This essay focuses on two of Atwood’s fictions whose landscapes are haunted by US imperialism, The Handmaid’s Tale and the short story “Death by Landscape.” In both of these works, the landscapes illuminate victims of American imperial history by taking female characters hostage: in The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred is trapped within Gilead’s landscape, and in “Death by Landscape” Lucy vanishes in the landscape without a trace. Atwood’s containment of female bodies within these landscapes illustrates that understanding how identity and power are negotiated through landscape necessarily involves taking into account the gendered nature of landscape itself.
I cannot avoid seeing, now, the small tattoo on my ankle. Four digits and an eye, a passport in reverse. It’s supposed to guarantee that I will never be able to fade, finally, into another landscape. I am too important, too scarce, for that. I am a national resource.—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale