Feminist Dystopias: Power Dynamics in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and Chroniques du Pays des Mères by Élisabeth Vonarburg
Speculative fiction is a genre increasingly used in feminist literature to initiate reflections about our society. In this genre, the author presents a fictional society to its reader, which provides an anchor that can be used to compare and discuss our reality. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Vonarburg’s Chroniques du Pays des Mères are dystopias in which genders are central; one presents a totalitarian patriarchy, while the other suggests a softer matriarchy. Despite this, both texts strive to initiate a reflection about equality in our society. This panel proposes to study the circulation of power between men and women, as well as between characters of the same gender to understand how power is wielded in these fictional societies, and how these novels can initiate feminist reflections about our own society.
Andréanne Basque is currently working on her master’s thesis at the Université de Moncton, where she is studying Comparative Canadian Literature. She completed her degree in French studies with a specialization in literature, also at the Université de Moncton.
"Let Me Explain": The Controlled Use of Religious Texts for Personal and Political Control in The Handmaid's Tale and Station Eleven
This paper examines the use of a religious text, specifically the Bible, as a means for personal and political control in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The experiences of the characters in both texts confront a world state that is the result of a catastrophic event. In this new world, single-minded adherence to a religious text sustains some, while simultaneously causing harm to others. With a focus on how the use of religious texts controls a specific population, my paper will examine the means by which a religious order is formed, new laws and practices are implemented, and the tenets of these orders come to redefine “normal” in the post-event world.
Ian Moy is a settler-scholar from Ontario, where he completed a BA at Trent and a BEd and MA at Queen’s. He is currently in his fourth year of the PhD program at the University of Saskatchewan, where his research focuses on Canadian literature, specifically questions of culture and family.
"Show Me You're Still Human": Gender and Human Connectedness in Apocalyptic Short Stories by Canadian Women
While much of the critical focus on apocalyptic writing by Canadians has been on novels, there is also a substantial but much less studied body of short-form apocalyptic fiction. Between 1964 and 1984, four well-known Canadian women writers used short stories to explore fears about nuclear war and climate change. This paper investigates the representation of apocalyptic events in these stories, referencing theories about the short story by Gerald Lynch and about women's apocalyptic fiction by Susan Watkins. Margaret Laurence’s “A Queen in Thebes” (1964), Margaret Atwood’s “When It Happens” (1977), P.K. Page’s “Unless the Eye Catch Fire” (1979), and Carol Shields’s “Words” (1984) make use of a compact, spare, and sometimes poetic genre to represent gender as a factor in survival, but also to explore the idea that fear of the other and even of annihilation might be mitigated by maintaining essential human connectedness.
Wendy Roy is a Professor of Canadian literature at the University of Saskatchewan. Her books include The Next Instalment: Serials, Sequels, and Adaptations of Nellie L. McClung, L.M. Montgomery, and Mazo de la Roche (2019) and Maps of Difference: Canada, Women, and Travel (2005). Her current SSHRC-sponsored research is on dystopian and apocalyptic fiction by Canadian women.
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