Power, sex and children. Three interlocking ideas? Maybe. Three notions that make the world go round? Perhaps. Three themes prevalent in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and the reality in which I live? Absolutely.
Power, whether publicly admitted or not, is something that everyone enjoys a little bit of. Whilst it may drive some to release their inner demon and others to emancipate the oppressed, it is a key element that allows this world to go round. Sex, may sadly go hand in hand with power, but is also a notion and act filled with many different meanings for every individual. Romanticized, for pleasure, or purely for procreation, it too is a driving force of societies in today’s universe. And children. We’ve all come from somewhere and we’re all someone’s child. But what does that mean? It means we’re the future. It means the examples that people set today, that people are setting right now, with either their obtuse political power or their sexual liberation, these are the examples us as children with either follow, or strive to change. Dystopian novelists thrive on this. They recognize our human errors within the world and they exaggerate and manipulate them until we as readers are exposed to the mutilated worlds in which they present. They aim to withdraw the elements of the real world, which may be detrimental to our overall wellbeing, and present them in a way that satirically shows said notions as being positive aspects to that new society. Power. Sex. The value of children. These are some of the many things wrong with the world. These are the components, already recognized by dystopian writers, that we as humans should endeavor to change.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale (T.H.T), a novel whose value cannot be understated, presents the totalitarian theocratic society of Gilead as a post nuclear war world that is concerned with the rehabilitation of its population. They go about this problem by assigning fertile women from the ‘old world’ to upper class married couples who are struggling to conceive on their own, and hence the creation of Handmaids. The couples, along with the handmaid, engage in ceremonial sex practices through which no emotion is shown, nor is equal pleasure ever a goal; the hopes of fertilizing an egg is all that may be desired. “But isn’t this everyone’s wet dream, two women at once? They used to say that. Exciting, they used to say” (pg. 105, H.M.T) yet such excitement was never felt for handmaids. The power figures responsible for the roles of these women is derived from both the Aunts, who brainwash and initiate the handmaids into their duties, and they Eyes, who are essentially a governmental secret police alluding to the notion of everyone constantly being watched. In essence, the novel tells a story of a girl, whose name goes unstated but is referred to as “Offred” in Gileadean society (due to the idea of ownership of a handmaid to a Commander). Readers follow her journey throughout this new world, in both her struggle to recall events from the past, and her inability to comfortably fit into and accept her role within this new society. Her destiny by the end of the novel is unknown to readers, as her potential escape versus potential capture is never specified.
Brave New World (B.N.W) by Aldous Huxley is a literary piece that embraces the consumerist society, particularly experienced throughout the world in the 1920’s, and evolves this in an ethically sabotaging way. Set in the ‘World State’, this society focuses on “people liking their inescapable social destiny” (pg. 12 BNW) and does this through a rigid caste system. Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons form the hierarchy of intelligence, importance, socio-economic status, as well as attractiveness within this world. Huxley doesn’t stop here. This caste system, the underlying notion of how people are seen and treated within this world, isn’t something everyone can develop for themselves in order better one another. Rather, it is pre-programmed into each individual. Machines exist where mothers used to, and a child’s gestation period takes place along a conveyer belt, mimicking the assembly line mass production used by Henry Ford in the manufacturing of T-model cars. An individual’s social destiny directly influences the oxygen and food levels they receive, with the elite receiving only the best of the best. Huxley’s two protagonists share the idea of this perfectibility gone wrong, and a story evolves entailing the downfall and rise of each. With an exile and a suicide, Huxley celebrates the damage caused by our mindless consuming attitudes and its detriment to society.
Sorry if I’ve confused you; I merely wish to set the scene before we delve into the comparisons of these two worlds and my own. You see this is all part of a bigger picture. We may investigate and compare two texts, but what’s the point if we cant relate to it? I didn’t grow up in Gilead, nor the World State, yet here we are exploring the ways characters are blinding suppressed by rules and regulations implemented by power figures who want nothing but to benefit themselves. And sadly, there are people just like that in the real world. Power hungry, sex driven individuals who hold devaluing views towards children.
