Utopian societies are in constant struggle to find perfection in everyday life. In Fahrenheit 451 and The Handmaid’s Tale, each protagonist is struggling with fitting into these boundaries of perfection. When inquisitive minds emerge in a society that strives to be so pure, it can become dangerous not only physically but also emotionally. Although these societies strive for a utopia thinking that it will allow them to reach perfection, it in fact ends in hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is seen in both Fahrenheit 451 and The Handmaid’s Tale through Captain Beatty and the power of books, the government taking Offred’s daughter, and both societies basing their beliefs off of fiction.
In Fahrenheit 451 Captain Beatty, a leader and someone to whom the firefighters look up to, has read and made up his own mind about books but will not allow anyone else to read the books which he knows hold so much power. By denying the people to read the books that he himself has read, Beatty is the epitome of a hypocrite. When speaking about the books it is obvious that Beatty understands the great power these books yield, but he refuses to let that power out. This is hypocritical because Beatty tells Montag that the books “say nothing!… You can teach or believe” (Bradbury 59) and yet he still believes that these books have to have enough power that the world must be rid of them. Although Beatty preaches the uselessness of books, he has dedicated his life to burning them all, an admittance in itself that the books hold enough power to change the ideals of the society in which they live.
In The Handmaid’s Tale Offred is accused of being an “unfit” (Atwood 39) mother for her daughter because of her past. Offred met her husband through being his mistress, but waited until marriage to have a child. The government uses their affair against them, convincing Offred that because the bible says that adultery is a sin that she is not fit to be a mother. To “make-up” for her affair and illegitimate child, the government gives Offred a choice between being a Handmaid or an un-woman and chooses to become a handmaid. Her duties as a Handmaid, however, are to repeat the same sin that plagued her with this destiny. The hypocrisy surrounding this society and Offred’s role in it is that to dissolve yourself of sins, you must keep repeating them. This kind of adultery is seen as righteous because this society bases their beliefs off of the Bible, which, in the story of Rachel and Jacob, deems an affair for the purposes of child bearing as necessary. Through allowing Offred to rid herself of her sins by sleeping with married men, the government is a hypocrisy that uses the Bible to justify their cause.
In both novels, each society is based off of myths that cannot be proved or seen. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s society follows a strict code of the phoenix: it must all burn to ashes before it can be reborn again. Taking this literally, the society decides that books must be the rebirth of the society, “burn[ing] all” books (Bradbury 57). The only problem with this is that the Phoenix is based off of mythology, only existing in fiction. Bradbury’s society is striving to reach a new mythical beginning, setting themselves up for disaster.
Likewise, in Atwood’s utopian society, their new rules and regulations are based off of the Bible, a book of stories that cannot be proved as non-fiction and are more fantasy than realistic. Many of the stories and rules of the Bible are out dated. The society picks and chooses what rules and commandments they want to follow, reverting themselves back to a lesser time. By basing their societies off of myth, both Bradbury and Atwood depict men and women who are constantly influenced by hypocrisy. They are forced to believe blindly that these myths will lead them into safety and a better future. Each society comes with a promise of better times, but by basing it off of mythology they are striving for perfection which can only lead them down the road of disaster.
In both Bradbury and Atwood’s utopian societies, the government strives for perfection by changing the standards that their people live by. Although their is revolt and questioning in the means of these changes, it is ultimately at the blame of the people of the societies themselves. In Fahrenheit 451, the “minorities” (Bradbury 57) are the ones who begin the banning of the books, but because their are so many minorities, every book must go. Likewise in The Handmaid’s Tale, the men of the society agree to the changes which affect everyone, reverting their society back to a time where there was no technology or developments. By leading the change of the societies, the people are the only one’s to blame for their society’s hypocrisy and ultimate downfall.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor, 1986. Print.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1951. Print.
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