A famous rapper, Biggie smalls, once said “if you don’t know, now you know” and once you finish reading this blog everything you didn’t know about how similar Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World are you will now know.
A popular genre of today is dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction (sometimes referred to as apocalyptic literature) is the opposite: creation of an utterly horrible or degraded society that is generally headed to an irreversible oblivion, or dystopia.
Whether you are someone who enjoys the dystopian tales, such as the Hunger Games, Divergent, The Uglies, the Maze Runner or if you are someone like me who only knows the genre exists because english class threatens a zero if you do not become familiar with it, there are many obvious similarities shared by many dystopian novels. these features include control of society, a tragic hero, suppression, clear class separation which in turn helps with the control. Here i am going to be comparing the novels Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood on the basis of the clear dystopian features they share.
Clear class separation is a very obvious feature in most dystopian texts. In both BNW and HMT the separation is to help with control. However in BNW the separation of classes is accompanied with the brainwashing, it is the brainwashing that holds each person in their position in society “And that,” put in the Director sententiously, “that is the secret of happiness and virtue— liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”. Brave New World separates society from day one into classes known as Alpha, beta, Gamma, Delta, and epsilons. When i say from day one i really mean from day one, from the second the baby begins to grown in the tubes it is being manipulated to make sure that the human that is to come at the end of the strange birthing/grown regime is one that is perfectly fit for the job he/she is destined to do. “Hasn’t it occurred to you that an Epsilon embryo must have an Epsilon environment as well as an Epsilon heredity?”. The sperm and ovum that are chosen are from epsilon worthy candidates and then things like oxygen are cut off for periods of time, affecting brain development. “‘The lower the caste,’ …. ‘The shorter the oxygen’ The first organ affected was the brain.”. This manipulation of embryos further reinforces the idea of clear deliberate class separation. These class separations in BNW are to ensure all jobs have workers to complete them, workers whom are perfectly built and enjoy the work they’ve been given. Handmaids Tale however does not have such a ‘happy’ class separation. HMT is separated into numerous confusing kerfuffled hierarchies, each ‘class’ has a certain role attaches to it. For example, Handmaids job is to bear children for the women who cant due to environmental conditions (such as nuclear radiation contamination), the Martha’s whom cook and clean, Wives who stay at home and fill up space with sour comments or goes out to watch weird birthing ceremonies of their friends Handmaids (WEIRDOS!!), and Econowives whom are fertile females whom are married to a man without much wealth or power and they are expected to do the Handmaids and Marthas and wives job for her husband (how unfortunate). Unlike BNW the class separation in HMT is to keep people in their place, to avoid an uprising and therefore maintain power over a society that is only beneficial (if that’s even a word that can be used to explain the gilead society).
Social oppression is a concept that describes a relationship of dominance and subordination between categories of people in which one benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward the other. In Brave New World the society is held under control (or oppressed) through happiness, its seen in John the Savage that due to his inability to conform to the new society he in extremely unhappy in it. Each person who is happy in the society confides by the societal norms and these activities such as frequent “no strings attached” sex, drugs (soma), and happiness with what they have. It is the want to be and stay happy that keeps the majority of society from ever really questioning anything about what is going on around them. The oppression of the society in Brave New World is also helped along with the fact that the society as a whole really has no idea what is going on up in the head honchos offices or that the reason they do things the way they do is just for a group of people (the World Controllers) to have power, this allows the majority of the society to just completely indulge in the life of not having to do or care about anything real or difficult. “a gramme is better than a damn”. It is obvious that whenever someone of this society is denied the fundamentals of sex, soma and the feeling of content with that you have they are unhappy, this can be seen when Lenina is denied sex by John the