Degree Name

Master of Arts (Hons.)


Department of English


The two texts which have been compared in this thesis are Handfasted written by the South Australian author Catherine Helen Spence and The Handmaid's Tale written by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Although written nearly one hundred years apart both books follow the tradition of the Utopian genre, although Spence's attitude to the future is much more optimistic than Atwood's. Spence creates a Utopia in her fictional American Columba where the inhabitants, male and female, experience religious and social tolerance. The radical practice of handfasting has given the inhabitants of Columba freedom to change sexual partners every year if they are not satisfied and any children from the union of handfasted parents are privileged in Columba. They are the only ones who are taught to read and write and form the bureaucracy of the Plantation of Columba. Atwood, on the other hand, has created the dystopian Republic of Gilead where any aberrations from the religious and social practices of this mythical American society are brutally punished. The inhabitants of Gilead are ruled by fear and there is not even the pretence of equality in Gilead. Women are required to be silent and, to guarantee that silence, they are under constant surveillance.