LITR 5431/ 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

Lecture Notes





17 April




"Dire Cartographies" [cartography > Oscar Wilde quote:

Jenna Wood
1st post:
"Power is Just Sex": The Power of a Sex-Free Utopia in Gilman's Herland

2nd post: "Ambitopia": the Future of Utopian Fiction

90-1 utopia in Handmaid's Tale's dystopia?


1. past, our own present > HT 23 Luke and I, children + garden (+ Nick) Genesis: heterosexual couple / nuclear family in garden



271 hand on my belly. It's happened.

We could get you out.

I no longer want to leave, escape





51 thought we had problems. How know we were happy? [nostalgia]



2. future beyond main story [preview epilogue]



+ 3 Aunt Lydia

72 JYou are an example [utopia]


113 you are the shock troops . . . march out in advance [utopian vanguard]

graph population birthrate, past zero line of replacement


127 [sympathetic lactation] Mother, you wanted a woman's culture. [satire?]


162 women will all live in harmony together [utopia]

162 when the population level is up

Women united for a common end [utopia]


163 each performing her appointed task

a little garden for each one of you


172 Moira: create Utopia by shutting herself up in a woman-only enclave


179 I'll go underground


245 Underground Femaleroad


222 cameraderie among women




74 after the catastrophe, shot president, machine-gunned Congress

blamed on Islamic fantatics


237 Everyone's human, after all. You can't cheat Nature . . . demands variety for men . . .

typo than > that

procreational strategy

Nature's plan

He says this as if he believes it.




66 post WW2

each a latent version of other

67 oatmeal

mind / landscape (American or Romantic: cf. Quinkdom conclusion)

68 maps with monsters > urban planning

68 Land of Cockaigne: unrestricted sex, sloth, gluttony (cf. 69 Golden Age)

68 islands

69 real maps drive ustopia to unknown

underworld (caverns), hinterlands

70 other planets, past, future

70 time: maps = frozen journeys

71 maps in Earthsea and Lord of the Rings

71 Treasure Island < play map

71 ustopia 2 journeys [> News from Nowhere]

71 journeys to future

72 dream vision  [> News from Nowhere]

72 Oligarchical Collectivism

72 Brave New World: "Savage" as reporter

73 potentially mappable > suspend disbelief

74 ustopia also a state of mind > 75 landscape


77 Atwood ancestors in Puritan New England [Winthrop]

77 Pre-Raphaelite . . . postcards  [> News from Nowhere]

77 Lamont Library x-girl

78 non-canonical literature

78 George MacDonald

non-realistic Lewis and Tolkien

79 Romance (Metaphysical)

repressed sexuality

powerful female figures

80 great-grannies of Wonder Woman

Avatar as fairy painting

81 19c utopias, radical social thinkers [> News from Nowhere]

82 cf. Before and After makeovers

1800s hundreds of actual utopias

83 Hawthorne and Scarlet Letter : Putian utopia + prison and graveyard

83 [millennium] Great War > utopian social enginnering on large scale

84 Fordlandia

grab for heaven, produce hell

84-5 mid-20c > dark

85 ustopia, utopia

85 people always better looking, esp. women [> News from Nowhere]

85 yin / yang

each within other [Handmaid's Tale]

86 provision for renegades: prison, enslavement, exile, exclusion, execution

3 novel-length ustopias of my own

Handmaid's Tale Berlin, claustrophobic

87 totalitarian, utopian


how thin ice is for "liberated" Western women?

totalitarian USA, what form?

civil liberties > safety

control reproduction

who owns the kids?

88 historical precedents

Old Dutch Cleanser [image at bottom]

90 1984 lost to Brave New World (fall of Berlin Wall, triumph of capitalism)

90 enemy states mirror each other ["base" and "al-Qaeda"]

90-1 utopia in Handmaid's Tale's dystopia?

1. past, our own present

2. future beyond main story

91 utopian societies > thesis topics [genre fiction for eggheads]

91 Oryx & Crake technocracy and anarchy

+ designer people

92 designer people can't read; x-romantic rejection

lab-grown meat

sibling book, Year of the Flood < God's Gardeners

same world, different perspective, outside enclaves

93 utopia within dystopia: God's Gardeners

x-sequels, prequels

94 climate change

species wide rescue effort? Where has utopian thinking gone?