Savage. After John and Lenina’s date, Lenina had expected John to accompany her to her house for you know! “Good-night Lenina”……”But, john ….. i thought you were ……. i mean, aren’t you…..?” it is due to this denial of her wants that has caused her to seem so unhappy in the very next chapter “Obediently, but unsmiling without elation, Lenina walked after him, out of the room”. In Handmaids Tale the societal oppression is constructed dramatically differently. In Gilead everybody is well aware of the circumstance that they are under, weather they have come to terms with the situation is a completely different story as Janine clearly demonstrates throughout the book “hello, she said, but not to me”. Everyone is aware that society has changed and is aware that things aren’t normal, this is reinforced through multiple references to the the “time before”, “is that how we lived then?….Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.”. Because the entire society of Gilead is aware of the situation they’re in the method of control has to be changed, instead of controlling society with happiness and fun times like in BNW, in HMT it is changed to fear, the society is controlled by fear. People of lower caste, Handmaids and Martha’s, have the fear of simply being sent out into the abandoned nuclear wasteland battle fields that surround the community of Gilead, being executed and hung on the wall for everyone to see, or being sent to jezebel’s for years of sexual abuse, all for ‘misbehaviour’. The fear of these punishments is enough to abide by the rules, or break them all and commit suicide to avoid them. Due to the persons in the more powerful positions being able to see (although it’s attempted to occur behind closed doors) the mistreatment and awful conditions the lower castes must live with is enough of a threat to keep anyone with power smart enough to know that losing their position is the worst thing that could happen to them. This is why commanders and other positions of power are kept out of light of society as they do their ‘business’ (secret stirip clubs called jezebels) on the down low.
Continuous motif of death
As all dystopian texts are seen as quite depressing alternatives, worst case scenarios, of what society could end up like they tend to have a continuous motif of something that is unfavourable to us readers, i.e DEATH. In HMT it is presented to the reader confrontingly with frequent references to suicide, and allusions to death or killings; “Removed anything you could tie a rope to”, “I would like a knife like that.”, “six more bodies hanging”, “To be seen – is to be ….. Penetrated”, “You’ll end up the same.”. Brave New World death motif is presented less from an awful sad, dirty perspective but from a sterile clean one; “wintriness responded to wintriness”, “with a pale corpse-coloured rubber”, “The light was frozen, dead, a ghost.”, “the feet turned towards the right”.
Worship of an idea or religion
The motto is ‘community, identity, stability’ in the society in the novel BNW. The motto is brainwashed into society from the second they are born. ‘Roses and electric shocks, the khaki of Deltas and a whiff of asafœtida—wedded indissolubly before the child can speak.’. This motto is worshiped and valued by the entire society of Brave New World. This idea also in a way controls whom stays in society, for example if someone is seen to not abide by this motto that encloses societal normal they are ‘sent away’. This is demonstrated towards the end of the novel where Helmholtz and The Savage throw soma out the window “‘Free, free!’ the Savage shouted,……continued to throw the soma into the area……Helmholtz at his side” whilst Bernard watched unknowing what to do “Hesitant on the fringes of the battle”. Although Bernard never took place in the throwing of soma, he was considered an accomplice “‘you’re a friend of the prisoners, aren’t you?…….’come on, then’”, him and Helmholtz were both sent away to a island as they were both considered unfit for the society of the world state. If the Savage had been a person of Civilisation before hand he too would of been sent off as well, as he wanted to be “To ask him if i mightn’t go to the islands with you”, however due to his reason for being in Civilisation was as an experiment Mustapha Mond wished to continue this experiment “‘He wouldn’t let me’……’He said he wanted to go on with the experiment’” and therefore The Savage stayed behind. Handmaids Tale did not worship an idea as such but a religion. The society of Gilead worships a bastardized version of Christianity. A version that is solely developed around this original Genesis extract:
And when Rachel saw that she bare jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else i die.
And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am i in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her and she shall bear upon my knees, that i may also have children by her.
