Creating a Dystopian Storyworld

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This is an example of establishing the plausibility of a future dystopian storyworld. Sufficient background is given for it not to have just come out of the blue, and the final chapter, where academics review the era in a more distant future, explains more of this.

Atwood creates a series of social concepts to build her world, and contrasts these with the protagonist’s reminiscences and memories of former times. Some of these seem a little trite, almost infantile. I would question the realism of this, in as much that one might expect the protagonist to distance herself, refer to the ‘so-called’ [whatever it is]. She evidently doesn’t accept the world and its concepts; I think she might question language a little more.

Taking the dystopian society ‘backward’ (regressive, old fashioned, impoverished) is a useful device for avoiding speculation about future technology, and thereby ‘dating’ the novel. As a 2017 reader of a 1983 book I do notice the lack of reference to mobile phones and the author’s computer references (which at the time of writing were barely in use). But this doesn’t feel wrong – because Gilead has gone ‘backwards’.

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Author: Cathy

Suburban permaculturist, vegetarian, WWOOF host, Freecycler, Amazon seller, lapsed lawyer, Albaphile, writer, blogger, Radio 4 listener and industrious idler.

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