Threat is evidently portrayed in both The Handmaids Tale and Frankenstein, although in different forms.
Compare the ways in which writers of your two chosen texts create a sense of threat. You must relate your discussion to relevant contextual factors.
Threat is evidently portrayed in both ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Frankenstein’, although in different forms. In Atwood’s dystopian novel, threat is caused by the totalitarian regime, Gilead, where powerful men exploit women and their bodies with the justification of religion. Atwood explores the threat of a theocratical regime that disregards science while Shelley warns her readers about the consequences that will follow if science and obsession become a blurred line. Shelley as a romantic, reveals how wary of the Enlightenment era she was, whose key principle was that nature should be controlled by humans. Women are targeted and are the victims of society in both novels. Separation from parental figures alerts the reader and the threat of losing one’s identity is evident both in Handmaid’s Tale and Frankenstein.
The threat of women as the victims of the society is evidently shown in ‘Frankenstein’. From an early age, Victor loses his mother due to the scarlet fever that she caught while nursing Elizabeth. His obsession with science had flourished from the death of his mother and the need he had to find an alternative to death after his horrifying experience. An immediate reflection of Mary Shelley’s thoughts after losing her mother (ten days after she was born) and the premature birth of her first-born. Furthermore, Elizabeth is killed by the Monster Victor had created and could have been avoided by Victor, who instead ignored the Monster. Justine, a servant of the household, is falsely convicted of William’s death and killed, Victor knew the real killer but did not do much to help her. Victor’s inability to take responsibility of his creation that he had “let loose upon the world”, ultimately leads to the deaths of his loved ones starting with his innocent little brother.
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Similarly, women in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ are the victims of Gilead. They are targeted and classified based on their status and past. Women with low status or women that had done anything outside the Bible such as Offred committing an adultery, are assigned as handmaids. Their role is to provide what higher class women cannot, children, which is taken through inhumane ways, rape. Rape is normalised and even the narrator, Offred, is unsure whether Ceremony is in fact rape or not, “nor does rape cover it”, showing the impact Gilead has had over her. Men in power are in an ‘advantageous’ position over the vulnerable handmaids. For instance, when the doctor offered Offred to “help her”, Offred is frightened and feels threatened as if she accepts it, they could find out and sent her to the Colonies but if she declines and the doctor is ‘offended’ he could fake her reports for infertility, and she could be sent to the Colonies, highlighting how trapped and oppressed Offred is. The way the doctor tries to manipulate Offred is symbolic, he acts sympathetic (“hate to see what they put you through”) and concerned of Offred (“you don’t have a lot of time”) while in reality he is aware of his power over Offred and tries to abuse it, which leads to Offred replying with a “Thank you”, emphasising her submissiveness in society. Atwood warns the reader of the horrifying consequences of a patriarchal totalitarian society which leads to a constant battle in a woman’s mind, who does not know how to act in order to please them and survive.
Atwood’s novel explores the threat of separation and how common it was between handmaids in Gilead, specifically parents with their children. Through Offred’s escape story we are shown how she was separated from her little girl. Offred has constantly flashbacks and dreams of her child in different ages, which she describes as “the worst”, emphasising how traumatising it was for her and all the handmaids to have their children abducted. Not only do they lose their children from their previous lives, but infants are also separated from their real mothers after a few months that they are allowed to nurse the baby. Gilead’s way to control the handmaids is through the abuse of language and manipulation, specific biblical references are used in everyday greeting (“May the Lord open”, “Blessed be the fruit”) that ultimately signify handmaids’ only task and make the decisions taken by the government morally right. The speeches the Aunts give including, “we want you to be valued” and “yours is a position of honour”, simply trying to manipulate them into thinking their lives are valued and better when in reality as Aunt Lydia had said before, “for our purposes your feet and hands are not essential”, thus objectifying the handmaids who are only worth for child bearing. Similarly, the Monster is separated from his only paternal figure from an early stage of his life with the only difference that it was Victor’s choice to abandon his creation. This separation leaves the Monster scarred for the rest of his life and ultimately lead to all of the fatalities. After being self-educated and having read Paradise Lost, the Monster is deeply hurt, “I ought to be thy Adam”, as he is shown for the first time how a good father acts through God’s relationship with Adam. His insecurities arose from his creator abandoning him. With Victor’s attempts to challenge nature and create a life without a motherly figure, Shelley criticizes whether science exploration harms society during a time when Romanticism was being explored alongside Enlightenment era. She also places an emphasis on motherly figure as she, Victor and the monster were deprived of it.
After Victor abandons the Monster, the threat of him losing his identity is evident. The Monster’s need to be loved and identify with someone, made him extremely lonely. By asking Victor to create someone like him, someone “with the same defects”, Shelley highlights how prejudiced and discriminated the Monster is from society. “Defects” shows how deeply affected is the Monster by society’s opinion of him, he started noticing his own flaws. The reactions people make upon his arrival, “children shrieked” and “women fainted”, make him lose faith in humanity. He tries to reconcile with Victor and consider him his family, but is disappointed from Victor’s reaction upon seeing him, calling him “devil” and “miserable, mirroring society’s view. Similarly, Offred is terrified on the thought of forgetting her real name or previous life. Knowledge is limited, women are not allowed to read or write all they have is the knowledge before Gilead, which Offred keeps through telling us her story and finding an escape, “If it’s a story I am telling I have control over the ending”, she feels that she is being heard and thus, she will eventually escape. Atwood, influenced from her visits to Iran and Afghanistan (patriarchal oppressive societies), reveals a major principle of a totalitarian society, the lack of human rights. Offred is deprived of making decisions about her own life, she is left hanging on uncertainty and doubt while others decide whether she will live, end up in the Colonies or the Wall. Furthermore, through the lack of knowledge of real names between the Handmaids, it is ensured that no relationship or alliance is formed between them. Atwood, during a time where the Christian right was rising, focuses on how an oppressive theocratical regime can isolate a specific group of people by disregarding their previous identities for their benefit, seen when Ofglen was replaced, “This is how you get lost, in a sea of names”.
Concluding, threat is shown in various forms in both texts; threat of women being the victims of society, separation and loss of identity. Both Atwood and Shelley successfully manage to concern the reader while revealing the concerning matters during the time they wrote the novel. Shelley is in between the conflict with the Enlightenment era, whose key principle was that nature should be controlled by humans, and Romanticism while Atwood is influenced by the rise of Christian rights in America and feminist ideas flourishing.