English Essay Term 1 2018
1984 by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Our understanding of humanity can be enhanced by discovering the connections between texts. 1984 by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood are books set in dystopian societies. The worlds depicted in these novels have many similarities in the way the inhumane societies are run and even have protagonists that demonstrate corresponding traits. The portrayal of these resemblances reveal characteristics of humanity that can found all throughout the world.
The predominant theme in both of these novels is the theme of control. The ruling class of these civilizations command the rest of the population in many ways to keep themselves in power. They do this through surveillance, sexual repression, restriction of knowledge, manipulation of information and history, eradication of identity and punishments. By controlling the people using these techniques, there is absolutely no way for them to retaliate against the regime.
Another principal theme that can be seen in the societies portrayed is the loss of humanity. The universal declaration of human rights was proclaimed after World War II and states 30 articles that are to be a common standard of life. Many of these have been disregarded in the societies of these novels. Article 18 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” This is obviously not observed in 1984 as the Party completely controls the thoughts and beliefs of their people. Emmanuel Goldstein’s book says;
“The two aims of the party are to conquer the whole surface of earth and to extinguish, once and for all, the possibility of independent thought.” (Orwell 1987, p. 223)
Further, the book talks about the Party members’ freedom;
“…Not even the smallest deviation of opinion on the most unimportant subjects can be tolerated….The Party member has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever.” (Orwell 1987, p. 240)
The Thought Police eliminates any freedom of thought and does not allow any sort of disagreement from their party members. This makes it hard for people to express themselves and retaliate against the government.
It can be seen in the Handmaid’s Tale that the theocracy ruled society forces the Christian Religion onto the people and especially have dominance over the female population. The Aunts train the women in accordance to the laws of their society to drill religious values and teachings into their heads;
“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” (Atwood 1987, p. 34)
As the Women of Gilead have “freedom from” things like catcalls and abuse from strangers, they are considered “blessed”. They are told to be grateful and to forget the freedoms they have lost.
The 16th Article in the UDHR states that “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality, or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.” In both 1984 and the Handmaid’s tale, love, sexuality and marriage is restricted. The marriages in 1984 are explained;
“All marriages between Party members had to be approved by a committee…permission was always refused if the couple concerned gave the impression of being physically attracted to one another… The only recognized purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the party.” (Orwell 1987, p.75)
Because marriages have nothing to do with love or sexuality, the Party takes away the humanity from something so simple. This leads many, like Winston, to find other ways to release tension. They do this through having affairs with others as well as the usage of prostitutes.
Women of Gilead are separated from their families and children to be employed for reproductive purposes. The mothers are only used as breeding stock and are allocated to different households to make babies for them. Offred recalls a birthing she witnessed;
“We the handmaids, stand between Janine and the bed, so she won’t have to see the Wives…she’s still having the pains, for the after-birth, she’s crying helplessly, burnt-out miserable tears….She’ll be allowed to nurse the baby for a few months, they believe in mother’s milk. After that she’ll be transferred, to see if she can do it again.” (Atwood 1987, p.136, 137)
The strong connection between mothers and babies are broken as the mothers are not allowed to keep their own children. The society takes the humanity of childbirth away and creates heartache and distress for the mothers. The repression of humanity can be seen in both of these novels.
Distinct human qualities of an oppressed person has been expressed by both authors to portray the inhumane dystopian societies that the protagonist live in. The representation of the unjustness of the societies can be seen in the resistance of the people. The main characters both show an opposition to the way their world is run but they act in different ways to defy the regime.
Winston Smith from 1984 is an outer party worker who rewrites history so that the Party is always right. He rebels by writing his thoughts in a diary and having a sexual affair with a coworker. Together, they join the brotherhood to revolt but ultimately fail. After being tortured, Winston thinks to himself;
“It was alright, everything was alright, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” (Orwell 1987, p. 342)
They learn to accept the Party and love Big Brother after being tortured and brainwashed. From Winston, it is easy to see the human characteristics that come out of being repressed and the surrender that comes after being abused.
Offred from the Handmaid’s tale is a Handmaid who serves the Commander as a breeding device. In contrast to Winston’s way of rebellion, Offred does as she is told. This gives her freedom to think what she likes, as long as those opinions aren’t expressed, unlike 1984. The novel has many ‘Night’ chapters where she can consider her situation and bring back memories of the past. When she first has a ‘Night’ scene, she introduces it to her readers;
“The night is mine, my own time, to do with as I will, as long as I am quiet. As long as I don’t move. As long as I lie still…. I lie, then, inside the room,… between the sheets, neatly as they, and step sideways out of my own time. But the night is my time out. Where should I go?” (Atwood 1987, p. 47)
Though Winston and Offred rebel against the government in very different ways, their rebellion and resistance both give an insight to the fault in their surroundings. Atwood and Orwell both create characters who have to endure internal struggles in order to survive. They are forced to forget all knowledge of the past and adapt to the new system by changing their personal beliefs. Mental escapism is used to maintain an awareness of their environment in an attempt to avoid individual dehumanisation. Both of these protagonists demonstrate the humane characteristics of people as well as the cruelness of a controlling totalitarian society.
The Handmaid’s tale and 1984 are both novels about oppressive hierarchical regimes and have many similar themes that appear throughout the story. The total control that the deities have enables them to manipulate the rest of the population. Many simple things in life have their humanity stripped away to create an inhumane and miserable environment. The authors of the novels have not only used their protagonists to demonstrate the extent of totalitarianism in the societies portrayed, but have also used them to illustrate the humane characteristics that can surface when oppressed. The characters in both narratives show a resistance towards the society they live in which displays the society’s flaws. These connections between the Handmaid’s tale and 1984 allow people to better understand humanity.