The Great Thinkers | Margaret Atwood and her tale’s dystopian depiction of climate change

Atwood believes that an unfortunate pattern of inequality might only be reinforced by climate change in the future.
by Perla Kantarjian

25 September 2019 | 15:15

Source: by Annahar

  • by Perla Kantarjian
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 25 September 2019 | 15:15

Margaret Atwood (AP Photo)

With the recent calamitous forest fires and the latest global cry for climate action, we cannot but be reminded of author, inventor, and environmentalist Margaret Atwood, who has long voiced her opinion on climate change, and who has even painted a dystopian image of the future in her renowned novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

It all started at the age of 17 when young Atwood found herself mentally composing a poem on her way home from school. The moment she got home, she made sure to write it down, and that metamorphic moment was only the beginning of a long journey.

Now, at the age of 79 and with 50 riveting works of literature; including novels, short fiction, children’s books, poetry, non-fiction, theatre, and television and radio scripts; Atwood is known to be one of the 20th century’s most inventive authors.

The most striking among the many literary genres adopted by Atwood has proven to be speculative dystopian fiction. Her landmark dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, originally published in 1985, was turned to an acknowledged TV series on Hulu with the same title, and its sequel The Testaments was published last week.

The novel entails an imminent dystopian vision dealing with the aftermath of climate change, in which women are deprived of their rights and their roles become limited to breeding, while struggling daily to survive.

“Climate change will directly and adversely affect women,” the author, who believes her novel foreshadows a possible future, told The Guardian.

Despite the novel’s feminist tone, its author eschews from labeling it a feminist book, as the term is too broad to signify a singular connotation.

In labeling herself as a feminist, the author has expressed that she never says she’s “an ‘ist’ of any kind” unless she knows “how the other person is defining it,” adding that she believes “women are full human beings and that laws should reflect that.”

Atwood believes that an unfortunate pattern of inequality might only be reinforced by climate change in the future. She writes: “More extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, rising sea levels that will destroy arable land, and disruption of marine life will all result in less food, which will mean that women and children get less, as the remaining food supplies will be unevenly distributed, even more than they are.”

In several of her novels, Atwood expresses explicit concerns with the impact humans have on the environment. Her prophetic prose weaves such compelling ideas matching the possible reverberation of current world events that a protester at a recent Women’s March on Washington was seen holding a slogan that read “MAKE MARGARET ATWOOD FICTION AGAIN.”

Atwood was the first author nominated by the Future Library Project in Norway to place a confidential manuscript in a time capsule that will be opened in 2114, almost a century from now.

She has also invented the LongPen, a device that allows writers to sign books from anywhere in the world via a remote-controlled pen that replicates their hand movements.

She’s also heavily inspired by science and its methodology, as she once said: “The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

This interest doesn’t come as a surprise, considering her family’s background.

In November 1939, two months following the start of the Second World War, Atwood was born to an entomologist father and a nutritionist mother. Her father, Carl Edmund Atwood, partook in the war economy not by fighting, but by offering his expertise on forestry by managing a forest-insect research station in North Quebec.

Along with his wife, Margaret Dorothy Killam, Carl fueled his three kids with a comprehensive love for nature. Atwood’s unconventional upbringing was orchestrated in the northern Canadian wilderness, having only her older brother Harold Leslie and younger sister Ruth to play with.

“At the age of six months, I was carried into the woods in a packsack, and this landscape became my hometown,” she once wrote.

This reality formed the basis of the award-winning author’s proclivity for reading books and stimulating her imaginative skills, and of having a sharp environmental calling. Despite having begun attending school at the age of eight, Atwood completed her university studies at the University of Toronto, and continued to earn a master’s degree in English Literature from Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Within her literary métier, Atwood’s eclectic works encompass a diversity of themes. The most highlighted, however, remain to be gender and identity, religion and myth, climate change, and power politics.

The acclaimed author’s assiduity doesn’t only limit itself within the context of writing. She has had a long-standing history with ornithology and nature conservation, and she shares the passion of bird watching with her late partner, Canadian writer Graeme Gibson, who passed away recently on September 18.

A myriad of awards and honors, including the Man Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Franz Kafka Prize, and Governor General’s Award continue to be bequeathed to Atwood, whose minute exploration of all the components of a fine literary work make her one of the most innovative authors of the 20th century. Atwood herself is the founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and Writers’ Trust of Canada.     

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