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I'm trying to help my son understand an essay question but am having trouble understanding the question myself. He's studying George Orwell's 1984 and the essay question is this:

Dystopian texts are valued because they emphasize the importance of the individual in his or her particular context.

I'm not looking for an answer to the actual question but rather an explanation of what it's actually asking. In particular who is the individual — do they mean the author? And if so, do they mean the importance of the author at the time the book was written, importance to literary history, or something else?

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Because literatureSE is closed? We still have writerSE -- they don't have a suitable tag for this but ELU has? – Kris May 21 '12 at 16:15

No, it doesn't mean the author.

In a dystopian text, it is almost invariably society breaking down or becoming dysfunctional in some way. I am reluctant to say all dystopian novels are a breakdown of society, but I can't think of one that isn't.

If society breaks down, then the emphasis shifts from collective action to individual action — 'the individual'.

In 1984, the dysfunctional society tries to suppress Winston Smith's individuality, but he rebels through writing 'down with Big Brother' and his affair with Julia and so on, thus asserting himself as an individual.

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Which is just about how one would understand 'individual' to be in the sentence, without having to read 1984 or applying literary knowledge of dystopian writings. – Kris May 21 '12 at 16:28

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