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Reconsidering the Function of Utopia



In Archaeologies of the Future (2005), Fredric Jameson makes the following claims about the function of utopia in fiction, film, and television:


The utopian vocation can be identified by this certainty, and by the persistent and obsessive search for a simple, a single-shot solution to all our ills. And this must be a solution so obvious and self-explanatory that every reasonable person will grasp it: just as the inventor is certain his better mousetrap will compel universal conviction.

Yes it is the social situation which must admit of such a solution, or at least of its possibility: this is one aspect of the objective preconditions for a Utopia. The view that opens out onto history from a particular social situation must encourage such oversimplifications; the miseries and injustices thus visible must seem to shape and organize themselves around one specific ill or wrong. For the Utopian remedy must at first be a fundamentally negative one, and stand as a clarion call to remove and to extirpate this specific root of all evil from which others spring.

This is why it is a mistake to approach Utopias with positive expectations, as though they offered visions of happy worlds, spaces of fulfillment and cooperation, representations which correspond generically to the idyll or the pastoral rather than the utopia. . . . . The confusion arises from the formal properties of these texts, which . . . seem to offer blueprints: these are however maps and plans to be read negatively, as what is to be accomplished after the demolitions and removals, and in the absence of all those lesser evils the liberals believed to be inherent in human nature. (11-12)


Based on Jameson's description of utopia, answer one of the two following questions (cite The Iron Heel at least once to support your answer):


  1. Is London's novel a dystopian or utopian novel? Do dystopian novels also focus on a single "ill or wrong" as the root of all of society's evils? Or would you argue that dystopian stories are structured differently?

  2. Apply Jameson's reading to The Iron Heel or Herland: what underlying evil does London or Gilman see as the cause for societal dysfunction? Does this novel "offer blueprints" or "maps and plans" that can "be read negatively"? If so, what does that blueprint or do those plans look like?

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