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The Handmaids Tale And Fahrenheit 451: A Peek Into The Future

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“Live in the present, make the most of it, it’s all you’ve got” – Offred. It is from chilling thoughts like this, that dystopian literature is created. Authors, such as ‘Margrett Atwood’ and ‘Ray Bradbury’ who write for young audiences are reluctant to leave individuals without hope. Hopeful literature is achieved through dystopian works, where the audience is presented with a dysfunctional future society portraying the degradation of civil society and the bitter inheritance left for younger generations. It is from these speculative literatures where ominous educations are distributed among modern societies, foreshadowing the dehumanised, authoritarian humanity controlling individuals in future generations. Both speculative texts including ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ are dystopian classics which detail the manner of power and control via the influence of totalitarian regime while the concepts of the individuality and conformity are manipulated. The power of both literatures emerges from the sinking feeling that such dystopian worlds may exist in the realm of possibilities.

Both the ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ explore distinct methods of totalitarian regime which oppress its citizens. In Attwood’s Tv series, this is recognised through the exposure of strong misogynistic elements in which only granting power to men, furthermore, leaving females completely silenced and marginalised. Atwood presents a strongly feminist vision of dystopia. Throughout her series, she allows the audience to explore the consequences delivered by an assemblage of conservative religious extremists whom take control, turning Gilead into a sexual revolution. Attwood presents a government where the use of power is illustrated and maintained through the control of sexual rights and behaviours; forbidding handmaids to partake in many behaviours including voting, reading and writing. From this absence of freedom, handmaids argue for independence from traditional gender roles; however, Gilead solely remains their focus on returning to traditional values and sex roles, furthermore, on the suppression of females by males. Nonetheless, Attwood’s series remains one of the most powerful portrayals of modern societal attitudes, values and beliefs towards female rights and one of the few dystopian films to examine sexuality in detail. These concepts of power and control are also significantly recognised in Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 541’, a novel published on 19 October 1953, and written through the inspiration of World War 2, more specifically the Nazi’s burning of books. The oppression in his novel is explored via forceful behaviour to achieve one’s submission towards anti-intellectualism. Bradbury portrays the suppression of anti-intellectualism, representing the development of an increasingly oppressive political organisation, that wishes to deny all literature. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ includes an authoritarian regime that establishes and maintains power and control in society via force and punishment. The establishment of power and control in Fahrenheit enables the government to enforce intellectual pursuits and strict laws, thus, prohibiting literatures. Intellectualism is the primary vector to which humans are able to communicate their sense of reality to others, furthermore, the destruction of reading allows the regime to oppress all citizens. As literature and independent thinking are abhorrent in ‘Fahrenheit 451’, the burning of books is a significant behaviour.

Through the authority’s behaviour to eliminate one’s humanity, such concepts including individuality and conformity are strongly depicted. The most prominent dystopian features which are presented in both Bradbury’s and Atwood texts include one’s loss of individuality and submission into conforming behaviours.

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In both ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ one’s individuality is lost to enforce strong means of oppression and prevent any social conflict that could otherwise foster rebellion. Attwood explores this inexistent nature of individuality in Gilead, which is achieved through a political oligarchy which enforces uniformity among citizens to distinguish roles within the state organisation and gain sexual repression. The complete restriction of individuality in ‘The Handmaids Tale’ is evident from the government’s attitude towards handmaids. This behaviour to eliminate one’s individuality results in the handmaids wearing government-issued clothing; long red cloaks and white bonnets. The uniform is quite limiting; long and shapeless, depriving the Handmaids of their femininity. Hence, the red colour which echoes menstrual blood implying their function in society; fertile women who are constantly enforced to endure children for political leaders whom are which incapable of producing offspring of their own (Vanity Far, 2019). This striking red cloak is established as a global phenomenon, as Attwood ‘sears this image into our souls with its depiction of a near-future dystopia’ (Attwood, 2019). Further elimination of individuality is achieved through the removal of handmaid’s original names and their ability to express thoughts. Offred explains this in episode one, where she narrates “thinking hurts our chances” (season 1, episode 1 (5:30). Shortly after, she follows by sharing; “my name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden” (season 1, episode 1, 5:35-5:43. Offred’s thoughts and uniform clearly exhibits the way in which handmaids behave, speak and dress in a government-prescribed manner while their individuality is significantly abolished. Similar concepts are also recognised in ‘Fahrenheit 541’, where Bradbury examines loss of individuality in detail through the manipulation of daily schedule control. A significant example of this is identified within the novel “An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running…but do you know, we never ask questions” (p.17) This suggests Fahrenheits totalitarian state mandates individuals to follow highly regimented daily schedules, hence, the concept of a personal life is destroyed. Fahrenheits government also interferes with one’s education as regime policies limits their critical thinking and judgement skills that hinders individuals from following their true desire while preventing access from the truths of society. Therefore, in order to repress individualism, both governments destroy freedom to express emotion and literature is abolished, further removing citizens’ ability to distinguish their own sense of reality from authorities.

