Transformations of Language in Modern Dystopias

By David W. Sisk | Go to book overview

6
Language and the Feminist Dystopia

While capable of depicting terrifying societies, dystopian fiction is equally adept at focusing on individual characters. Dystopia's versatility permits the foregrounding of almost any critical issue. Burgess A Clockwork Orange grapples with pressing issues of the early 1960s--rebellious youth, rising rates of violent crime, and a crisis of confidence in representative democratic governmental structures. In the late 1970s, continuing fears of nuclear apocalypse coupled with worries over the widening gap between technological advancement and moral-philosophical progress formed the core of Russell Hoban's 1980 novel, Riddley Walker. By the mid- 1980s, however, the dominant issues had shifted once again as feminism focused attention on issues of genderbased oppression and the rise of the activist, politically conservative, Christian Right raised questions about the separation of church and state. Margaret Atwood interweaves these forces to create a terrifying dystopic society in her 1986 novel, The Handmaid's Tale.

As early as 1915, Charlotte Perkins Gilman Herland posited a utopian society inhabited solely by women. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a huge increase in the number and quality of similar works. 1 Such fictions have tended to explore concepts of the matriarchal feminist utopia (as in Sally Gearheart The Wanderground, 1978), or androgynous utopian societies in which gender roles have been thoroughly equalized ( Marge Piercy Woman On the Edge of Time, 1976), or to view gender relationships in terms of contact between

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