Atwood’s Novels in the News

Planned Parenthood supporters


Margaret Atwood seems to be everywhere these days. Handmaid’s Tale, of course, made a splash as a television series, prompting women to regularly don the crimson robes and white bonnets to protest GOP attacks on abortions, birth control, universal healthcare, and Planned Parenthood. Now people are citing the novel as GOP Congressman Trent Franks resigns from Congress for pressuring female subordinates to act as surrogate mothers for his children.

In terms of the novel, that would make him “the General” while his aides would be handmaids. Or Oftrents, as people have been calling them, referring to the way surrogate mothers in the novel must take the first name of their master.

Here’s The New York Times reporting the story:

Representative Trent Franks announced Friday that he would resign from Congress immediately after accusations emerged that he had offered $5 million to a female employee to be a surrogate mother for his children, and that she and another female employee worried that the lawmaker wanted to have sex as a means of impregnating them.

It surprises no one that Franks is a socially conservative members of Congress. Sexual harassment may cross party lines but social conservatives take the prize for hypocrisy, loudly preaching a morality they often do not practice. According to the Times article, in 2013 Franks

came under harsh criticism for remarking that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low” during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. He also founded the Arizona Family Research Institute, a nonprofit associated with Focus on the Family, a socially conservative religious organization.

In Atwood’s dystopian society, women are forced to serve as breeders for impotent couples. Handmaid’s Tale offers protesters a narrative of resistance that stiffens the spine, and that stiffened spine may have played a major role in Democrat Doug Jones’s stunning electoral victory over pedophile Roy Moore last night. Among Moore’s many controversial positions was that women should not hold public office.


One of my students alerted me to another Atwood prediction that appears to be coming true. In her Oryx and Crake trilogy, the author describes a world in which scientists grow replacement human organs inside of pigs. People pay a lot of money to have their own personal “pigoons.”

According to Business Week, that future is getting closer:

A team of scientists announced in early June that they’re attempting to grow human organs inside of pigs for the purpose of — you guessed it — transplanting those tissues into humans.

According to the BBC, scientists at the University of California, Davis, want to create hybrid human-pig embryos known as “chimeras” by putting human stem cells in pig embryos. Their goal? Grow a functional human pancreas inside an otherwise normal pig.

“Our hope is that this pig embryo will develop normally but the pancreas will be made almost exclusively out of human cells and could be compatible with a patient for transplantation,” said Pablo Ross, a biologist leading the research, to the BBC.

The Business Week article notes that the idea has been around for a while so Atwood doesn’t get entire credit. But Atwood’s prediction of super intelligent pigs now appears to be a possible byproduct:

Atwood describes her pigoons as remarkably intelligent creatures. At one point they even glance up at a character “as if they saw him, really saw him, and might have plans for him later.” Elsewhere, they are thought to have left flowers and other offerings at the burial site of a fellow pigoon. Characters in the book speculate that this is all because the pigoons contain human neocortex tissue, making them more human.

And this is where our science-meets-fiction gets really bizarre.

This ability for real human organ-carrying pigs to become more human, with human cells somehow migrating to the pig’s brain, is actually a concern with the research conducted by the UC Davis scientists. “We think there is very low potential for a human brain to grow, but this is something we will be investigating,” Ross told the BBC.

For the record, Atwood imagines other genetically modified animals as well. These include rakunks, liobams, wolfogs (which seem as friendly as dogs but will tear your throat out), florescent green rabbits, and caterpillars with smiley faces (which makes them hard to kill).

Coming soon to a pet store near you.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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