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The politics of dystopia: The Handmaid’s Tale

For the most part, dystopian fiction provides us with a source of escape: it allows us to see alternative universes in which the worst elements of humanity are brought to the forefront. So, how should we as readers feel when the things we are meant to fear begin to crop up in real life? 

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is considered by many as an iconic work within this genre. It presents an alternative version of the United States in which childbirth has become a rare occurrence, women are ranked based on their reproductive abilities, and a hierarchical and divided society is clearly shown through colour coded dress and strict societal regulation and restriction. 

Whilst elements of the story are far-fetched, a brief glance at today’s headlines provides a stark and shocking comparison. Protests have taken place internationally regarding laws essentially banning abortion in Poland, and the USA recently signed a treaty dictating that abortion is no longer a right, and they have no financial obligation to provide it. The latter is co-sponsored by nations with poor human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia. 

Similarly, Atwood’s Republic of Gilead came about as a result of attacks and protests from right-leaning religious separatists. Within the real world, one only has to look to opposition group responses to the recent Black Lives Matter movement and similar issues to realise that controversial political views such as these are alive and well, and it would only take for the right candidate to achieve a position of power for this type of nightmarish scenario to become a reality. 

With the visible division within the world today and extreme politics on the rise, one has to question whether the dystopian world of Gilead, crafted by Atwood within the novel, is really so far fetched.


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Emily Kelly

May 2021
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