Dystopian Fantasy: The Hunger, New and Old

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This weekend marks the opening of what is being hailed as the next young adult obsession to rival Twilight, as the book trilogy turned movie makes it’s debut. But this isn’t the first woman-centric dystopian novel to hit the stands: once upon a time it was the now classic The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

Rather than reading the Hunger Games books, which I hear are positively riveting, I instead and entirely accidentally picked up this older dystopian rendition, having had this book loaned to my by a co-worker. I hope that what is now captivating readers all over again will bring attention to what was trailblazing it its own day, but still has a message for readers that couldn’t be more painfully current.

In Margaret Atwood’s book, she puts forth an alternate reality of what might happen if extremist chauvinistic and conservative religious values were allowed to become cornerstones of our society. That is if church became state, and morals in the bedroom entered boardroom. This message, although written in the late 80’s, is coming back to haunt us now that women’s reproductive freedom from religion is being called into question by Republican conservatives. What was yesterday’s anti-obsenity legislation (which none of us remember) is today’s more subtle war on women, encouraging state and federal suppression of women’s healthcare. In Atwood’s book, this is just one step away from a totalitarian society.

As a woman, as a voter, as a feminist, and as purchaser of contraception, I am an advocate of a women’s right to choose. It saddens me that a book written 25 years ago can resonate with the same clarity of message today. Now that dystopia is fashionable again, I hope everyone who likes the Hunger Games also reads this book and rethinks what it means when women’s reproductive rights become property of the state. The second a woman cannot be the sole arbiter of her reproductive choices there will be a backsliding of the meaning of word freedom in this country, which we so highly prize.

It’s that freedom to choose anything, be it reproductive or not, that is the basic concept behind which Katniss is fighting for in the Hunger Games and Offred is yearning for in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. The beauty and simplicity of a right so basic is easy to root for, to rally behind. I think dystopian fiction is popular for this reason, and maybe it takes characters like Offred and Katniss to remind us that in our society today we can choose and we do have free speech. Let’s keep it that way. You go girls!

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