The following is a list of common traits of dystopias, although it is by no means definitive. Most dystopian films or literature includes at least a few of the following:
a hierarchical society where divisions between the upper, middle and lower class are definitive and unbending (Caste system).
a nation-state ruled by an upper class with few democratic ideals
state propaganda programs and educational systems that coerce most citizens into worshipping the state and its government, in an attempt to convince them into thinking that life under the regime is good and just
strict conformity among citizens and the general assumption that dissent and individuality are bad
a fictional state figurehead that people worship fanatically through a vast personality cult, such as 1984’s Big Brother or We‘s The Benefactor
a fear or disgust of the world outside the state
a common view of traditional life, particularly organized religion, as primitive and nonsensical
a penal system that lacks due process laws and often employs psychological or physical torture
constant surveillance by state police agencies
the banishment of the natural world from daily life
a back story of a natural disaster, war, revolution, uprising, spike in overpopulation or some other climactic event which resulted in dramatic changes to society
a standard of living among the lower and middle class that is generally poorer than in contemporary society
a protagonist who questions the society, often feeling intrinsically that something is terribly wrong
because dystopian literature takes place in the future, it often features technology more advanced than that of contemporary society
To have an effect on the reader, dystopian fiction typically has one other trait: familiarity. It is not enough to show people living in a society that seems unpleasant. The society must have echoes of today, of the reader’s own experience. If the reader can identify the patterns or trends that would lead to the dystopia, it becomes a more involving and effective experience. Authors can use a dystopia effectively to highlight their own concerns about societal trends. For example, some commentators say that George Orwell originally wanted to title 1984 1948, because he saw the world he describes emerging in austere postwar Europe.