Through the governing behaviours of eliminating one’s humanity, submission into conformity is established. Conformity expects people to ignore who they truly are and shape to a single standard, similar to the absence of individuality. This nature is explored by both authors as they focus on the tension between the individual and the state where the manner of conformity is significantly detailed. Both dystopian worlds examine the implementation of strict social regulations upon its populace, coercing the society to behave and think the same as one another to a set of social norms or policies. Thus, citizens belong to a population seemingly brainwashed through the oppressive government whom significantly establish and maintain control over their daily behaviours. Attwood does not fail to detail this concept as her protagonist demonstrates the manner of conformity, through the imposition and maintenance of uniformity upon handmaids. By wearing these cloaks, handmaids are conforming to Gilead’s way of protecting and expressing fertile women. Conformity is further recognised through the behaviours of handmaids as Offred shares; “We go everywhere in two’s” season 1, episode 1 (12:12). This passage displays that handmaid’s source of individuality and freedom is significantly lost and Gilead’s enforcement of oppression is effective. In comparison, Bradbury exacerbates conformity through detailing one’s behaviours which embodies tension between one and the state. This is shown when Montag questions Beatty “was it my wife who turned me in?” (p.128), after, Beatty replies with a nod. In relation to conformity, majority of the public in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ share the preference of obeying governing authorities than standing by loved ones in certain situations. This is comprehended through Mildred’s behaviours of reporting Montag, as her choice to notify the government of her husband’s actions which successfully portray society’s choice to conform to authorities’ orders.

It is quite rare when literature is able to cohesively capture themes in relation to societies yet entertain its audience and that must not be ignored. Both recognised as cautionary tales, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘The Handmaids Tale’ create opportunities for lessons to be learnt through the manipulation of societal attitudes, values and beliefs. For Fahrenheit, Bradbury quotes, “I was not predicting the future, I was trying to prevent it” (Shenoy, 2019). Seen in this light, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ becomes a cautionary tale where the audience extracts ominous lessons. The novel was written in the early 1950s, as Bradbury’s inspiration spurred from the Nazis burning of books, and the invasion of seven-inch black-and-white televisions into people’s homes. In saying that, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ replicates such situations as society is incessantly entertained by staring at mega TV screens in their homes. The dystopian novel warns the audience about a society that has unfortunately been significantly influenced by technology and so distracted by television that the civilisation has lost track of reality and independent thoughts. From this, Bradbury allows the reader to explore the message of watching mindless, endless television is not a substitute for reading literature. This is strongly continued into modern times as technology remains the most influential limitation to societies literature access. However, Attwood modelled ‘The Handmaids Tale’ to be a representative of female dystopia where the position of women in Gilead is discussed in detail, therefore, juxtaposing to Bradbury’s novel. The series is a prominent symbol for modern feminism and the global fight for gender equality. Unlike men, females have unfortunately been facing sexual discrimination and repression for centuries. Although Attwood’s totalitarian regime may not resemble American societies in current form, its structures and customs do mirror aspects of the 17th century. It is in this century that Attwood’s inspiration was encouraged, from such events related to Mary Webster, an example of a female who was faulsy accused.

Therefore, the dystopian nature of both ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ explore the chilling concept of futuristic societies through their strong use of power and control to oppress one’s conformity and remove individuality. As Attwood and Bradbury both illustrate through the dystopian regimes, their sole purpose is to maintain absolute control over all citizens and to allow the governing authorities to maintain immutable power. The emergence of these speculative texts delivers ominous lessons which societies can comprehend the dehumanised, authoritarian humanity controlling individuals in future generations. The supremacy of such literatures is recognised from the sinking feeling that dystopian scenarios may exist in the realm of possibilities. Therefore, we must live in the present and make the most of it because it may be all we’ve got.

References

  1. Attwood, M. (2019). The Handmaid’s Tale. [online] Goodreads.com. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38447.The_Handmaid_s_Tale [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].
  2. Shenoy, G. (2019). Why Fahrenheit 451 is supremely relevant to the times we live in | Factor Daily. [online] Factor Daily. Available at: https://factordaily.com/fahrenheit-451-ray-bradbury-relevant-present/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].
  3. “The Handmaids Tale” Margret Attwood (Hulu TV series)
  4. “Fahrenheit 451” Ray Bradbury

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