Compare and contrast how Atwood and Orwell use language in their regimes as a means of social control.

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Compare and contrast how Atwood and Orwell use language in their regimes as a means of social control.

Knowledge is power. Atwood and Orwell explore this idea in their dystopian novels The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984.

The Handmaid’s Tale was written against the backdrop of the feminist movement. During this period Thatcher was elected as the first female Prime Minister in Britain. Although Thatcher was female she was masculine in her governance of the country. The Handmaid’s Tale presents a society where the achievements of the feminist movement are suppressed and “The growing power of this “religious right” heightened feminist fears that the gains women had made in previous decades would be reversed.” 1 Also, at the time of writing The Handmaid’s Tale, there were many fundamentalist religious groups worldwide, for example in Iran, where women were veiled under the regime. Possibly, Atwood was warning of rule under a theocracy and encouraging society to promote religious diversity as a way of life.

1984 was written after World War 2 in 1948. Orwell’s political beliefs are reflected in the novel. He was strongly opposed to the principles of Communism as practiced in the USSR, and Dictatorships, yet  was committed to Socialism spending time as a homeless person in Paris, documented in ‘Down and out in Paris and London’. He documented working life in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’. This was the driving force behind his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War. There are parallels between Communist Russia and the state of Oceania. Both are ruled by fascist dictators, Stalin and Big Brother; both governments use propaganda to control the population. In both dystopian novels controlling language is a central means of social control.

Written language is used to control the populations of Oceania and Gilead.

Biblical precedent is used, and manipulated, to justify the brutal totalitarian regime implemented in The Handmaid’s Tale. “The Bible is used to justify the new way of life, but only those in power have access to the Bible, and there is no one correct interpretation of its meaning” 2 In effect, society is ruled by abusing the faith of its people and distorting the words of their holy book. Many aspects of the Bible are ignored, as they are incompatible with the regime, such as the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. The Aunts declare “Blessed are the meek” in reference to the Handmaids, yet they fail to include the remainder where the meek ‘shall inherit the Earth’. They use language to keep the Handmaids in their place in the hierarchy of society. Biblical elements are taken very literally, a key example being the ethos behind the primary purpose of society – to breed. This is demonstrated in the epigraph where the story of Rachel and Bilhah is used to ratify the way in which children are conceived: “Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her”. This adherence to religious codes is similar to Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Afghanistan where the state religion is Islam. In Islam, the purpose of marriage is to procreate and raise children in the Islamic faith. Also in these countries women are veiled and denied the right to read and write, like the Handmaids. In The Handmaid’s Tale, only men are allowed to read the Bible so that their views are unopposed.

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Similarly, Orwell uses revisionist history. Historical textbooks are rewritten to suit The Party’s purposes, so that children are indoctrinated from an early age and grow up viewing the Party in a positive light. Also the Party changes the events of the past e.g. claiming they invented the aeroplane. This makes it impossible for any Party member to question the validity of the claims made by the Party as written history confirms that the Party is accurate in all aspects of life.

Atwood states that she “didn’t think that language would be that different from now” 3 . Language ...

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