Activity Overview

Dystopian literature is a rapidly growing sub-genre of popular fiction. Authors often use dystopias to convey a message about the world we live in today. Dystopias are extremely flawed societies. In this genre, unlike other literature genres, the setting is often a fallen society, usually occurring after a large scale war or other horrific event, that caused chaos in the former world. In many stories, this chaos gives rise to a totalitarian government that assumes absolute control. The flaws in this sort of a dystopia are center around oppression and restrictions on freedom by central authorities.

Students can track elements of the dystopian society of The Handmaid’s Tale as they read. Have students track the six common elements of a dystopia, and then depict these elements in a storyboard along with a supporting quote.

Dystopian Elements in The Handmaid’s Tale

The people are restricted from independent thought and action.

Women were not allowed to own property or hold jobs in the early days of the regime. Women were segregated into different classes, and they were not allowed to move freely into other countries, many families were split up, and they were not allowed to shirk their duties. Everyone had to be careful of what they said, because they could be turned in for treason.

The government in control is often oppressive.

The government restricts access to food, local areas, and travel with the use of food tokens, passcards, and checkpoints. The government requires Commanders' households with Handmaids complete the Ceremony each month, and that pious answers be given as responses for everyday conversations. Black vans ride around and pick up people who are accused of treason. They hang the bodies on the Wall for public display.

The setting is often futuristic, or in a fictional universe.

The setting is not futuristic until the end of the novel; however, at the time of the writing of the novel, this does take place sometime in the future: the 1990s. The Western Hemisphere has fundamentally changed; the United States of America no longer exists, replaced by the Republic of Gilead.

Contains elements of conformity, or extreme equality.

All classes of people are expected to wear the same clothing that corresponds to their class or duty. Handmaids wear red, Wives wear powder blue, Marthas wear dull green, Econowives wear red, blue, and green stripes, and so on. People were expected to greet each other with pious sayings, which assumed that everyone had converted to this particular sect of Christianity.

The government portrays their society as a utopia.

The Republic of Gilead does allow tourists to come and view the society as the example of the society that is doing things right. When the Japanese tourists ask Offred if she is happy, she is expected to say yes. The upper echelons of Gilead believe that when the population is replenished and women no longer have to work so hard at everything, then finally everyone will be happy.

The protagonist wishes to restore the people to conventional life.

Offred holds out hope that her husband, Luke, is still alive and that together they will be able to save their daughter one day. She toys a bit with the Mayday Resistance idea, but ultimately decides not to give in to it because she's falling for Nick. She does make the tapes which later become the transcript "The Handmaid's Tale", possibly in hope that it can be used for the Resistance. She does wish to escape in the hopes that she can eventually return to a normal life.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies the six elements of dystopian fiction in The Handmaid’s Tale. Illustrate instances of each element and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the dystopian elements from The Handmaid’s Tale and write them under each corresponding description.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents a scene that depicts this dystopian element.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Lesson Plan Reference

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/1] Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/5] Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact
  • [ELA-Literacy/SL/11-12/5] Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Dystopian Elements
As we read and discuss, identify and track the six common dystopian elements that appear throughout the story. Create a scene for each element that highlights how it is utilized throughout the work. Add a brief quote or description under each scene that highlights an important piece of the element being depicted. Make sure the art in your scenes is historically and factually accurate to the story. Your scenes need to be neat, eye-catching, and reflect creativity and care. Please proofread your writing and organize your ideas thoughtfully.
33 Points
25 Points
17 Points
Dystopian Elements
The six common dystopian literature elements are correctly identified and portrayed from the story. The quotes and/or explanations give context to the scene, and are accurate and appropriate to the element being depicted.
4-5 dystopian literature elements are correctly identified and portrayed from the story, or some of the elements may not be identified correctly. The quotes and/or explanations give context to the scene, but may be minimal, and are mostly accurate for the element being depicted.
1-3 dystopian literature elements are correctly identified and portrayed from the story, or most of the elements are inaccurately depicted. The quotes and/or explanations are too minimal, or missing altogether.
Artistic Depictions
The art chosen to depict the scenes are accurate to the work of literature. Time and care is taken to ensure that the scenes are neat, eye-catching, and creative.
The art chosen to depict the scenes should be accurate, but there may be some liberties taken that distract from the assignment. Scene constructions are neat, and meet basic expectations.
The art chosen to depict the scenes is inappropriate. Scene constructions are messy and may create some confusion, or may be too limited.
English Conventions
Ideas are organized. There are few or no grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas are mostly organized. There are some grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas may be disorganized or misplaced. Lack of control over grammar, mechanics, and spelling reflect a lack of proofreading.

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