Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Utopia and Dystopia

ENGL 020.900
instructor(s):
M 5:30-8:40
fulfills requirements:
Sector 3: Early Literature to 1660 of the Standard Major

Can you imagine the perfect world? What kind of government would it have? What would the people be like? Would you need any laws to regulate it? Would there be any need for labor there? Can there even be an ideal world, or is one person’s utopia another’s dystopia? These are the kinds of questions that have inspired philosophy, fiction, poetry, film, and art since at least the time of Plato. This course will survey the literature of imaginary worlds from fantastical medieval travel narratives to the science fiction of today. Texts may include Thomas More’s seminal Utopia (the text that first used that word), Jonathan Swift’s classic Gulliver’s Travels, the popular adolescent novel The Giver, and the film The Matrix. We will also consider the real world implications of utopian visions as expressed, for instance, in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Work for the course will include short paper assignments, occasional quizzes, and a final exam.