Dystopian fiction

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is an example of dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction generally offers an imaginary vision of the future, characterized by an oppressive social system, widespread poverty and persecution, the use of surveillance and fear tactics to control the population, and a degraded environment. 

Dystopian societies often have parallels to trends in contemporary society and often act as a warning against where those trends and ways of thinking might lead. For example, Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale seems like the possible extreme conclusion of some of the ways in which right-wing political and Christian groups in the USA have been trying to control women’s bodies and reproductive rights. 

Dystopian novels often explore how populations can be brainwashed and controlled. For example, in both The Handmaid’s Tale and in George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, citizens are constantly watched and they are kept in terror of the secret police who use torture to break any signs of resistance. In both novels, the powerful regimes use language as a tool for control. In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are denied their real names and reduced to their roles in society. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government introduces “Newspeak”, a form of language that uses simple grammar and vocabulary as well as a collection of invented words, in order to restrict citizens’ ability to think freely. 

The restriction of women’s reproductive rights in the USA

Margaret Atwood’s imaginary society of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale reflects the direction US society seemed to be going in in the 1980s. There are also some clear similarities with debates and social movements happening in the US at the moment. 

In The Handmaid’s Tale, a declining birth rate combined with authoritarian moral and religious beliefs mean that women are denied any right to contraception or abortion, and are even forced to have sex with men of authority. Handmaids like Offred have no control over their bodies or their reproductive rights. 

The United States of America has a complicated relationship with women’s reproductive rights. Throughout the country, and particu...

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