– Genesis, 30:1-3
The idea of the maid bearing the children for the wife is basically (SPOILERS) the whole story, the Handmaids are in the households in order to bear children for the infertile Wives (or commanders, although they are never checked) “The colour of red, which defines us”. The ‘shall bear upon my knees’ is taken a little to the extreme where during the ceremony the Handmaid is to lay in between the Wife’s legs while the Commander does the deed “Her legs are apart, i lie between them”, she is literally bearing the child on her knees! There is also reference about how she cannot bear children “There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.”. And continuous reference to fruit “bless be the fruit”, “women who are fruitful”, “be fruitful and multiply”. In HMT also if you are no longer a contributor to society (i.e you are no longer fertile or able to bare children) you will be shipped out to the colonies, “he could have me shipped of to the colonies, with the un women” where she would suffer a slow death by radiation, there is also the possibility of execution but that was discussed earlier. It is the ideas and religious ideas that are worshiped within the dystopian texts that is what separates people whom are a part of society and those whom are seen as burdens to society, and are dealt with as such.
A tragic hero is a person of noble birth with heroic or potentially heroic qualities. In dystopian texts the protagonist tends to originally show the characteristics of doing something great, but in the end with their contribution to society it does not change as a whole by any fault of theirs and they usually end up dead, due to their tragic flaw. The protagonist in HMT is Offred (or June), the story is told from her point of view. At the end of her story she steps into a van which could be the ‘Eyes’ but it could also be ‘Mayday’ “And so i step up, into the darkness within; or else the light”, the end of her character has no impact on any part of society accept momentarily the household, when her tapes are brought up in the historical notes it says little about her having any impact on society. The only help to anyone she was, was helping to piece together who is who almost 2 centuries later “at the University of Denay, Nunavit, on June 25, 2195”. Offred’s tragic flaw or hamartia can be seen as her fertility, which is what brought her into the position she held in society and therefore caused her death in the end, as she was taken away for breaking these rules of a Handmaid (but not necessarily by the eyes….). Brave New World appears to have Two tragic heroes. The first is Bernard Marx, he spends his whole life as an outsider as he never shared the same characteristics as the other Alphas “He’s so ugly!…And then so small……They say someone made a mistake when he was still in the bottle….and put alcohol in his surrogate”. Bernard however sticks through his tragic flaws and comes out on top, for a while, when he begins the experiment of the Savage in Civilisation. It is at that point it becomes clear that he is not interested in defining his identity but only at excelling socially. This in the end becomes his tragic flaw and leads to him showing himself weakly to the world controller “Please give me another chance.’ The tears began to flow” and then him inevitably, due to his continuouse public displays of instability, gets shipped off to anther island “Yes, were off tomorrow”. The second tragic hero, with a much more tragic fate is John the Savage. John is introduced to Civilisation through an experiment by Bernard, John hates the way that society is so numb and un willing to feel anything. Johns attmempts to show everyone how he feels about soma “i come to bring you freedom”, “Poison to soul and body aswell”, “Dont take that horrible stuff. Its poison, its poison”. Although John shows a massive step in showing society there is a different way, nothing changes in the society after John, Helmholtz, and Bernard are dosed up with soma and dragged out the police station. John is not exiled he is allowed to move to a small remote corner of the world state, to live off the land. Once John is caught by paparatzi, doing his weird whipping rituals “Sharp, with thousands of points, they pricked him” he he payed a visit by a huge crowd of civilians. After awakening and realising what had happened the day before he hangs himself “like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right”. John’s tragic flaw was that he was too naive, which is what had caused him to freak out and hang himself.
Dehumanisation is shown strongly in dystopian texts through reference to people in relation to animals. It is designed to take compassion and liveliness from the characters and therefore take away their importance. Brave New World dehumanises individuals ; “Straight from the horse’s mouth”, “any cow”, The Savage refers to the twins as “Maggots” to him, but also groups of people; “Rams wrapped in theremogene beget no lambs”, “Nice tame animals, anyhow”, “Like a beehive”. Handmaids Tale, like always when compared to Brave New World, achieves the dehumanisation through reference to animals, but also by objects of a degrading nature; “The colour red, which defines us”, “The signals animals give one another: lowered blue eyelids, ears laid back, raised hackles”, “Like a trained pig’s on it’s hind legs”, “We weren’t allowed out, except for our walks”. By using different imagery and symbolism to dehumanise characters or groups in the dystopian societies brings the reader to feel specific feelings towards each group or individual depending how they are dehumanised.