Dystopic elements of the excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s novel are found in the descriptions of the landscape, humanmade objects, and the characters. The narrative tone, including Snowman’s thoughts about the children, also suggests a dystopia. The adjective “dystopic” or “dystopian” refers to a dystopia, a place or society that is harmful or oppressive to its people. The term represents the opposite of a utopia, the perfect place or society, which Thomas More wrote about in the sixteenth century.
In the text provided, the natural environment apparently survived, but was badly damaged by some catastrophic event. In the water beyond the shore, rather than being made of natural coral, “reefs” are composed of “rusted car parts … bricks, and … rubble”; Snowman also believes that the lagoon is “infested” with harmful creatures. He seems to be unwell and homeless: covered with bug bites and scabs, he wears only a sheet and apparently lives in a tree.
Snowman seems to be a survivor from an earlier era, and the differences between him and the children suggest that enough time has passed after this catastrophe for those born since then to have developed physical adaptations to the new, probably harmful circumstances. They are “thick-skinned, resistant to ultraviolet” light. Furthermore, the children are unfamiliar with numerous “things from before,” obsolete objects of material culture including a ruined computer mouse, implying a decline in technology, as well as toxic compounds such as “poison dust.”