Walk to the End of the World Analysis
by Suzy McKee Charnas

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Walk to the End of the World Charnas is writing highly didactic political fiction, and her single most important literary technique is relentless exaggeration. The bleak anger of her satire approaches at times that of Jonathan Swift at his most dark. In Motherlines, the sequel, the all-male society of the Holdfast moves off stage and, lacking a focus for her anger, Charnas adopts a more philosophical stance toward her work. In the latter novel satire is, at least in part, replaced by travelogue and fictionalized anthropology.

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Walk to the End of the World and its sequels Motherlines (1979) and The Furies (1994) are works of radical feminist science fiction. The first book in the series depicts the culture of the Holdfast, an isolated and failing post-holocaust community set somewhere on the east coast of what was once the United States. The all-white, intensely patriarchal society is both decadent and sadomasochistic, the men acting like something out of the fantasies of a leather fetishist. Women are seen as being soulless, quite literally subhuman, and are treated exclusively as slaves and breeding stock. Further, they have somehow been held at fault for the nuclear war, much as women were blamed for original sin in Judeo-Christian culture. The novel depicts the life of Alldera, a young woman born into slavery in the Holdfast "kit-pens," and her eventual flight from the society.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Charnas writes within the well-developed Utopian-dystopian tradition of Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and Orwell's 1984 (1949). The tradition has its less well known, but just as strongly-rooted feminist side, dating as far back as the plays of the Duchess of Newcastle (c. 1650). A more immediate precedent would be Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland (1915). The 1970s saw the publication of a number of feminist utopian-dystopian novels, many of them influenced by Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex (1970), among them Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975), We Who Are About to . . . (1977), and The Two of Them (1978), and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). Important feminist dystopian novels that have appeared since Walk to the End of the World include Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Woman's Country (1988).

(The entire section is 547 words.)