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Policing themselves Essay

In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ education is highly restricted, defined by law not to allow the reading of text, therefore diminishing the progression of society on an intellectual level. The former university which once represented freedom and learning now represents regimental order. A distinct absence of education is found as the aim is to repress through the enforcement of ignorance; as Althusser would claim this is a clear ISA, education is used to direct and manipulate the handmaids. ‘The Bible’ is the only form of legal reading material and the only persons allowed to access ‘The Bible’ are the commanders – “we can be read to from it, by him, but we cannot read”: this allows them to manipulate the text to suit their needs. “Give me children, or else I die.” The careful selection and manipulation of material is used to try to promote procreation.

The use of religious text from ‘The Bible’ can be seen as the regimes way of legitimising their actions. Offred realises that the next generation of Handmaids will be more docile because “they will have no memories” of other possibilities. The stark contrast between Offred the librarian and Offred the Handmaid is used to emphasise how repression has been enforced through the use of literary freedom. Language too is subtly used with links to the old testament – the ‘Angels’ and ‘Eyes’ are respectively derived from the ‘Guardian Angels’ and ‘Eyes of the Lord’; this subtle insertion of biblical references helps to create the overall feeling of containment; a sharp contrast with the lack of intellectual and educational language which is deliberately removed. In both novels education is a restrictive force however, in ‘Hard Times’ education takes on a different form of repression.

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‘Hard Times’ uses education as an enforcing presence – children are brought into education from an early age, “facts, facts and more facts” are driven into the mindset of all, therefore firmly placing them within the machine of capitalism. Bitzer is the example of this as he becomes trapped within the system. This shows the strength of education as an ISA; by being embodied in education he knows nothing of life and how to succeed without ‘facts’, he knows of no way out of the system imposed upon him by those in power. He himself says, “We are so constituted. I was brought up in this catechism when I was very young, sir, as you are aware”.

Here Bitzer points out that the system of education prevents any way out, distilling the human instincts of capital gain. In comparison this sense of having no way out from repression is shown by the ‘image clusters’ in the language of Atwood’s novel (hands/feet/faces/eyes/blood/wombs) – this language works in opposition to the polluted biblical manipulation of the regime and shows the only way out for Offred is through her imagination. Imagination has been removed from Bitzer in ‘Hard Times’ through education; he has been depersonalised in a way which is also very evident within Atwood’s novel through RSA’s.

Depersonalisation is enforced by the state in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ with the uniform that the Handmaids are forced to wear – the uniform represses sexuality and sensuality. The skirt is “ankle length”, the breasts “a flat yoke”. The similitude of the uniform eradicates individualism to the extent that Offred begins to consider herself as ‘we’: “She’s like my own reflection…from which I am moving away”. This implication that she is losing touch with her identity by moving away highlights the success of this repressive force. The uniforms worn can be associated with uniforms of armies and law-enforcers such as the police. In this way it can be interpreted that by wearing set uniforms the handmaid’s are policing themselves.

As Dickens uses his novel to strengthen the theory of Benthamism Atwood too uses techniques like the manipulation of uniforms to make a social statement. Living through the 1960’s/70’s Atwood witnessed the liberation of women in the U.S. and the wider civil rights movements around the globe such as racial equality. The uniforms are just one example of how Atwood is showing the dangers of pursuing a regime of unfair liberation. We can see the success of the uniforms as a repressive force through the change in Offred’s nature when “I take my clothes off”. Only when the uniform is removed at night does Offred seem to escape from the regime imposed upon her; “the night is mine” shows how she feels about night, her only chance to feel free without a loss of identity.

A similar lack of identity is shown in ‘Hard Times’ through the use of colour. The colours of the town are “black” and “red” due to industrial smog. Dickens compares this assimilation of the natural colour of brick with “the painted face of a savage”, implying that like a “savage” industrialisation is cruel, barbaric and uncultured. This image of casing nature runs throughout the novel through the use of colour symbolisation. Dickens associated richness of colour with the preservation of life and individuality; neither black nor white are considered as colours therefore Coketown dismisses the idea of individuality by containing people within strict structures – like the structural presence of Atwood’s uniforms.

Utilitarianism has robbed the town of the ability to speak; public “inscriptions” which are used to voice the needs of the people are black and white therefore they are devoid of any identity; they lack the capacity to provoke change. Colour is used to an extent in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to highlight repression – women appear to wear set colours, the Handmaid’s red, the wives blue. “I never looked good in red…the colour of blood, defines us”.

Offred highlights that they are defined and restricted by colour, they are there for a purpose; reproduction. The sarcastic tone represents an attempt to use humour to redress repression. The colour red links also to blood; several links are made to blood, most notably is the blood from the unknown people hung from ‘the wall’ – red is a constant reminder of where their fate could lie. Colour is used to dismiss individuality, yet it is much bolder in Atwood’s novel through the images of blood. People are part of the production line, with no lawful means of expressing needs.

Stephen Blackpool is used by Dickens as an example of a worker trapped within his class through the laws and structures of society: wishing for divorce he says “I mun’ be ridden o’ her”. As Bounderby highlights, “money” is the decisive factor: in this capitalist society everything is bound by wealth. “There is such a law…but its not for you at all…you’d have to get an act of Parliament”. For the working class there is no way of expressing their views, they do not have the power to use the system to their benefit, therefore they remain stuck within their repressed class.

In my opinion Dickens highlights this so clearly as he is trying to make a political statement – socialism was developing through the mid 19th Century and was popular amongst Dickens’ target audience, the middle class intellectuals. The novel acts as a political devise for issues of the time. Acts of individualism within this class is likewise repressed. Blackpool’s decision to abstain from the union leaves him “a man on whom unequal laws have fallen heavy”; he is compared with “Judas Iscariot” by his own class showing how individualism is repressed from all levels. The extremity of Blackpool’s act of abstention is shown by his banishment and need to change his name to acquire work. This brutal act of banishment hangs over the Handmaid’s too.

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