Comparing The Handmaids Tale And Brave New World English Literature Essay

Modified: 1st Jan 2015
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Although The Handmaid's Tale by Margret Atwood and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley entail different stories, the societies portrayed in these two examples of dystopic literature still lack the fundamental freedoms required for a properly functioning society to exist. In these two novels, an individual's freedoms are stripped away by a government that controls every aspect of the individual's life such as: knowledge, individuality and relationship with others in order to maintain stability in a fragile society. In each novel, a dystopia is depicted through the use of conflict to reveal the government's censorship of knowledge, the use of theme to establish an individual's lack of identity and the use of characters to demonstrate the government's control over relationships to facilitate a stable society.

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Throughout both novels it is apparent that a dystopic society exists through the authors' use of conflict to illustrate the control of knowledge from the past and to the present in order to have stable society. For example, in The Handmaid's Tale, all Handmaids are forbidden from reading or writing, this is an attempt by the leaders of the society to control the knowledge their citizens can utilize. This control extends over any form of written word, and if the rules are disobeyed, there are consequences: "Scrabble!…. This was once the game of old women, old men…to be played in retirement villas…when there was nothing good on television…. Now it's forbidden, for us. Now it's dangerous. Now it's indecent…. Now it's desirable" (Atwood 174). In this society, Scrabble is considered "forbidden" because of what it represents -- freedom of expression. The consequences the leaders have imposed create a conflict between them and their citizens, thereby creating the "desire" to play the game despite the danger associated with breaking the rules. The restrictions over expressing oneself is used as a form of keeping citizens in their place, consequently keeping the society stable and running, even though this comes at the cost of the freedom of each individual. Along with the society portrayed in The Handmaid's Tale, the leaders of the Brave New World society have sacrificed all past knowledge of the world, including art, science and literature with the goal of maintaining a stable society. For example, as an outsider, John 'the savage' has not had his past kept secret from him, and therefore cannot comprehend why such important knowledge should be kept secret: "'Art, science - you seem to have paid a fairly high price for your happiness'…'Anything, else?' 'Well, religion, of course…there used to be something called God'…'Why don't you tell them?'…'For the same reason as we don't give them Othello'" (Huxley 210). The leaders of the government have rid their society of all things created in and relating to the past, such as literature or religion because there is a possibility that it will provoke one's mind and thus create a rebellion or volatility in the society, threatening their stability. Through an outsider's perspective, the control over the society is seen as costly instead of helpful, creating a conflict from feelings of bitterness between John and the society's regime. The conditioning each member of the society is subjected to make them lack the need to expand their minds, proving the control the government has over their citizens in order for there to be stability. Each person's individual freedom is lost when they are not free to know what they want. Although both societies control the knowledge of their citizens, there are differences in the circumstances and reasons behind it.

The lack of knowledge to maintain stability has opposite effects in both of the societies. In Brave New World, the lack of knowledge keeps everyone content because of the government-forced conditioning they have been exposed to since birth. On the other hand, in The Handmaid's Tale the lack of information creates the need for rebellion since each person knows what he or she has lost. Citizens of the Gilead society, such as Offred, do not agree with the values the people are forcing on them, including the society compelling each person to forget the knowledge of their past. Offred constantly reminds herself of her past, disregarding the societies' beliefs: "I wanted to feel Luke beside me. I have them, these attacks of the past, like faintness, a wave sweeping over my head…. I know why the glass in the window is shatterproof, and why they took down the chandelier. I wanted to feel Luke lying beside me" (Atwood 64). Offred has been restricted from all memories of her past, including those of her husband. The pain Offred feels as a result of not being able to discuss her past allows her to understand why someone might commit suicide. The conflict between the people and the leaders leads to the suicide of many citizens as a way of rebelling because they know what information has been taken from them and are not able to live without them. By taking away each person's history, the society is sacrificing the freedoms and uniqueness of each individual for the sake of the community remaining stable. On the other hand, people of the Brave New World society are forbidden from knowing certain information because the government knows they would not be able to comprehend it, so it is done for their own good. Mustapha Monde explains to John, an outsider unfamiliar with the way the society is run, why there is a control over knowledge, "'We haven't any use for old things here.' 'Even when they're beautiful?' 'Particularly when they're beautiful…we don't want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones" (Huxley 200). Events from the past are not offered to the citizens of the society, John's confusion towards the reasons that knowledge is controlled leads to a conflict between himself and Mustapha Monde. The leaders of the society do not teach their citizens historical facts, keeping them focused on the present to remain productive; this has the opposite effect of the control of knowledge of the Gilead society in The Handmaid's Tale. The deprivation of knowledge in order for stability had come at a cost of each person losing their personal freedoms, like the ability to broaden their minds through learning. When each person's knowledge is controlled for there to be stability, it results in a loss of individuality and identity of the society's people.

