Dystopian fiction has dominated human imagination for centuries and themes of
futuristic societies oppressed by bureaucratic and technological control have become consistent
throughout various novels, films and television shows. The absence and mistreatment of
humanity due to factors such as war, famine and poverty criticize current global issues while also
foreshadowing the consequences of those issues if left unresolved. Both Margaret Atwood’s The
Handmaid’s Tale, and the movie Gattaca reflect dystopian societies in their approach to human
reproduction and social class. The illusion of utopia and dehumanization of individuals are
present through both societies’ dependence on an elite group of males.
Handmaid’s Tale and Gattaca, while sharing similarities between dystopian themes,
challenge reproduction from two greatly opposing perspectives: science and religion. In Gattaca,
natural conception is highly unrecommended whereas in Handmaid’s Tale it is firmly encouraged
and supported. Handmaid’s Tale concentrates on biblical teachings and gender roles reflect those
of old world normalities. Citizens are divided into different social classes and are to conform to
the expectations of their class. Gattaca on the other hand is based on gender equality, and social
class is divided between two categories-genetically engineered and naturally conceived. The
presence of an elite group of males, extreme scientific and religious influences, and abuse of
differing hierarchical systems determine both Handmaid’s Tale and Gattaca as two societies that
have become ineffective in their failed attempt for perfection.
Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the republic of Gilead, a distressed state in the midst of
civil war. In Gilead, conception depends on commanders-higher ranked generals that assume
authority over their respective households-and the monthly ‘ceremonies’ that are held in effort to
conceive offspring. During these ceremonies, the commanders have sexual intercourse with their
designated handmaids whose only purposes are to carry and give birth to children. If a handmaid
does not become pregnant within a few ceremonies, she is classified as ‘un-woman’ and
immediately transported to the colonies to perform hard physical labour. Commanders possess
full power over their handmaids as they are the leaders of the household, and failure to obey
them-depending on severity-is punishable by death.
In contrast to Handmaid’s Tale, Gattaca takes place in a futuristic society rich with
technological advancements. Natural conception is avoided and discouraged, as it increases the
chances of conceiving a child with physical mutations and syndromes. In Gattaca, reproduction
lies in the hands of geneticists-doctors fertilize the egg outside of the female body and
genetically engineer it to ensure that offspring are as close to perfection as possible. In other
words, chromosomes are...