Rachael Sears

Document Type


Date of Award



College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences (COLABS)

Degree Name

MA in English

First Advisor

Dr. Michael Zeitler


Utopian/dystopian authors have speculated about the future of humanity for centuries. Some envisioned moneyless societies of communal living, shared property and true democratic processes. Others dreamed a darker future full of chaos, tyrannical governments and worldwide calamity. Regardless of the nature of their speculative visions, these authors frequently looked to what was occurring around them to fuel their futuristic prophecies. This is particularly apparent in utopias/dystopias written by women. Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), Margaret Atwood (1939- present) and Octavia Butler (1947-2006) used the tenets of first, second and third wave feminism, respectively to create utopias/dystopias that addressed issues often ignored by maleauthored utopias/dystopias, commenting on feminist concerns, specifically Ecofeminism, which draws parallels between the exploitation of women and the exploitation of the environment. Chapter one of this thesis provides background information defining the utopian/dystopian tradition, the various waves of feminism, and Ecofeminist theory. Chapter two illustrates how Gilman expanded upon the established utopian tradition, but 1 2 also diverged from utopian norms. Using the goals of First Wave Feminism, primarily women's equal right to work, Gilman's Herland builds upon but also contradicts the bestselling utopia of the time, Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy. Gilman's novel also serves as a forerunner to the modern feminist theory known as Ecofeminism. In contrast to popular male-authored utopias of the time, Herland addresses the importance of , ecology and managing available natural resources in ways that are largely absent in maleauthored utopias. Chapter three focuses on Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale. Like Gilman, Atwood adhered to many of the traditional characteristics found in the utopian/dystopian tradition. She reinterprets many of the common themes found in 1984, A Clockwork Orange, and Brave New World, such as class divisions, totalitarian governments and propaganda, only she spins them into a feminist nightmare-- women are in the lowest caste and the government continually seeks to oppress its citizens, particularly women. Atwood's novel is largely a speculative reaction to the religious and political conservatism of the 1980s, itself a reaction to the gains of Second Wave Feminism, particularly the attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and the right for women to control their own bodies. In The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood explores the potential consequences the reactionary policies of this era could have produced, focusing primarily on the consequences for women. Building on Gilman's Ecofeminist themes and the theory developed by French feminist, Francoise d'Eaubonne, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale explores the tenets of Ecofeminism, specifically the cause-and-effect relationship between destroying nature and destroying women. 3 Chapter four centers on the two Parable novels by Octavia Butler, a unique blend of dystopian and utopian speculative fiction. Butler was clearly influenced by the utopian/dystopian tradition that came before her, but she was also cognizant of Third Wave Feminist concerns, specifically race and gender. Like Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Butler's Parable novels were another reaction against the religious and political climate of the 1980s, and she too, delves into America's jagged history to create her vision of the future. In her detailed description of humanity's spiritual relationship with the Earth, Butler pushes the components of Ecofeminism even further than previously seen in Herland and The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter five consists of final thoughts and conclusions concerning Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler and their contributions to the utopian/dystopian genre. As female utopian/dystopian authors, they offer unique, environmentally-conscious perspectives in their speculative fictions, perspectives reflecting a dynamic century of feminist thought.