Vander Graaff: A message of perseverance from our dystopian heroes

Abby Vander

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

It’s great to be young. It’s a time to meet new people, travel and make a name for yourself in the professional world. In college, we get to practice our independence and seek our passions, even if we don’t know what they are yet.


But in the middle of this pandemic, we are confined to our homes at best, bored and doing little of substance. And at worst, we are struggling to afford food, losing loved ones and risking our lives at work and in other public spaces.

We can learn valuable lessons from the humanity our dystopian protagonists display in the face of unimaginable horror.”

We live in unsettling times, and the media we consume reflects it. It might even prepare us to live through the worst.

To be young in the United States is to observe a constant state of crisis. Our generation is made up of people who have lost their homes due to climate change and their lives due to gun violence

We were accustomed to the stories of immense suffering flashing across our phone screens from a million miles away long before COVID-19 was in the headlines. Even our favorite stories are filled with pessimism and darkness.

Take Katniss Everdeen, for example. Her world of “The Hunger Games” trilogy is undeniably difficult and cruel. Even before she wound up in a fight to the death against other kids, Katniss lost her father in a mining accident and had to hunt illegally just to feed her family.

Despite the pain and moral conflict all around her, Katniss manages to be a force for good. She rises to the role of revolutionary leader, even though it causes her immense personal pain. She demonstrates compassion for others when they need it most by keeping Peeta alive in the arena and risking her life for her sister, Prim.

Starting a revolution from your living room is a lot to ask. But we can learn valuable lessons from the humanity our dystopian protagonists display in the face of unimaginable horror. Katniss teaches us that even when things are dire, there is a way to speak truth to power and fight for a better life.

Tris Prior from the “Divergent” series also unexpectedly leads a revolution, and her heroism occurs through displays of courage and advocacy for justice. 

Stories give us a better grip on reality. And most importantly, they teach us how to persevere, which is something we need right now.”

In her society, which divides citizens into factions based on their most dominant character traits, Tris finds herself to be divergent: simultaneously fitting into each faction and none of them. Her options are to pretend to be someone she’s not or become an outcast.

She is a character who is strong, confident and brave even when her identity and security are threatened. She inspires us to be the same way.


Stories can do a lot for us. They provide an escape — a chance to take a breather, sit with our imaginations and view the world in a more empathetic and creative way. Stories give us a better grip on reality. Most importantly, they teach us how to persevere, which is something we need right now.

In school they tell us that it’s our job to fix the crises of our communities — it’s why many of us applied to Colorado State University in the first place. 

Young people were at the front of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests. Today, they are the ones advocating for climate justice and gradually making their way into politics

But unless we are doctors, millionaires or grocery store employees, there’s little we can do to help in the battle against COVID-19. We are living in uncharted territory, and advocacy is one of the many things that we don’t know how to do anymore.

Protagonists like Guy Montag from “Fahrenheit 451″ still find a way to win even when they lose. In addition to teaching us perseverance, dystopias teach us to have hope.

Although he fails in overthrowing his restrictive government, Montag still does his “own bit of saving” every day by engaging in one small act of rebellion that keeps him sane: reading and memorizing stories. The books save him in the same way his own story can save us. 

They inspire Montag and provide him with a fresh perspective on his situation. Montag ends up an outcast from society, but like Katniss and Tris, he still finds a way to persevere in his mission to live an important, beautiful life. 

We grew up in a world bigger than it has ever been, and now it’s shrinking to become the smallest we have ever known it to be. There’s not much we can do about changing current events, but dystopias show us that we have enormous agency over what we do in response.

Read a book, practice compassion and choose your words carefully. Remember that even when things are bleak, it’s possible to be a hero in small ways.

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at or Twitter at @abbym_vg