Context - The Handmaid's Tale and 1984


The Handmaid's Tale:

The clearance of land, excessive use of fossil fuels and the general degradation of the environment and the irresponsible use of resources were obvious consequences of the Industrial Revolution in late 1800s. Environmental disasters started to occur after the revolution, and as one can imagine, the 20th century is filled up with them.

Father was an entomologist, high likelihood that this influenced her views on environmentalism, Atwood is keen on the protection of the environment and is a member of the Green Party in Canada. How this influences THT? Set after a nuclear disaster - The world Atwood has created is a radiation-soaked one with chemicals all over the air and the water. The causes of this are wars (especially the use of nuclear weapons) and pollution - quote from book - ‘the air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules’ - Chapter 19. 

Pieixoto speaks of nuclear-plant accidents Three mile island - Pennsylvania, 1979 (6 years before THT is published), a pressure valve in a Nuclear Power Plant malfunctioned - 5 days of fear but they managed to contain it -  Although no-one in the vicinity was killed or injured, many doubts have been raised about adverse effects on the environment and on human and animal health.

Atomic bomb testing - Russia and the US 

Just after publication of book, Chernobyl disaster, 1986 - 50 died on site and thousands killed due to cancers developed due to the radiation released.



1960’s - 1962, birth control available for married women and in 1967 it was made available to all women 

1963 - ‘A Feminist Mystique’ - Betty Friedan - accredited as sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism

1964 - married women's property act - it allowed women to be the legal owners of money they earned, and to inherit property. Prior to this Act, everything a woman owned or earned became her husband's property when she married

1970 - Miss World Pageant Protest (possible satire on behalf of feminist within the book, as Atwood mocks both extremist christians as well as extreme feminists - The Miss World beauty pageant had been held annually in the UK since 1951. Women from all over the world competed within their own countries, and then came to London to compete for 'Miss World' crown. Feminists threw flour-bombs at the 1970 Miss World contest in 1970, protesting against what they saw as the objectification of women. They found the very idea of judging women solely on their looks to be insulting and undermining.

1971 - image of Dorothy Pitman-Hughes and Gloria Steinem pictured together - a black woman and a white woman - united and raising their fist - an expression of female solidarity - highly appraised image 

1975 - marital **** made illegal- no sexual discriminations permitted on the grounds of marriage

Pieixoto mentions the banning of birth control in Romania

Under the dictatorship of President Ceausescu, who wanted to increase his


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