The kind of society described in both “1984” and “In the Country of Last Things” is an extremely controlled and influenced by the government one. Paul Auster writes about a society, which tends to be standardized: the most of people will do the same job, eat the same food, sleep in the same room, BELIEVE in the same things; the words they can’t say will be progressively forgiven (as we already see with “airplane”) and they are not aware of what is happening to them. What the government says is absolutely true and can’t be discussed; there’s no dialogue, people only have to listen and obey and they’re happy in doing it; they’re brain-washed, but they don’t know it. Their government is a sort of God and even if (differently from Orwell’s “1984”) it often changes and each time things change, it seems as if they delete what the previous government did and said in order to follow completely the new one. The extract which best fits the concept of Dystopia is the third one: this society is characterized by an oppressive social control (in this passage the “armed police guards” for example) but even the second extract fits with it, especially when deals with the “diminished quality of life” and “degradation of values”; these are in my opinion two key points. We see people working all day long in order to get something to eat and a roof over their heads, thing that used to happen many years before; moreover these people won’t be able to have a social life and a family, perhaps they won’t even know the meaning of the word “love”. In “1984”, for example, people decided to get married only in order to procreate; perhaps in Auster it is the same, even because there wouldn’t be time to fall in love with someone.

    I read this passage even in Italian and I must say it is different: the words chosen by Auster render this oppressed state of mind much better; the rhythm is even different: the answers of the man are direct, he doesn’t think about what he will let come out of his mouth, words go out quickly, he somehow speaks as a robot and Auster perfectly renders this.

    Maiutto Jessica

  35. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear All,

    If on the one hand some of you are doing a great job (you reread your comments before posting them to make sure there are no typos or major grammar mistakes) on the other hand there are some of you who write their posts just because “they have to”, just because it is part of the assignment: this implies that your posts are dotted with typos, “made up words” (interference with the Italian language) and grammar mistakes that make the understanding of your comments really difficult. So please, some self-assessment will help you understand if this “mild” reprimend is addressed to you or not. A blog is not meant to look perfect, it can’t be perfect, but I would love you to do your best and not “throw” things there just to say “I did my homework”.

  36. anonimo scrive:

    This passage reminds me both George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: in both books there is an authoritarian government that controls the population and decides what they have to do. In particular in George Orwell’s 1984 the government spies twenty-four hours a day the population in such as a way to control them better. In this passage the government (that no-one knows) gives the order to build a wall and people do that.

    This passage reminds me Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 because in both case the population are so brain washed by the government that seems they don’t think. They don’t have a personality and spend their life in front of a screen: in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 people can’t read books and think that books are “evil” things when they had never seen one, and in the passage of Paul Auster people don’t know the existence of planes.

    I think that the best definition for the extract is the third; in particular this passage seems to be a dystopia where all the population is oppressed by an authoritarian government. In this extract the government is afraid about foreign people, so decides to build, well, decides that population had to build a wall to defend their territories, in exchange for a “place to live and warm meal a day.”

    What I really appreciate in this definition is the difference between dystopia and anti-utopia because I have also read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The world that Huxley imagines it is very different from that is describes in Orwell’s 1984: the majority of the population is unified under The World State, an eternally peaceful, stable society, in which goods are plentiful and everyone is happy. In this society all is based on the principles of mass production, also the human reproduction. All members of society are conditioned in childhood to hold the values that the World State idealizes: constant consumption is the bedrock of stability.

    While I was reading these two books, I find also a different atmosphere: while in Orwell’s 1984 there is a deep and oppressed atmosphere, in Huxley’s Brave New World all is easy, simple and the atmosphere is “light”.

    Federica Battistin

  37. anonimo scrive:

    The connection between this passage taken from ‘In the Country of Last Things’ and Orwell’s ‘1984’ is quite obvious. Both are dystopian novels, where the population is dominated by a totalitarian regime that controls every minute of the people’s life. In both novels there is the element of war, a war that doesn’t really exist and that is only an excuse invented by the government to justify some of the activities imposed to the people (in ‘1984’ the continuous production of goods that weren’t actually distributed among people; in Auster’s novel it is the building of a sea wall that will become the citizen’s prison); in both books people are totally brainwashed, they can think no more, they are convinced that the government’s decisions are good and everything else is bad, they don’t have their own ideas any more, they have lost their personality, they have all the same identity. Another common element is the presence of a character who thinks by himself/herself that tries to escape (in ‘1984’ there is W. Smith who attempts to fight against the oppressing regime; in this passage the girl wants to escape from that place because she knows that something’s going wrong).