Founder of communism and author of The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx once said, “religion is the opiate of the masses”, and this is an idea I couldn’t agree with more. No I don’t agree with everything Marx had said, but think about it; if people believe they should accept their poor living conditions on earth in the hope that they will face a better afterlife, from either a proven or unproven higher god, then it gives rise for power hungry individuals to take advantage of another’s suffering. Both T.H.T and B.N.W stimulate this idea.
Whilst Atwood uses literal manipulations of the bible to present the production of children as an utmost necessity and maintain power in Gilead, Huxley uses a consumerist religion based on the ideals of Henry Ford in coalition with the legalized drug of soma to maintain power and control within the world state. “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside of the maze” (pg. 174, T.H.T) is essentially the reality for all three worlds; Gilead, the world state, and my reality.
For as long as women within Gilead serve their roles as either maids within the home, or slaves of sex to commanders, power and status is in balance. By suppressing their abilities to read and feel anything more than the penetrative movements of the commander in their monthly rituals, handmaids are “…accepting their duties with willing hearts” (pg. 127, T.H.T) as encouraged by the Aunts. Within Huxley’s world however, so long as no one maintains monogamy and everyone consumes soma upon feeling an emotion other than ignorance, power will forever be in balance. Why allow instability to exist in a world when brainwashing people with drugs does all the hard work for you?
And of course, my reality. So long as I learn every precise point on my course syllabus and limit myself to the pedantic ridges of a high school education, I too will assist in the maintenance of power. But for what? What is it that Huxley and Atwood are trying to show? We are the mice, and the world is our maze. As a human race, we are detrimental to our own good, allowing things such as technology and synthetic foods to dominate our lives. We are mindlessly running wild in this maze of impure and unnatural circumstances we as a species have created for ourselves. These writers are aiming to make us release this collective hamartia; we need to stop letting drugs, sex, consumerism and other ignorant technological choices dominate our lives. Or we too will one day kill ourselves off and be left to face a real life dystopia.
Sex in the real world, may be one of many things. Consensual, forced, euphoric, boring, uncomfortable, dry, romantic, messy, the list goes on. But sex in The Handmaids Tale, and sex in Brave New World is anything but sex in the real world. Instead, the horizontal tango is shown at opposing ends of the spectrum in each novel; T.H.T philosophy focuses on the behaviour purely for procreation purposes, something seen as criminalist and filthy in B.N.W, as instead they focus on sex as being an openly shared and liberated act. And lets consider the real world; if one maintains the reasoning of Atwood and only has sex to create offspring, they’ll most likely be categorized as a conservative, traditionalist bible-basher, or even just a frigid prude. But if one were to engage in the notion of “everyone belongs to everybody else” as seen in Huxley’s work, then the open and all-in orge’s would be deemed shameful and slut worthy. In regards to the old world of T.H.T, which may even be considered as the world we are today, it’s believed that “…the sex was too easy. Anyone could just buy it…” (pg. 221, T.H.T) which admittedly, is true for our society. No more true than the fact this in this world also “erotic play between children had been regarded as abnormal” as expressed in B.N.W.
So what are both novelists trying to prove?
Morals have dropped, along with many panties, and sex scandals and adulterated affairs seem to be the conditions of many relations today. From “friends with benefits” to the ever-growing world wide web of pornography, more men and women are openly exposing their bodies to be explored in explicit ways. This is what Huxley and Atwood recognizably share in their work, yet their solutions to the problems are undeniably different. Oblivious characters in B.N.W, thanks to soma, are happily engaging in “orgy-porgy’s” left, right and centre, and being anything but a polygamist in this world is considered irregular. Yet this sexual liberation is restricted to a whole new level in Atwood’s work, as its no longer about enjoyment or passion. Sex is their scrupulous biological art of making children. Nothing more and nothing less.
These dystopias reflect the way many of us are losing touch with the values of sex. Both novels portray obvious characters, Offred and John, who want to give meaning back to the act. They crave the feelings associated with the touch of loved ones, both the emotional and physical responses it elicits. If people of the twenty first century could just put their mind before their libido, then maybe everyone can get back in touch with the cherished feeling to love and be loved.
