“Return Things to Nature’s Norms”: A Material Feminist Reading of the Surrogate Bodies in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake
This paper explores the ethics of surrogate bodies in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Oryx and Crake (2003) through the lens of material feminisms. The first section of the paper examines the exploitation of the surrogate mother, the Handmaid, by the Gilead administration and the genetically engineered nonhuman entities, the pigoons, and nature, by the authoritative scientists in the Compounds. In doing this, the author uncovers the ideologies of patriarchy, reductionism, and mechanization that are embedded within Gilead’s surrogate system and food distribution system as well as the Compound’s production of the genetically engineered pigoons and ersatz food cultures. The latter part of the article highlights the parallel irony embedded within each novel, whereby the Handmaids, the pigoons, and nature itself resist and offer revenge through adapting and surviving throughout the stories. These reversed power relationships function as a composite material feminist counter-narrative as opposed to the patriarchal, anthropocentric, reductionist consciousnesses imposed by the Gilead administration and the Compounds. This leads to the emphasis that the core element to “survive” in a dystopian environment is through embracing material feminisms.
Key Words: non-anthropocentrism, material feminism, The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, resistance, adaption, survive, surrogate bodies