    Among the definitions of dystopia, the one that in my opinion fits best the passage is the third one, because it is the most detailed. This excerpt highlightes the essence of what a dystopian society is: people who belive blindly in what the goverment says, who are happy to work the whole day only for one warm meal a day, who are afraid of getting into trouble if they say something that doesn’t suit with what the regime imposes. ‘The goverment doesn’t like it when people make up stories. It’s bad for morale.’: this quotation makes us understand that the government is almost considered as a human being, constantly present in people’s mind.

  38. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Federica C., you referred to the building of the wall as something absurd and as just a waste of time. I think this wall stands for so many different things, all of which obviously bear negative connotations. You have great insight, it is always a pleasure reading your comments.

    Francesca, thanks for reminding us of the terrible “wall” in Padoa. I had not thought of it myself. Terrible walls divide human beings as if they were different because they come from different countries, or have different political or religious views, or different economic power. Yet, the walls that should scare us most are the invisible ones, because they are the hardest to detect and demolish.

    Carla you refer to the weary and gloomy existence of people under a totalitarian regime. I think Auster does not refer to a specific political regime, his dystopic vision is of a society where people are not free, but controlled and limited in their actions. This control could come from religion, politics, economy, the media, etc.

    Laura, I like the expression “living on the edge of the razor”, yet I did not grasp your whole post, there are a few things that are not clear to me.

    Ilaria, as you can see from my posts, I read the messages of all the students, but it is almost impossible for me to reply to you all. So the fact that I did not reply to you directly that does not mean that I have not read or appreciated your posts, quite the contrary. It is that I pick and choose the posts according to their contents. Some posts are similar so I do not reply to them all. You are too many so I cannot reply to you all individually. Do remember that this blog is extra work for me, it is not part of my teaching position, I do it on a voluntary basis and in my free time. However, I do appreciate that you asked for my feedback, this means that you are working seriously on Paul Auster and you take pride in what you are writing. Next time I will certainly make sure I will answer your post and give you feedback. 🙂

    Eugenia some critics distinguish between dystopia and anti-utopia. Can you tell me in what way you are using these two terms? You say that in dystopic novels characters think that what the system is demanding and imposing is meant for their own good. Well, I would say that on the one hand there are some characters that fit the system perfectly because they do not question it, but on the other hand there are characters that question the system and fight it back.

    Jessica you pointed out something interesting and relevant, that is the different impact of certain works when transtaled into Italian. You know that a writer should always be read in his/her original language. This is not possible for everybody, since lots of people would not be able to read P. Auster in English. In class we will certainly work on contrastive analysis: comparing the original version with the corresponding translation in Italian.

    Federica B. if you happen to have some spare time watch the films “1984”, “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Island”. You will certainly love them. You seem to have read a lot about dystopian literature, so please, in class, try to share your knowledge. It is true that in “1984” there is more darkness and in “Brave New World” more light, but light is tricky, it may conceal more terrible black spots (so to say) than darkness itself! Light can dazzle you and make you see what is not there.

  39. anonimo scrive:


    This extract reminds me Orwell’s novel “1984”. All people are controlled by the government, by the Big Brother that drives the main actions and thoughts.

    Their life is like a theatre and they are puppets, obliged to do what the government wants.

    Even “In the Country of Last Things” people are manipulated by rich people, by authoritarian and totalitarian society.

    For me the third definition is the most clear and complete.

    A dystopia is a fictional society, characterized by an oppressive control. This definition contains the first definition because if we are controlled “not all is well”, and we are not free.

    In the novel “in the Country of Last Things” Paul Auster think that a dystopia is a society with a totalitarian government, and this government is linked to the figure of a door without exit.

    A society that catch you, make you a brain wash, and when you turn back you cannot see anymore what you saw before.

  40. anonimo scrive:

    The first thing that came up in my mind after reading the passage, was the Berlin Wall. I think that the moment of the construction of the Wall that broke a nation in two different blocks was similar to the scene described in the excerpt. That Wall was going to divide the same city in two, and I imagine that day with soldiers watching nobody could escape and people working to do a job they couldn’t even imagine the consequences, a Wall built to prevent people to go out, it was going to become a world where “entrances do not become exits”, as in the story.

    The best of the three definitions, in my opinion, is the first one, simple and complete, a sort of summary of the third one, which has got extra information. The first definition is also the one that fits better the excerpt.

    MY DEFINITION OF DYSTOPIA: After what I have read in the passage a dystopian world could be a world where people act in a way they wouldn’t act in normal life, a world where they are controlled they are submissive. But I think that in all kind of dystopia must be present an aspect of utopia, in the story it is represented by the girl , who doesn’t want to believe this world, and she can’t be compared to the other men, she is different, in a good way.

    I think in the passage are present aspects of dystopia, an example is the city, New York, which is completely destroyed, a city that today represents a myth of wellness and modernity, and this is only a piece of the story, so we don’t know what happened to the rest of the world. I think this aspect is very dystopic.

