How are dystopias portrayed in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘1984’
We may perceive the idea of dystopia as a state or place in which there is a culmination of terrible instances in the way of oppression and ‘an imaginary place or society in which everything is bad.’ Indeed, what we find makes the dystopian genre so believable is that although these instances are ‘accordingly futile to seek out, they nevertheless exist tantalisingly (or frighteningly) on the edge of possibility.’ and thus we may consider these novels as social critiques of their era.
The structure of the novels allows for symbolic of the dystopia. Chapter two of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ opens with ‘A chair, a table, a ...view middle of the document...
We can interpret these conflicting ideas as evidence for government control of language use. Indeed, across both novels, that the protagonists initially use these short declarative sentences introduces us to their condition straight away and we feel slightly at odds with the structure, which offers little in the way of explanation at first, as this is supposedly normal.
However, we can examine protagonist use of complex sentences whilst they are alone. ‘I am alive, I live, I breathe, I put out my hand, unfolded, into the sunlight.’ There is almost an attempt at freedom, not only in Offred’s actions, but in her language; which, through subordinates, depicts each stage of her movement as unique – especially when combined with the semantic field of life necessities: ‘breathe’, ‘sunlight’ ‘live’. The determination offered in Winston’s ‘If you can feel that staying human is worth while even when it can’t have any result whatsoever, you’ve beaten them.’ suggests that the term human is itself something which no longer applies to the current state as a consequence of the levels of control.
We are reminded of this as a risk through the example of Offred’s ‘I hurt, therefore I am’, which not only adds a psychological dimension to our mode of reading the text, but reminds us of the tortures which are endured by those in dystopian worlds. Of course, this is an allusion to René Descartes, who introduced many ideas of psychology to Western Civilisation in ‘Cogito, ergo sum’: ‘I think, therefore, I am’ – Offred is establishing that her senses make her alive as she subverts Descartes’ argument because she no longer is allowed to think for herself. Moreover, we can thus argue that the idea of an ‘I’ to do the hurting establishes an existence – even if the person is no longer free to do as they wish.
Of course, the language used by the figures of authority is also based around simple concrete sentences; but the use of oxymoron adds new connotations. Prevalent amongst these is the infamous ‘War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.’ which, more than being an example of list of three and syntactic parallelism, provides the party with opportunity to exploit their nation through lexical restrictions. In this sense, ‘war is peace’ could demonstrate how war ensures a greater economy and to give the public motivation and a sense of national pride and unity – all contributing to a more successful and peaceful country. ‘You are being given freedom from’ suggests that these powers are helping relieve their citizens, but we appreciate that the lack of freedom to choose ensures the statement is subversive because the women of Gilead do not all appreciate the freedom; a majority would prefer the lifestyle of yesteryear.
Throughout the novels, language itself is attacked so regimes manipulate language to reflect their own motives. That ‘a word contains its opposite in itself’ denotes how Big Brother is attempting to alter our perceptions of language use...