The Handmaid’s Tale vs. Reality: Utopian Dreams & Dystopian Nightmares

What do you believe was the main idea or theme of this play (A Doll’s House)
August 15, 2019
Gestalt Psychology Essay.
August 15, 2019

English 103 Final Project Summer 2019

The Handmaid’s Tale vs. Reality: Utopian Dreams & Dystopian Nightmares
—includes a 7-10 page research essay

The Handmaid’s Tale is a science fiction masterpiece about a society ravaged by religious war, environmental destruction, and extreme misogyny. Throughout the course of the novel, we learn how the nation of Gilead regressed from a functioning free society to a reactionary patriarchy that sees some women as necessary vessels for procreation and others as either disposable waste or enemies of the state. We learn that this government is ruled by older, wealthy white men and persecutes intellectuals, homosexuals, non-Christians, and any independent voices. We also learn through the protagonist Offred (whose real name we never learn) the power of words and storytelling and the need to record events so that they will not be repeated.

Clearly this is a dystopian nightmare, right? But is it really that different than our own world?

Consider that Margaret Atwood wrote this in the 1980s, during a radical anti-feminist backlash, in which the Equal Rights Amendment was quashed in the U.S. Congress (and still has not passed) and Second Wave Feminism was derided as “destroying family values” and threatening the power of men. Now, add to that all that has happened since then, including the escalation of global warming, so-called wars on terrorism (including our longest running war in history in Afghanistan), anti-Muslim sentiment, a continuing lack of female representation in government (19.6% of Congress when women comprise 51% of the population) and leadership in business (16.3% of CEOs), Conservative attacks on and defunding of Planned Parenthood, persistent homophobia, racism, and sexism giving rise to Act Up!, Black Lives Matter, and the #metoo and #timesup movements, and, of course, the election and presidency of Donald Trump.

In a fiercely original, thesis-driven, and well-supported essay, make an argument by answering the following prompt.

PROMPTFocusing on one or more main issues Atwood raises in The Handmaid’s Tale, what is she warning us about? Compare Gilead to the U.S. today, as well as in the 1980s, and argue what we should do to avoid such a fate.

Issues to choose from:

  • Feminism, sexism & misogyny (1980s, Gilead, and today)
  • Pollution, including nuclear accidents/bomb blasts, environmental destruction, & birth defects/diseases (1980s, Gilead, and today)
  • Religious fanaticism, homophobia, anti-science & anti-intellectual attitudes (1980s, Gilead, and today)
  • Patriarchal domination—esp. rule by older, white, wealthy men—and the either/or mentality, militarism, & classism (1980s, Gilead, and today)

NOTE: You can combine some of these issues and do not need to address all aspects; these are simply ideas to give you examples of themes and topics to research and include in your argument/comparison.

Keys to this research paper/things to include: 

  • Dig deep and include close, connotative reading of The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • You must also include a minimum of five credible secondary sources.
  • You may use any of the other material we have covered in this course, but make sure you include credible research on the issue(s) you will focus on.
  • Address and refute a counterargument.
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