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Unseen Dystopia for Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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Like many dystopias O’Neill’s dystopia ‘Only Ever Yours’ focusses on the theme of entrapment. The theme of entrapment is a common dystopian trope and O’Neill introduces this through her protagonist Freida. Immediately the passage starts off with the narrator explaining how she “can’t sleep” even after taking “SleepSound”, this description instantly alerts readers and makes us question as to why she can’t sleep? Freida’s lack of sleep could perhaps demonstrate how the narrator is unable to sleep due to thinking and worrying about what’s going on in her life, this links in with many other dystopias such as Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ whereby the protagonist is unable to sleep due to flashbacks of her past.

The words “can’t sleep” may be O’Neill’s ways of demonstrating that despite all the sleeping pills one may take, they still will not block out what’s happening in the present. O’Neill could therefore be critiquing her 21st century readers who readily depend on drugs and alcohol to help ease their problems whilst simultaneously damaging “vital organs” and instead of solving the problem we are just running away from it. This heightens the theme of entrapment because regardless of what we do to block out emotions we still feel engulfed by them and this could perhaps be the reason as to why Freida is unable to sleep – she is trapped in a cobweb of emotions. One may also point out that O’Neill introduces the theme of entrapment through her vivid use of a simile to describe the living conditions of the narrator.

Through O’Neill’s simile we discover that Freida is “lying in (her) cot buzzing like an exposed wire”, this is a very shocking description of Freida’s living conditions and immediately depicts the theme of entrapment. Interestingly the fact that O’Neill’s character is lying in a “cot” and not a ‘bed’ creates a sense of confinement, usually cots are used for babies. This informs readers that the narrator is in a very claustrophobic setting, it also creates a very patronising tone because “cots” are associated with babies and the fact that Freida has one demonstrates how she is not treated like an adult. This is evident in the opening paragraph where Freida is infantilised and is asked twice if she is “taking it correctly” (her medication). Ironically O’Neill’s deliberate reference to the “exposed wire” highlights how her narrator has no sense of privacy – although she is physically confined she is still “exposed” to the world and this links in with Orwell’s ‘1984’ where Party members are constantly under surveillance through the use of telescreens. This common dystopian trope of a lack of privacy further emphasises the narrator’s confinement – she isn’t just confined in her sleep but also her ‘cot’ aims to trap her. Cots usually have bars on them to prevent babies from falling and this imagery of a cot creates a prison-like structure for Freida further intensifying the theme of entrapment.

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O’Neill’s dystopia aims to raise the reader’s consciousness and forces us to question our own society – are we too preoccupied with our own appearance to help others feel better about theirs? In O’Neill’s dystopia we discover that Freida is part of an “eve” and in this eve they all compete with each other and are rated according to their beauty and appearance. This competition over who’s rated number 1 links in with our society, O’Neill published her novel in 2014 and in 2014 many celebrities such as Kylie Jenner were introducing small changes to their appearance. Also, in 2014 beauty pageants were starting to become more popular as people wanted to be crowned ‘Miss Great Britain’ or ‘Miss Universe’, in this dystopia O’Neill is providing a mirror of our society and how we obsess over our looks in order to get a prize in the end. In ‘Only Ever Yours’ we discover that the sisters “were all designed equally”, this immediate reference to the verb “designed” sharply critiques the 21st century and how we are so determined to correct our flaws through plastic surgery and O’Neill hints at the theme of jealousy when we learn that they are “compared” with each other.

This idea of being “designed better” is also found in Levin’s ‘The Stepford Wives’ where women are killed and swapped out for a better edition of themselves – a robotic version. In ‘Only ever yours’ the direct reference to “fat women are ugly” intentionally fat shames women and the adjective “ugly” almost dehumanises them, O’Neill has deliberately placed the adjectives “fat” and “ugly” in the same sentence to depict what society is turning into. People are so focussed on being “thin” that they are forgetting to appreciate other body types and this example of fat shaming is common within our 21st century whereby celebrities are being scrutinised for having “gained weight” and many television shows such as Netflix’s show ‘Insatiable’ urges how ‘skinny is magic’. This fear is reminiscent in O’Neill’s dystopia where Isabelle fears she has gained weight and has “tried throwing up”, ironically instead of Freida telling Isabelle that weight gain isn’t a bad thing she deliberately asks her about the “extra meds” and encourages her to go to such lengths such as “throwing up”. The verb “throwing up” sounds quite forceful demonstrating how eager women are to achieve a perfect look despite damaging their health.

O’Neill has created a dystopia in which women fail to help one another and their sole focus is on appearances, this frightens her contemporary readers as it makes us worry that we will turn a blind eye to mental health problems such as an eating disorder in order to protect one’s appearance. Therefore, O’Neill’s main message in her dystopia is to not be deceived by appearances and instead of competing to become like the other, people should work together as one and not separate individuals.

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Unseen Dystopia for Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from
“Unseen Dystopia for Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
Unseen Dystopia for Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2022].
Unseen Dystopia for Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Dec 6]. Available from:
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