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The “Childless Dystopia” Trope

By Victoria Fryer 

As a writer and lover of all things story, I often fall down the rabbit hole of TV Tropes, a website cataloguing the devices that writers use in fiction, screenplays, and more. While not rising to the level of cliche, necessarily, tropes are those devices that appear often. Examining those tropes, I think, can often provide insight into the zeitgeist.

The other day, I decided to examine tropes around children and the childless, and one I hit on was the Childless Dystopia. Dystopias—as I’m sure you all know, particularly since the success of books and movies like the Hunger Games and Divergent—represent societies in which things have gone horribly awry (usually as the result of a power-hungry government), causing great suffering among its people.

The childless dystopia is one in which the society is depicted to have lost its children and, as TV Tropes describes, “life is now grey, dreary and pointless, since there’s nobody to build a future for.”

A classic example, as detailed by the website, is Children of Men—which is actually a movie I really enjoyed. I’m a sucker for a good action film with a political and/or dystopian element. Oh, and also Clive Owen.

Based on the novel by P.D. James, the story details a society facing extinction after almost two decades of global human infertility. Once the story’s hero discovers the only known pregnant woman, the race is on to protect her and get her to safety.

I definitely acknowledge the importance of children and mothers and realize that the continuation of the human race depends on this whole life process. (Of course, we as humans are currently facing a bit of global overpopulation, not under.) But it’s interesting to examine the underlying messages of this story—purposeful or not.

A world without children is meaningless. Mothers must be protected above all others, at all costs. Children “Fling a Light into the Future” (another child-related trope). Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong to want children in any way. Many people do, and as I’ve written about before, I strongly stand behind creating an environment in which women can pursue this choice freely and with the support of their society.

But I do think it’s interesting to look at the possible implications of a story like this. Does it imply that childless and childfree women are contributing to the downfall of society? Does it create a fear of infertility’s effects on the world? While infertility is such a difficult and personal struggle, and the choice of childfreedom such a personal choice, does the trope of the childless dystopia serve to instill some kind of guilt in women for not contributing to the future of the population?

Then again, it’s just a story, so I’m just asking the questions. Like I said, I enjoyed the movie, and I get that sometimes movies and novels have to be taken simply as a dive into a ‘what if.’ What do you think?

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

Image: salon.com

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