Women in Dystopia

RHE 309K: The Rhetoric of Women in Dystopia
Fall 2016, Spring 2017

“Reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.”
            – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

What do the Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen and Divergent’s Tris Prior have in common? These films and many other literary works have succeeded because of this winning combination of strong leading women placed in chaotic alternate realities. To understand the success of such dystopias, we’ll study the genre within the context of its literary history and contemporary politics. We’ll discuss women’s roles in the genre and how they have been manipulated to address particular audiences. In class, we’ll define the term “utopia,” while exploring its evolution as a literary genre beginning with the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Next we will define “dystopia” and learn how this genre participates in and differentiates from the tradition of utopia. For example, we may compare how women’s positions change from the utopian Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan to the dystopian film V for Vendetta.

Because this course carries the Writing Flag, expect to write regularly during the semester, complete substantial writing projects in addition to short blog posts, and receive feedback from the instructor to help improve writing skills. You will also have the opportunity to revise major assignments, and will be asked to read and discuss their peers’ work. Together, we will look at women’s roles in four categories: wife, mother/daughter, sexual object, and independent agent. Throughout the course you will be asked to consider if dystopias empower women through close reading of different mediums such as novels and films. Eventually, you will write your own film review of a contemporary dystopia while reflecting upon these questions.

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