The Handmaids tale Essay
The Handmaids tale
The first warning I noticed was the loss of freedom and rights in both novels. For example in ‘1984’ Winston Smith is always surrounded by ‘telescreens’ watching his every move and fears the day the ‘thought police’ will come knocking on his door. Children were hired as spies and would report straight to the ‘thought police’ if they sensed anything untoward. The Parsons children who lived next door to Winston even reported their father for saying ‘God’ in his sleep. This has strong links with a regime in Nazi Germany called ‘Hitler Youth’ where the same sort of thing would go on.
It is warning the societies about how they will be dictated and isolated, not able to do anything without being watched. Likewise in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaids Tale’ freedom is restricted. This fact is proven with a quote from the novel that reads “Freedom to and freedom from. ” It was then made clear by Atwood that in the days of when the book was written it was ‘freedom to’, whereas in the society of Gilead it had become ‘freedom from’. This again is a warning to the readers of what their society could turn into.
Whilst researching contextual information I came across a view of ‘Jill Swale’, which brought to my attention the significance of Offred’s name. “She has become a mans possession, belonging to Fred”, which shows the extent in which people of Gilead are dictated and controlled. Another subject I found quite daunting is how easily history is manipulated in both novels. First of all I found the manipulation of Janine’s rape in ‘The Handmaids Tale’ quite shocking. The way the Aunts brainwashed the Handmaids into jeering and booing Janine and making out that it was her fault.
I felt this had strong links with the “2 – minute hate” in ‘1984’ where the party members were cornered into giving the same treatment to Goldstein, the opposition leader. In ‘1984’ there were several more instances where history was manipulated, non more so than when we are told that Nelsons statue in London had been replaced with a statue of Big Brother. This is a warning because it is scary to think that the events and people around at the time when the book was written may be edited or even erased forever.
They will become “unpersons” who never existed. It is ironic that Winston’s job is to rewrite history and although he does not believe in what he is doing he enjoys his job and gains “satisfaction” from it. This proves just how strong the totalitarian regime is in Orwell’s society. They are like robots, functioned to do a certain job in a certain routine and enjoy it whether they believe in it or not. The idea about routines is also evident in Atwood’s novel. Handmaids have a specific routine, which is very controlled and tedious.
This is very different to her ‘idyllic’ routine from the past with Luke and her child, in which she had freedom to enjoy family life. Despite all this manipulation of history in the novels, there are also contrasting elements. For instance in the ‘Handmaids Tale’, the Handmaids’ life style, morals and clothing is very similar to that of the Puritans, a Catholic group from the 17th century who had strong beliefs and strict rules. This talk of Religion leads me nicely on to how Religion is used as a Warning in the novels.
In ‘The Handmaids Tale’, Religion or more specifically the Bible is taken far to seriously and literally. For instance they base their whole rules and regulations around the story of Rachael and Jacob in the Old Testament (Genesis 30 v1-3). Ironically the Bible later contradicts itself later on, but they stick solely to that single section and read it before every ceremony. Atwood also uses quotes such as “God is a Natural Resource” to shed light on the fact that religion is over rated and taken over seriously. This is definite warning to the society of the time and for generations to come.
For instance this has strong links with Religious Fundamentalism that existed and still exists in some parts of America today. The idea of religious importance however, is not evident in Orwell’s novel, as like a lot of things in ‘1984’ it no longer exists. There is one religion and one religion only. That is the worship and respect of the Party leader ‘Big Brother’. Contextually, I studied the work of the critic ‘Coral Ann Howles, and had strong feelings about her beliefs. In her essay titled, ‘Science Fiction in the Feminine’ she warns the society of the time that “Storytelling” is Offreds “only possible gesture of resistance”.
I strongly disagree with this statement, as I believe she wrote it not only for her own survival, but to warn and therefore help future generations. I also don’t believe it was her “only possible gesture” as I believe it was not the only way in which Offred rebelled. Other rebellious motives included flirting with the guards and her relationship with Nick. It is quite clear in both novels that trust is the biggest warning of all. Offred couldn’t trust anybody apart from Moira. Even the Doctor she went to see for her scan offered to sleep with her.
It was as if all morals and citizenship were lost. The same goes for Winston in ‘1984’. He trusted everyone and they all failed him. Firstly, he was convinced that O’Brien was on his side and declared that they would meet “in a place where there is no darkness”. This trust revolved from a single “flash of the eyes” and it eventually turned out that O’Brien was actually a member of the ‘Thought police’. Whether this was a warning that nobody is your friend, or simple that it was down to Winston poor judge of character, remains to be seen.
O’Brien however was not the only “fellow rebel” to stab Winston in the back. Mr. Charington did the same, and even Julia turned her back on him to some extent. He described her as a “fellow rebel” too, but only “from the waist down”. Julia stands as a symbol that there was not much Feminism in the world of 1984. Women were allowed to work in the ministries as well as men and there was nothing to suggest women were treated poorly. The same however can not be said for Atwoods novel, where feminism plays a key part. The novel even admits, “middle class women have become complacent”.
This is probably because they have given up, considering the harsh treatment they receive. Offreds mother warns of the dangers of this complacency when she tells her daughter, “History will absolve me”. Its not only the Handmaids who get downtrodden. The wives are also much lower down the hierarchy ladder, with the Commander being the head of the household. The wives’ function is to be married to the Commander and bring up the children; the house is their domain. George Orwell’s main warning is written in the title of the novel, ‘1984’.
The novel was written in 1948, which made me notice that Orwell has simply reversed the year. This title indicates a warning in itself as it suggests the frightening things that could happen just 36 years down the line, if the society carried on the way it was going. Atwood on the other hand has given her own views in an interview, since the novel was written. She said that ‘The Handmaids Tale’ is “a slight twist on the society we have now”, which sums up exactly what her feelings and intentions were in writing the novel. To warn the society of the time.