The dehumanisation of a specific and manufactured social community is the most appealing characteristic of Dystopian Literature. To what extent do The Handmaids Tale and Brave New World support or refute this view?

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The dehumanisation of a specific and manufactured social community is the most appealing characteristic of Dystopian Literature.

To what extent do ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Brave New World’ support or refute this view?

        Disillusioned by the societies that lay before them, Huxley and Atwood crafted fascinatingly bleak, futuristic satires in which the past had been abolished. Within the midst of Huxley’s technocratic London and Atwood’s theocratic Gilead, two dehumanised masses merely exist to fulfil the ideologies of their omnipotent rulers. Each society of conditioned and religiously brainwashed individuals appeals to the modern reader, as such ideas are horrifically paralleled to the potential future of our world.

        Both Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale isolate sexual intercourse from emotions and reproduction. In Brave New World, society worship Henry Ford’s dictum that “history is bunk” and thus, completely disregard it. The “bad old days” tradition of monogamy is utterly obscene; the hypnopaedically taught notion that “everyone belongs to everyone else” is “axiomatic” and obstinate.  Bernard’s uncomfortable abbreviation of ‘mother’ to “-m” in chapter 11 also expresses the World State’s abhorred attitude to the concept of family; it is full of “suffocating intimacies”. Bernard’s mere incapability to completely verbalise the word, strips the term “mother” of its nurturing semantics and the reader is left with a meaningless nasal consonant. It is interesting that initially, Bernard is the reader’s point of reference, as he is an outsider from the moral turmoil. Here, however, they can no longer relate to his normalcy, as Bernard displays an otherness that the reader finds horrifying, yet compulsive.

The employment of Malthusian belts and pregnancy substitutes warrants the need for another method of birth – “decanting” – Huxley’s mechanised and impersonal way to engender humans in artificial wombs, making them a monotonous, scientific advance. In a procedure rich in empirical control, “the coincidence [is] not particularly surprising” that characters often share a surname, such as Lenina and Fanny Crowne. This generates an afterimage for the reader of an indifference to meeting others whom we share a surname with. As relations today are cherished to the extent of paternity testing and natural births, a divergence in parental morality is emphasised between our world and theirs, which potentially fascinates the reader further.

Correspondingly, the World State’s adoption of “Bokanovskification” and a “caste system” force identical batches of children onto a scale from infantilism to virtuosity. The lower castes, such as “Epsilons”, are “foredoomed”; their lives are so banal and interchangeable that they barely exist in the first place. In both novels, the positioning of humans on a hierarchy of worth is highlighted by the authors’ representations of colour. For example, both utilise the colour “khaki” in divergent ways, dependent upon whom the colour is assigned to. In Atwood’s novel, the almighty “Aunts” wear “khaki dresses” which ties the prestigious connotation of the Armed Forces to their superior clearance level. On the other hand, Huxley’s inferior “Delta” castes wear khaki-coloured uniforms, which in the context of their menial role, associations of dirt and laborious work are attached.  Atwood has Offred describe how they dress in the “colour of blood, which defines us”. Reducing the complexity of a human being to the connotations of a colour is unfathomably immoral, appealing to a reader who cannot imagine living in a world where everybody is stripped of their individuality.  

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        The idea of impersonal procreation is mirrored in The Handmaid’s Tale. After the ritualistically impassive “ceremony”, the Commander leaves, “closing the door with exaggerated care behind him.” It is notably paradoxical that the act is titled a semantically positive “ceremony”, yet Offred proclaims it is only “bearable” when she abides by the maxim: “One detaches oneself. One describes.” Offred’s desensitised attitude toward such a cataclysmic regime captures her in a light of tragic robotism. This characterisation of Offred is juxtaposed with glimpses of her former life with Luke and what she “once could do” in chapter 17. The reader may ...

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