A couple of days ago, I came across a text about Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985). I read this dystopian science-fiction novel a few years ago, in high school, and it first came back to me a few weeks ago when watching “Children of Men” (2006) in class. The general concept of the movie was what first reminded me of the book, but also certain parts and details had distinct similarities to Atwood’s story.
In “Children of Men”, we see a collapsed world, in 2027, where the United Kingdom seems to be the only habitable state left with any sort of government. There are millions of refugees coming to the UK, trying to get into the country, but most are sent to refugee camps that show striking similarities to what has been shown and described about the camps in Nazi-Germany during World War II. Moreover, there have been no children born in the world in 18 years.
In “The Handmaid’s Tale”, we also get a futuristic look at society after something has caused great devastation to land and people. In this case, the story is set in what was previously the United States of America, but has now been taken over by a military coup in response to the degradation of the country. The new republic, run as a military dictatorship, is ideologically driven, highly racist and greatly suppressing towards women. Blacks, radicals, and homosexuals are killed or sent to death camps abroad.
Similarly to “Children of Men”, infertility is extremely high in the book. It exists only among women, which is part of the reason why women are being treated like outcasts. The few women that are still fertile are forced to serve as handmaids, slaves that bear the children of the nation’s leaders whose wives are infertile. The reason for the infertility, and for the degradation of the country, is suggested to be nuclear. The environment that is described suggests there have been a third world war – a nuclear war that completely devastated the U.S. and left women infertile because of nuclear radiation. In “Children of Men”, the reason why no children are being born is not directly explained, but it obviously has to do with what caused the great devastation of the world. What actually happened that caused it is not depicted or explained. Nuclear war could be the case here as well, but it seems more likely that it has to do with pollution or some kind of major pandemic.
“Children of Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are two very dark, apocalyptic, dystopian stories where humanity’s ignorant use of technology has finally led to severe degradation of society. They both deal with social and political issues that could arise if similar situations were to happen in real life. For those who liked watching “Children of Men”, Atwood’s book could be an interesting reading.