Both novels clearly show that a dystopic society exists through the authors' use of theme in order to develop the lack of identity through both governments' need for control for a stable society. For instance, in the Gilead society each Handmaid is given a new name. This change in identity offers how the government controls the individuality of each person. Offred remembers her name and unsuccessfully tries to remind herself that it is not important, "My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden. I tell myself it doesn't matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others but what I tell you is wrong, it does matter" (Atwood 104). The name that has been given to all Handmaids reflects the ownership of their Commander, and shows how the government controls their individuality by taking away the one thing that defines them from other people, their name. The change of the Handmaids' names is a way for keeping each person in their place and the society stable. The name given to each Handmaid takes their independence away and makes them the property of another person, therefore proving the theme of lack of identity in the novel. Likewise, in the Brave New World society, each person is subdivided into a caste system that dictates what his or her job, social ranking, and appearance will be. Each person is conditioned to have preconceived notions about people of other castes: "'Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad that I'm Beta, because I don't work hard. And then we are so much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid…Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid…'" (Huxley 24). Each caste in the society is different from the others, leaving little room for individuality between people of the same caste, who must wear the same clothing and even look the same. For that reason, the theme of lack of identity is developed through the caste system where it is impossible for there to be independent thinking. It is this way that the government keeps everyone in order and stabilizes the society by limiting the chance of rebellion through conditioning everyone into his or her own place in the society. Although both societies control the individuality of their citizens, differences still lie in the way the identity of each person is controlled.

The control over individuality in each novel is accomplished though different methods in the different novels. In The Handmaid's Tale, control is created from force and the fear as a result. While in the Brave New World, control is established through science as a means of doing so. For example, the leaders of Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale use intimidation and fear to succumb people living under their rule in order for there to be a stable society. After living under the rule of the society, Offred has given up her hopes in order to simply survive: "I will do anything you like…. I don't want to be a doll hung up on the wall…. I want to keep on living in any form. I resign my body freely…. They can do what they like with me. I am an object" (Atwood 357). At first Offred did not want to live her life unless she was in control, at this point in the novel the intimidation of the leaders of Gilead has caused Offred to give up her optimism. Furthermore, Offred's spirit has been broken through the use of fear and death and now she wants to become an object, and give up her freedom, this showing how the leaders are robbing people under their command of their individuality, therefore developing the theme of lack of identity. The attempt to break down each individual shows the importance the leaders have put on stability of the society over everything else. In contrast, in the Brave New World Society, science is used to create a lack of identity by creating many people out of one egg who will be exactly the same as the others and will then be conditioned to have the same beliefs and morals. The leaders of the Brave New World have new sciences that are used to create stability: "One egg, one embryo, one adult - normality. But a Bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide…. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress…. If we could Bokanovskify indefinitely the whole problem would be solved…. The principle of mass production at last applied to biology" (Huxley 4). Many people in the Brave New World are created exactly the same as many other people, mass production has been applied to human beings. All people have their lives decided before they are old enough to make decisions at all. Therefore, the fact that all people come from the same egg and are exactly the same as each other develops the theme of lack of identity in the society. Giving each person as little choice over their own lives as possible shows that the leaders of the society are trying to create a stable society limiting independent thought and having everyone in a predetermined social position. In both The Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World there is not only a lack of individuality in order to keep stability, but there is also the government's jurisdiction over relationships.

