Falling birthrates, eugenics, and infertility in fiction; and how it reflects reality.
‘As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices’ — Miriam, Children of Men
The notion of propagation of the human race is not only about creating a future; it is about creating a legacy to make our existence appear less futile. Dystopian futures have often referred to a world where having children is not necessary or a good idea. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave, New World, children are decanted en masse, removing the need for traditional reproduction. In Cormac Mc Carthy’s The Road, having a child could mean the next meal for your family. Even Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games shows a poverty-stricken future where children compete to the death. The concept of the family unit is threatened in these visions. But what about fiction that deals with the inability to have children? What if the world is dying because there are no more children, and how does this affect society?
I have chosen three texts, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, PD James’s Children of Men, and Jane Rogers’s The Testament of Jessie Lamb, to represent different interpretations of infertility and reproductive anxieties future.
These worlds are in the throes of death, whether they accept it as a fact or not.
An important factor to note with each of these texts is their different political and cultural backdrop. The Handmaid’s Tale, written in 1985, envisions an alternative reality of Republican America based on military and religious ideologies. The women in the this new Republic of Gilead are, for the most part, infertile. At the same time, those that can have children are forced to reproduce with officers from the military. Children of Men is set in Britain in 2021 but was written in 1992. There have been no births in 25 years at the point that the novel starts. This changes when an undesirable young woman becomes pregnant. This society is not as strictly tiered as that of The Handmaid’s Tale. Still, it shows a world that is slowly decaying, filled with apathy and secularism. The last infertility text is The Testament of Jessie Lamb, written in 2011, is set in the present day. The novel tells the story of teenage Jessie, partially through her own diary, as women…