Title

Women's Utopia: The "Imagined Community" In Other Worlds

Date of Award

1994

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Martina Sciolino

Advisor Department

English

Abstract

Placing white, canonical female utopian writers within comparative readings with female utopian writers of color, this study uncovers two phenomena that have gone unnoticed in utopian scholarship: (1) imperialism, colonialism, and race are central issues in utopias written by white women, and (2) female writers of color have utilized the techniques of the utopian genre. My comparative procedure is utopian itself, for it purposes a new way to read both canonical women's utopias and the writings of postcolonial women. Western feminist writers are often accused of codifying Others as non-Western and hence themselves as implicitly Western. However, as I argue, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Marge Piercy, and Margaret Atwood are all central Western feminists who have employed textual strategies in their utopian writings that break this codification by associating their protagonists with women of non-Western origin. Buchi Emecheta, Bessie Head, and Alice Walker are crucial figures in black women's literature, but criticism of their work has been limited to a study of their use of realism. However, as this study demonstrates, Emecheta, Head, and Walker employ fantastical devices to illustrate social visions of a better world for marginalized groups. Chapter II juxtaposes Gilman's Herland with Emecheta's Rape of Shavi to illuminate the authors' similar depictions of intertwined issues of imperialism and misogyny. Chapter III compares Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time with Head's A Question of Power to illustrate the analogous delineation of how governmental institutions confine women according to society's hegemonic definitions of abnormalities in gender, race, and mental health. Chapter IV parallels Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale with Walker's The Color Purple to elucidate how American ideas of progress have subjected women and people of color to commodification. Chapter V explores the central issue of economics in all these novels. Appendix A is the transcription of a personal interview with Atwood.