I remember once in an argument between some family members, someone pulled the whole “children should be seen and not heard” card. Up until that day, I had never heard the saying, and ever since that day, it has remained with me. Children. To be physically present, yet muted. How shallow minded of someone to believe. Children are the future. Literally, the future of everything. The way in which my parents raised me, and however your parents raised you, and the way your grand parents and great grand parents and so on were raised, has a direct impact on how we shall sculpt the future. So one must ask themself, by the manipulation of religious reasoning, or by drug infused gangbangs, what are we teaching the future generations to believe about their own values and morals? And the fact that dystopian fiction is an existing literary genre to comment on the negative elements present in the real world has surely got to be a large enough indication that something isn’t right. And it’s not. We are unappreciative of their creation, and the potential they hold. Children that is. Why mute the child that could one day instigate the law that is the difference between your own life and death?
B.N.W focuses on the production of children via machinery. Conveyer belt babies who are conditioned to like what the state wants them to like. “Community, Identity, Stability” (pg. 1 B.N.W) being the world state motto explains why. Power and sex have a direct linkage to the bearing of children. In order for characters such as Mustapha Mond to remain as a World Controller, he must not face opposition from aspiring new minds. Hence political stability. To suppress the potentiality of these innovative thinkers, what better than to make them yourself? To make them believe what you need them to believe, so they wont try to overthrow this stability? Hence social identity and the caste system. And community? Why not encourage sexual liberation and legalized drug use to make people forget they ever felt anything other than complete mediocrity and ignorance to their preconditioned boring lives? Hence their community. We can therefore see the belittling of children. Rather than a celebrated and enjoyed act between two human beings to create a new life with unknown potential, children become pedantically manufactured to appease a small minorities desire for power.
T.H.T juxtaposes this entire process, however only to share the same underlying idea; we are devaluing our children, and thereby devaluing our future. Falling pregnant is a celebrated and envied occurrence within Atwood’s work, with many believing “If I have an egg, what more can I want?” (pg. 120, T.H.T). Whilst their process of creating children isn’t as romanticized nor passionate as it may be in the real world, having a child is like having stardom. But at what cost? These children admittedly aren’t being brought into a drug induced sex filled world, but instead they are being brought into a society where the expectant womanly role is to bear children and bear children only. What are the promises these kids will be raised in loving families who will allow them to reach their potential? There isn’t.
And that’s the point. An unfulfilling and uneducated life will lead to unfamiliarity with what better circumstances can look like. And if children were raised to believe there is nothing better than the emotionless sex and dominating caste systems of their own worlds, why would they ever have a reason to fight back? To rise up? To rebel against what they believe has always been an effortless system? Depreciating future generations leads to the power stability of the current. This is what both novelists are trying to emphasize. Do not suppress the future engineers and lawyers of the world; do not disallowed adults to swear in their creative writing tasks; and most importantly do not be the shallow minded person who believes children are to be seen and not heard, because at the end of the day, it could be that child saying ‘See You Next Tuesday!’ for what may be your life saving doctors appointment.
AND THAT’S A WRAP FOLKS
- 1. The ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way.
- 1. (Chiefly with reference to people) Sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse.
- A young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority.
Margaret Atwood, in her introduction for Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, commented on utopias as ‘perfectibility breaking on the rocks of dissent’. The beauty of a utopia is its passionate venture to achieving quite literally a perfect world. But the irony of the situation? Many suppressed character of dystopias, to an extent, already believe that what they live is utopia. I assure you, I do not believe my reality, nor Gilead or the World State, is my envisioned perfect world.
Power, whether immorally driven or maintained by drug use, will forever be present in the world. Sex, whether liberated or restrained, is an inescapable biological process that will occur continuously in every corner of the globe. And children. Offspring. The results of reproduction. We too are a never-ending stream of potentiality. Do not suppress what we have to offer. We are the next wave of leaders who may one day put an end to dystopian texts. Imagine that; a utopia brought to you by the one who knew nothing but dystopian circumstances. I suppose imperfectability goes off too.