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Compare the ways in which the Writers of 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' present the Theme of Control in their Novels

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Introduction

COMPARE THE WAYS IN WHICH THE WRITERS OF 'THE HANDMAID'S TALE' AND 'TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES' PRESENT THE THEME OF CONTROL IN THEIR NOVELS The theme of control, either in the dystopia of the Republic of Gilead or the "grassy banks" of rural Wessex, pervades both novels sometimes with an almost Kafkaesque influence. The Dictionary definition of 'Control' as a "means of restraining or regulating," is most obvious in the way the characters are defined by the society in which they live. For example, the Republic of Gilead, the regime under which Offred lives, aims to control its subjects utterly and annihilate all dissenters. It is a pattern of life, "based on conformity, censorship...and terror - in short, the usual terms of existence enforced by totalitarian states"1. More than this, however, Gilead's most potent weapon of control is ignorance. Atwood herself comments on the plight of Offred and indeed all her sex, "her lack of information is part of the nightmare". We, as the readers, are aware from the beginning that everyone is given a specific yet 'blinkered' role and that it is accepted ("nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for"). Everyone, from the Marthas to the denizens of 'Jezebel's', has a specific name which indicates what their role is - that is accepted also. From the wings on her head-dress which only allow her to perceive a partial version of her world, to the "ownership" tattoo on her ankle, Offred seemingly has no freedom. Even her name is sublimated to her role as a "worthy vessel". Each choreographed Prayvaganza, each electric cattle-prod, and each shatter proof, non-opening window is testimony to the society's desire for control of the "transitional generation" to win ultimate control, ironically, by virtually 'airbrushing out' those who contributed to its success. Offred comments wryly, that in future photograph albums, "we'll be invisible...but the children will be in them alright". ...read more.

Middle

in a world where Fate seems to have the upper hand: "it was to be". Although at first it might seem as if 'The Handmaid's Tale' is a purely passive account, we can see that the characters are all striving towards a common goal - active self control. Serena Joy bursts into tears on every "Ceremony" night and knits everlasting scarves covered in pictures of children, but attains "her version of freedom" by withdrawing emotionally from the Commander. Offred sees the ultimate value of accepting that her life is not a "paranoid delusion", that she is not "a missing person", because she maintains the "my" in her personality ("my" room, "my" name) which is the most basic form of self-control, that of sanity: "I hoard it, the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes". The imagery of mirrors in the novel reinforces the theme of characters striving for control over their own lives. Offred attempts to catch a glimpse of her face in the hallway mirror, but finds that it is "distorted", and all bathroom mirrors are replaced by "dull metal" which reveals nothing. Offred and Serena Joy are together reduced to mere uncontrolled shapeless forms "in the brief glass eye of the mirror". Her collusion with Nick in Serena's parlour is a self-limiting rather than a liberating exercise: "he can't give me away, nor I him; for the moment, we're mirrors". In a metaphorical sense, Offred conjectures, on the night of the Ceremony, how it must feel for the Commander to 'see' himself mirrored in the eyes of others: "to have them watching him all the time...it must be hell". Significantly, it is only when Offred sees herself in the "ample mirror under the white light" in the hotel room at 'Jezebel's' that she begins to appreciate the reality of an existence outside her own narrow, controlled life. ...read more.

Conclusion

Aunt Lydia herself, at the Red Centre keeps reminding them of "what things used to be like". Offred knows in her heart that "returning things to nature's norm" is a "paranoid delusion" because the state cannot control her memories and "flashes of normality", be they thoughts of everyday tea towels or vivid flashbacks to her baby daughter or Luke's fate. Nick's past memories of "romance" are shared by both himself and Offred, and are crucially the means by which they are able to transcend the feeling, as Offred conjectures, of being "used". In fact, it is Tess rather than Offred who is the victim of dystopian control, because she is, to quote King Lear, "more sinned against than sinning". Indeed, Tess only appears to challenge heroically the accepted pattern of her life on one crucial occasion, with the murder of Alec. Despite the fact that Tess is born innocent into the "oozing fatness" and "open hills" of a potentially limitless world, she is indeed the "absolute victim of her wretched circumstances"7, and cruel Fate overrides and negates that innocence with a few inauspicious events over which she has no power or control. Destiny dominates her life, in collusion with Nature, and natural qualities take on the force of moral values by which the characters are judged and controlled. Hardy tells us that it is social convention, not Tess herself, despite her 'guilt', which is "out of harmony" with nature. Indeed, both Alec and Angel are described as being under the influence of "unnatural" worlds. To conclude, the theme of control in The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' is best summed up with Offred's affirmation, "I am, I am. I am, still". Like Offred, who also asserts that "it's lack of love we die from", Tess is controlled by instinctive responses of love, faith and survival of humanity. At the end of the novel, for example, Tess asks Angel to "watch over 'Liza-Lu for my sake". Unlike Offred however, Tess can never really say, "I have control over the ending". ...read more.

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