94-5 Crakers designed to be well-behaved [E. O. Wilson]

95 make thinks better but not perfect (cf. Constitution)





spectacle; motivating utopia:


219 [public spectacle, ceremony] [utopia]

marriages encouraged, by mothers


220 women's Prayvaganzas for group weddings; men's for military victories


276 touch rope as unity, complicity



Offred's name


84 [memory] another name

97 to be held and told my name . . . I repeat my former name

270 talk too much, tell him my real name

293 black van, Nick, it's Mayday, calls me by my name









African American utopias, dystopias


Interesting Narrative of the Life of . . . Olaudah Equiano, The African


Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave


Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Opening question: How does human chattel slavery fulfill conventions of dystopia?

no human or civil rights for slaves  (What is the Difference Between a Human Right and a Civil Right ...)

disrespect for human body (whipping, mutilation, torture, rape)

family separation; forced reproduction / communal child-rearing  (Dire p. 87 control reproduction; who owns the kids?)

biological divisions among humans

dehumanization (HT 215) (Douglass 2.10, 6.1, 10a5  Jacobs 1.1) (question 3a. Utopia humanizes? dystopia dehumanizes?)

surveillance, spying / informing; dividing workers or people

masters / owners think utopia (Gone with the Wind)

underground (Underground Railroad + "Femaleroad" HT 246)


Other African American text possibilities, esp. if course is taught in long semester

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)--esp. for "parallel world" or "world within a world" aspects; cf. grandmother baking crackers in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Toni Morrison, Paradise (1997)

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)

Samuel R. Delany, Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia (1976)

Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (1999)


Other American Indian text possibilities? Mexican American?

Black Elk Speaks (1932) esp. chapters on "Ghost Dance" millennial movement

Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (1991)


Practical issues:

Try to avoid making students read large amounts for just a few pages of relevance

Some conservative students may see such moves as "canon expansion by affirmative action."

Final test: Is the text working for the class?

Morrison's Paradise

Toni Morrison (b. 1931), Paradise (1998)


Title page and list of books--who's familiar with what?

What is Morrison's reputation? Nationally and in schools?

1993 Nobel Prize for Literature--highest international award

First African American and American woman author to win


Experience reading, teaching? 


Toni Morrison probably among handful of greatest American authors (such decisions take time)

Faulkner, Whitman, James plus or minus Melville, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Eugene O’Neill


How establish greatness?


Quality: genius, courage, brilliance, daring, learning—James: “Be one of the people on whom nothing is wasted.”


Development of tradition: great writers inherit and renew the work of previous great writers--e.g. Morrison did a master’s thesis on Faulkner; her style resembles and goes beyond Faulkner's


Influence on later writers, influenced by previous writers: great writers read their important predecessors, and they push to the next level beyond what their predecessors achieved—process repeats in influence on later writers (for Morrison, it’s too early to judge influence on other writers)


Quantity of quality: a number of writers have written a few great works, but comparative thinness of great works affects reputation: Hemingway, Twain, Hawthorne, Fitzgerald all wrote great works, but either didn’t write as much or repeated themselves instead of advancing


Another standard of greatness in fiction:

number & power of distinct characters

in lesser writers, the characters seem alike, similarly motivated, similar profiles and imaginations, fewer in number

Great writers almost god-like in creation of human characters--compare great musicians with creation of melodies (Bach, Mozart)

Shakespeare is the gold standard; next are Dickens and Faulkner--also Flannery O'Connor

Morrison: characters seem always to have been there, self-existent—like they were waiting in some reality to meet you

Power of invention


Not an easy read, though--very challenging--

Reader learns, discovers + experiences delight in putting parts together--participates in creative process (Aristotle: "To learn gives the liveliest pleasure")

 What I discover in Morrison (esp. in Song of Solomon and Paradise):

Self-existent African American world


surprisingly whole unto itself, not defined strictly by reference to white world--white world is often kept at a distance or unremarked (parallel world)

Again a quality of great writers: to create a whole world, a microcosm or mirror: cf. Dickens's London, Dickens for Christmas


 Backstory for Paradise:


 Possible applications to utopian studies:

Compare journey from Haven to Ruby to Moses and chosen people on Exodus to Promised Land

(Recall that Dr. King made similar comparisons b/w himself and Moses)

compare Oven to Arc of the Covenant


"The Convent" as feminine / feminist counterpart to patriarchal town of Haven / Ruby (founded by Big Papa and Big Daddy)

"Convent"--compare to monastery that may have modeled More's Utopia, but for women rather than men

PBS interview of Toni Morrison

white flight








10 April



certainty of genre > ambiguities, intertextuality (esp. in literary fiction)




1. How identify Handmaid's Tale as a dystopia (cf. Anthem) not only in content but gains in readability, characterization, narrative action?


