Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

Selected Essays: International Conference on Representing Revolution 1989




Nadine Gordimer's July's People (1981) and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985) are both dystopias, nightmare visions of the future. Both of the worlds depicted come into being because of revolutionary coups. However, in both cases, the revolutions were in progress long before the actual takeovers, and there were opportunities for citizens to have prevented these dystopian situations from coming to pass. Yet, because changing the direction of political events requires energy, solidarity, bravery or at least some self-sacrifice, most citizens are reluctant to become involved. Nadine Gordimer and Margaret Atwood understand this attitude because they have felt that way too. Both claim they are not by nature drawn to politics. Indeed, each would prefer the luxury of being a personal, apolitical writer; yet both find they have no choice but to write novels in which the personal and the political are inseparably intertwined ("Nadine Gordimer: An Interview" 18; Atwood, "Evading" 536). Similarly, their dystopian visions, the products of their insights, suggest that we readers should also recognize that, whether or not we acknowledge it, the personal is political. We cannot afford the luxury of believing that :we can ignore the political-which means, in Atwood's words, "who's got the power and how did they get it, and how do they maintain it, and who is it power over and what is it power to do?" (Van Gelder 90). To remain disengaged from politics is also political, for it is an endorsement of whatever is happening. If we do not make sacrifices now, we may be obliged to make even greater sacrifices later. As women writers deeply concerned about human rights, Gordimer and Atwood focus our attention, in particular, upon the sacrifices the revolutionary coups force upon their female protagonists. In July's People, the coup, although provoked initially by Rightist politics, comes from the Left. In The Handmaid's Tale, the coup comes from the religious Right. Whether the revolutions come from the Left or the Right, the female protagonists are far worse off than before. Because of these political upheavals, they lose whatever power or happiness they once had.

Original Publication Citation

Bazin, N. T. (1991). Women and revolution in dystopian fiction: Nadine Gordimer's July's People and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. In J. M. Crafton (Ed.), Selected essays: International conference on representing revolution 1989 (pp. 115-127). West Georgia College.