It is evident in both novels that a dystopic society exists through the authors' use of character to show the control of relationships for there to be stability in the society. In both The Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World, there is a lack of meaningful relationships, where two people may have strong feelings for one another. For instance, in Gilead, freedom to have a relationship is not decided by the person but instead is predetermined; this creates a lack of love, shown specifically through the character of Offred. As a Handmaid, Offred is forced to be with only one man, the Commander, whom she is supposed to feel no emotion towards, this leads to a feeling of emptiness and lack of love: "There's something dead about it, something deserted. I am like a room where things once happened and now nothing does, except the pollen of the weeds that grow up outside of the window, blowing in as dust across the floor" (Atwood 128). Comparing her body to an empty room shows Offred's need for love, with the room representing Offred's desire and the "things that once happened" referring to previous meaningful relationships she once had. The control over relationships in the society causes Offred to have feelings of emptiness and "deadness", showing a dystopic society through the emotions she feels. The lack of meaningful relationships in the society are used to create stability in the society by limiting the amount of emotions citizens feel, the less strongly a person feels, the less of a chance there will be a rebellion caused by strong emotions. Similarly, relationships in the Brave New World are controlled through the conditioning of each people to feel that sex should be treated lightly with no emotions attached to these purely sexual relationships. Relations with women are talked about very freely as if the topic were not personal in the society: "'Lenina Crowne?' said Henry Foster, echoing the Assistant Predestinator's question… 'Oh, she's a splendid girl. Wonderfully pneumatic. I'm surprised you haven't had her.' 'I can't think how it is I haven't…I certainly will at the first opportunity'" (Huxley 39). Henry Foster and the man he is talking to both talk of Lenina as if they do not recognize her as a real person and show no emotion connection to her. Sex is shown as a free topic that does not yield an uncomfortable conversation. People in this society do not think of sex as something to be done with a person they have feelings for, they do it instead out of recreation. The cheapening of sex has eliminated emotions in the society and the chance for rebellion out of emotions. The sacrifice of meaningful relationships is the government's attempt at creating a successful stable society. Even though both societies control the relationships between their citizens, there are differences in the values and morals that are taught to the citizens of each society.

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In The Handmaid's Tale, monogamy is the value imposed on its residents because of biblical purposes. However, in Brave New World promiscuity is dominant because in their society a strong community will result in a secure society. For example, the Handmaids and their Commanders are required to have sex only with each other in order to procreate, the Handmaid is only allowed to do this with her own Commander, thus monogamy is forced on Handmaids. Offred does not approve of the arrangement with the Commander and herself: "I do not say making love, because this is not what he is doing…. Copulating too would be inaccurate…nor would rape cover it…. There wasn't a lot of choice…. Kissing is forbidden between us. This makes it bearable. One detaches oneself. One describes" (Atwood 116-117). Offred does not feel any emotion towards the Commander, she has sex purely because she has been given no choice, she refuses to call this act making love and this is because she feels no love. The society of Gilead uses the values and morals described in the Bible. These values are forced onto the Handmaids in order to create their idea of the perfect society that is most importantly stable. Conversely, in Brave New World, it is taught that promiscuity is the normal way to behave in their society. Linda, John's mother has been living outside of the society she has been conditioned in and therefore has contrasting values, which are thought of as depraved: "…the way they have each other here. Mad, I tell you…. Everybody belongs to everyone else - don't they?' …here…nobody's supposed to belong to more than one person…and if you have people in the ordinary way, the others think you are wicked and anti-social'" (Huxley 109-110). While Linda is on the reservation, she is judged for her views on relationships, she was taught that it is common to not love because of the conditioning everyone has since birth, that way the government eliminates the need for any emotional attachments and all meaningful relationships. Due to her conditioning, Linda is not able to comprehend any other lifestyle other than promiscuity. The morals taught in the Brave New World society are a way for keeping everyone happy and unattached emotionally, and no one will have any feelings to leave the society they are in and rebel; this creates a stable society where individual freedom is sacrificed.

Through both The Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World, it can now be seen that dystopic societies will sacrifice the freedoms of their citizens because of their control over knowledge, individuality and relationships of each person in order for there to be stability in the society. Through the use of conflict, dystopia is established in both of the novels using the control of knowledge of the past and present in the society in order for stability. In addition, through the use of theme, dystopia is established using the lack of identity of each member of the society in order for stability to be in the society. Finally, through the use of character, dystopia is established through the control of the relationships in each member of the societies. In order for there to be stability in a society there must be sacrifices made, especially in a society that is considered dystopic.


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