Handmaid as dystopian fiction

individual, underground


20 false news . . . must mean something

first barrier, red hexagon = stop

lanterns, floodlights, machine guns, pillboxes

Green uniforms of the Guardians of the Faith


21 never allowed solitude


53 a grapevine, an underground of sorts



72 Janine: self-criticism sessions; cf. Dispossessed, Tirin


83 Resettlement of the Children of Ham


87 Bible locked up, read to but we cannot read



219 Money was the only measure of worth. [utopia / dystopia]


220 Those years an anomaly . . . return to Nature's norm




2. Compare Handmaid's Tale as a feminist dystopia with Herland as feminist utopia. Potential feminist issues: the body dismembered; masculine gaze. (Does Atwood's sensory emphasis on smell counter the masculine gaze?)


Susan Bordo, mind-body duality identifies woman with body > property




38 date rape . . . borrowing $5

park with mother . . . women burning books, magazines [unforeseen consequences of limiting expression?]

39 still on fire, parts of women's bodies, turning to black ash


ch 16 94 What he is fucking is the lower part of my body

ch 17 96 only the insides of our bodies important


114 what God must look like: an egg


127 [sympathetic lactation] Mother, you wanted a woman's culture. [satire?]


136 two-legged womb



153 something subversive about this garden of Serena's; a sense of buried things bursting upwards

[aphorism] Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently.


Ch. 26 160 pretend not to be present, in the flesh

161 like being on an operating table

no longer a thing . . . it complicates [dehumanization]

taken something from Serena Joy






Atwood as poet


47 hands empty, full

yeast, nostalgic, smell, kitchens, mothers [free association, poetry]


ch 12  62 bath a requirement, also a luxury


95 smells


114 [free association] [words] None of these facts has any connection with the others . . . litanies I use to compose myself


ch 21 123 smell of our own, flesh, organic . . . smell of matrix


153 Rendezvous, terraces, sibilants run up my spine














Back to News from NowhereB


"Dire Cartographies"

71 ustopia 2 journeys [> News from Nowhere]


72 dream vision  [> News from Nowhere]


77 Pre-Raphaelite . . . postcards  [> News from Nowhere]



utopias as genre fiction for eggheads and do-gooders


cf. film noir, or westerns or rom-coms: minor variations tweak familiar, update, revive


more than one text open all the time x love of one autonomous book that says everything; cf. dialogue, dialectic; "make the texts talk to each other"


Literary fiction








3 April

Thanks for participation. Mostly taught in summer before, so happened so fast that students didn't know what hit them, but this longer semester re-sensitizes me to the strangeness of our topic for most of us, so thanks for playing along in a good spirit and doing what you can with the subject.


Past students seem to have enjoyed the seminar, mostly with a wide-eyed "who knew?" surprise at how much there was to the subject, or to the fact that some utopian or intentional communities are happening even now.


literature of ideas

alternative to cynicism, pessimism, limits of common sense > resilience (can't avoid problems, have to bounce back)


facts are real, but . . . .


no one's finally, completely right or wrong or history would end > dialogue, dialectic


undiscovered possibilities



Lauren willing to reprise the presentation with new scenes for a second week but also that others are welcome to show a scene or two.




farewell notes: my gen, idea of utopia self-sustaining, but if we can stop thinking utopian, maybe also stop dystopian?

implication of child care in utopias: children will be good if in nature; human nature good


Le Guin

Always Coming Home

importance of reading what you resist

outsiders see others' worlds as utopias, or unattainable options

Angie & gang: Shevek and friends criticize Anarres freely while remaining committed to collective principles (structure + freedom in Ecotopia?)

anthropology; cf. historical notes end of Handmaid's Tale








rise & fall with political support

Israel labor governments through 1960s > 1977 Likud


incest taboo 




other issues?



348 You Odonians chose a desert; we Terrans made a desert

9 billion > 1/2 billion

plastics don't adapt

we failed as a social species

charity of the Hainish . . . altruits . . . moved by a guilt

total centralization, control, rationing, birth control, euthanasia, universal conscription into labor force







propertarian: ct. Woman on the Edge of Time

also Kibbutz

52 man wants freedom, woman wants property


180 Takver: I need the bond [+ keeps child]

245 Odo's femininity x-real sexual freedom

331 pregnant women no ethics; biological, not social

332 women as property

[x-women as Rambo > how does woman as hero change the idea of a hero?]

News from Nowhere and Woman on Edge of Time: giving up property frees women as property, but what about children?