Compare and contrast the ways Margret Atwood and William Blake present the power of authority over the most vulnerable in society in 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Songs of Innocence and Experience'

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Coursework- English

Compare and contrast the ways Margaret Atwood and William Blake present the power of authority over the most vulnerable in society in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’

Both Margaret Atwood and William Blake explore the issue of authority and the power it has over the vulnerable in society in their texts. Atwood presents the theme of authority with various motifs: the Nazi-like principles of the hypocritical, totalitarian government of Gilead; irony and neologisms. Blake illustrates how adults have a profound authority over children by using a child’s voice, in both innocence and experience sections of his poetry. He exposes what he believed were the ‘evils’ of society at the time including child labour and the industrial revolution with techniques such as irony, contrast and social critique.

The Gileadean government can be viewed as similar to the totalitarian Nazi regime, which allows Atwood’s dystopian novel to be viewed in the same way as a hypothetical axis victory in WWII (a created alternative history in which the Third Reich won the Second World War), her inspiration possibly coming from her visit to West Berlin which “had a sinister feeling, surrounded by the Wall and with East German planes flying low overhead”. Hitler made it clear in his book of what an ‘ideal’ society would be like, including the ‘pure’ blonde hair, blue-eyed Aryan race and the traditional 3K’s policy expected of women (Children, kitchen, church). A comparison between this and The Handmaid’s Tale can be made as modern women in Western America during the ‘time before’ had more opportunities and control over their own bodies. The freedom of women is often presented through Moira, who is a lesbian: “she’d decided to prefer women”, and a feminist. The lexical choice of “decided” suggests Moira had complete control over her lifestyle choices; implying she had ‘chosen’ her sexuality in order to oppose patriarchal control and to not be subject to the vulnerability and oppression that men impose upon her. She also criticises Offred for having her “head in the sand” because she is not particularly interested in feminist concepts; whereas Moira shares the characteristics of a radical feminist. Pre-Nazi Germany involved the ‘Golden Twenties’ which saw the newly formed Weimar culture; conservative and radical right wing activists criticised the ‘sexualisation’ of the westernised flapper and the image of what goes against a ‘traditional woman’, the Nazi party reversed these advancements. The flashbacks that Offred experiences show the contrasts between the society ‘before’ compared to now;  the Gileadean government  also claim that the previous society was harmful to women because the sexual freedom ‘led’ men on. She comments on the tourist women’s skirts in chapter six “it’s been so long since I’ve seen skirts that short on women…That was freedom. Westernized, they used to call it”. The Aunts tell the handmaids that wearing clothing like that had made them more prone to rape, which is what they tell Janine in response to her being gang raped at fourteen. "She was gang-raped at fourteen and had an abortion [...] It may not even be true". However, it can be argued that the Gileadean society is no better as women have little option other than to participate in the ‘Ceremonies’ and are objectified; suggesting that women are more vulnerable than before.

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The use of Biblical manipulation to represent authority is also a common theme throughout. Aunt Lydia reads the passage of Rachel and Leah: “Give me children or I die” to brainwash and manipulate the handmaids into revolving their lives around getting pregnant. This appears to create rivalry between the women in a competitive manner; Offred said about Janine: “She’s a magic presence to us, an object of envy and desire, we covet her”. Janine seems to gain strength with pregnancy, she is seen “glowing”; whereas she previously appeared weak to everyone. Gilead’s manipulation is emphasised with the quote: “From each according to ...

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