    Riccardo Bagattin

  41. anonimo scrive:

    i choose the third definition of dystopia because I think it perfectly explanes the comparison between this passage and the book written by George Orwell(1984).Another reason is that this sentence:”a Dystopia has the opposite of what one would expect in a Utopian society.” resumes the concept of Dystopia and explain his sense in the easier words.I think that this passage contains all the distopic qualities that we can find in the sentence that i have mentioned before;an exemple of what i am saying is this passage:”What about an airplane? I said. What’s an airplane? he asked, smiling at me in a puzzled sort of way, as though I had just told a joke he didn’t understand. An airplace, I said. A machine taht flies through the air and carries people from one palce to another. That’s ridiculous, he said, giving me a suspicious kind of look. There’s no such thing. It’s impossible.”in this case, in fact, the man answer to the protagonist like someone that is talking with a crazy person,because he is differet from othr people because he want to escape from the island.


  42. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Denise was referring to characters in dystopian novels as puppets in the hands of the System, a system which controls them. I am curious to know whether you ever feel like being moved around by a puppeteer. Can you share some of your experience? No need to sign your posts, you can remain anonymous.

  43. anonimo scrive:

    This passage is not so different from some pages of 1984, mostly because of the sense of absolute faith in the government of one of the characters, and also because the people don’t doubt about the government orders. About the definitions of dystopia, I prefer the last one, because it is more precise and define also the concept of anti-utopia, that is not so obvious. In this extract it is quite easy to understand the Paul Auster conception of dystopia: if people has lost their critical sense and believe without any doubts in a government, person but also a religion, that could become a dystopia. It is impossible to realize because every time (luckily) some people don’t lose their sense of freedom and independence, but, although is impossible to deceive everyone for ever, but is possible to deceive enough people for enough time.

    (I am sorry for the delay, I will complete all posts as fast as I can)

    Damiano Verardo

  44. MicheleDB scrive:

    I think the better definitions is the first, because it defines the word utopia not only in the society but also in its completeness.

    however surely the definition that more approaches to this extract is the third (dystopia and anti-utopia). it gives a lot of details that we meet “in the country of last things”, as “an appressive social control”, an “authoritarian government”.

    This passage is certainly dystopic, you notice it during the dialogue and from the description made by the narrator. Some sentences are clealry referred to that sense of anguish, of enclosure at the external and at the foreigner, of lack of freedom that endure for all the extract.

  45. anonimo scrive:

    Il commento del 16 Novembre 2008 – 09:32

    è mio: francesco marson

  46. anonimo scrive:

    There isn’t a better definition for “dystopia” than an other. I didn’t know what dystopia is since you mention it during a lesson. I think that a good definition is the third because is compete and it looks like a definition taken from a dictionary. The others are somehow a introduction to the new word: they just give you and idea of what dystopia is. I think that dystopia is “everything, except utopia”.

    I mean, in our world there aren’t tyrants, wars or bomb attacks everywhere. But everyday there is an attack in the poor countries because of wars; everyday there’s a tyrant that hurts people; everyday a war ends but another begins. I think that a dystopian world isn’t so utopian (sorry for the pun).

    However I think that our society is an expression of dystopia, perhaps not strictly but it is.

    For what concern what the passage remind me, I remembered, first of all, a book that I read some time ago which was “Il bar sotto il mare” written by Stefano Benni. The last scene of this book tells about a man that cannot get out of this place under the sea. He is entrapped and he doesn’t know how to get out. Finally he understand that the only way of succeed in getting out is to tell a story.

    I think that everyone is entrapped in the society in a different way and they have to find some ways to free their selves. The same thing is for the man in “The country of last things”: he is trying to find his way. The man of the crew is the one who hasn’t already become conscious that the society is using him only for is personal interest.

    Elena Poles

  47. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Damiano,

    Most people can’t question the “System” when they live under a totalitarian regime. Perhaps they could, but they don’t because they run the risk of being killed. Then there are those who risk their lives to oppose an unjust system, but most times they are too few and powerless. Literature could and can play a paramount role. If you are raised in a totalitarian regime you are brainwashed, you are told/taught what the system wants you to know/learn. Literature can breach those limits and open up worlds otherwise kept hidden from you.

    Dear Elena,

    Thanks for the reference to Stefano Benni. I read the book myself and watched its theatrical representation. I loved both. As to your considerations, well, I do agree with you that we are all somehow trapped in/by something/someone. Yet, there is the power of awareness that can awaken us and lead us out of the “cage”. One of these powerful tools of self-awareness is certainly reading/literature. The more we read, we more we are asked to think. Without thinking there is no living (living to be read with a capital L, thus Living!) If my point is not completely clear, please don’t hesitate to ask for further clarifications.

    See you soon.