Toxic Environments in The Handmaid’s Tale, Its Sequels, and Other Feminist Dystopias

Péter Hajdu

Published Date: Feb 28, 2022


Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was much more concerned with sexist oppression than environmental issues. The late 2010s experienced a boom in feminist dystopian novels, including a sequel by Atwood herself, and the television series adaptation of the novel is also part of this trend. This development evolves in a much more environmentally conscious context, which necessarily influences the interpretation both of the 1985 novel and the sequels. This article offers readings of recent feminist dystopias from the viewpoint of current environmental crises, especially the pollution crisis and climate change. The basic problem the religious fundamentalist regime of Gilead tries to deal with is widespread infertility, and nowadays (unlike in 1985) most readers/watchers must suppose that it is probably caused by environmental pollution. With this hypothesis, however, we can interpret The Handmaid’s Tale in the context of material agency as an allegory of the human activity, which transforms the ecosystem in such a way that it eventually endangers the survival of the human race. The Gilead regime tries to legitimize its solution, the collectivization of the fertile female body, by falsely blaming women. Most of the recent feminist dystopias take as their point of departure a situation in which the number of fertile women is seriously diminished due to causes that may or may not be related to climate change. What makes many of them fail as warnings is a tendency to represent local dystopic realities that seem to have developed as a reaction to local rather than global environmental challenges.


Margaret Atwoo, The Testament, fertility crisis, climate chang, pollution, female body, post-apocalyptic narrative,

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)