Enjoyment After the End of Times: The Role of “Enjoyment” in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale
Thalia Ostendorf is a recent graduate of the RMA Comparative Literature (cum laude), and has undertaken her studies in Utrecht and Naples. Her research interests include city dynamics, and war literature from WWI to the present. She is currently working as a project manager at a translation company and is co- founder of the feminist press Chaos.
Utopia and dystopia are two interconnected genres. With the vision of a utopian future comes a manifesto for political action or belief, and so the opponents of that vision will find it a dystopia (Atwood 2007, n.p.; Clute and Nicholls 1993, 680). Literary dystopias can play out current societal anxieties and have evolved into sets of “what if?” scenario’s that show us our possible futures. The basics of these novels are the basics of our lives; what do people eat, what about money, what do they do? (Atwood 2007, n.p.). Enjoyment is an often overlooked but telling element to these world-formations. Who is allowed to enjoy what, under which circumstances, and in exchange for what? Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale (1985) is a dystopian novel in which the 'old' society is overturned by the new puritan society of Gilead. Women are no longer allowed to have possessions and those that are still fertile become subservient to high-ranking men. In this process, women become reified, handed around like commodities. My central theses revolve around the following questions: what role does “enjoyment” play in the commodification of people in the dystopian society of Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale? What is Atwood's vision of this possible future, what societal structures/what structures of exchange do they represent? Why are these images dystopian? Enjoyment and what is or is not enjoyed are maneuvered expertly into the systems that the novel represents; they are part of the overarching structure, yet not a good thing. How does this paradox come about?