Compare and contrast "The Wars" and "The Handmaid's Tale".

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Steve Sharpe

Ms. Bridgeman


January 16, 2004

        Although “The Wars” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” occur during different time periods, the two societies have many similarities, which are criticized in the novels. The high-ranking officers in “The Wars” exploit the soldiers, as the government officials in “The Handmaid’s Tale” exploit women and men who do not follow the ideals of the Gileadean society. The families of the soldiers in “The Wars” and all underprivileged citizens in “The Handmaid’s Tale” often remain ignorant to the occurrences within their own societies. The ideals and morals of modern society are violated in both novels. Despite taking place in different time periods, similar societal aspects are criticized in “The Wars” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

        Citizens in “The Wars and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale” are severely disadvantaged by those in power, be it the high-ranking officers in “The Wars” or the unprivileged individuals in “The Handmaid’s Tale”. In “The Wars”, Soldiers are often put in situations that jeopardize their lives, but better the cause of the government. One such incidence occurs when Robert Ross and his fellow soldiers are told by Captain Leather to put gun beds into a crater close to the German lines. Robert “wanted to say the forward positions were crazy…he wanted to say that the guns would sink in the mud. But he didn’t say anything.” (Findley 117) Robert did not have the prerogative to dispute Captain Leather’s decision, and therefore had to put himself and other soldiers in danger because Leather thought it strategically valuable. After being put into compromising positions by the government, soldiers are forced to take matters into their own hands to save themselves. Robert and his fellow soldiers face a chlorine gas attack, and Robert finds out his men do not have gas masks. “Robert turned and shouted hoarsely to the men below him. Put your masks on!” Bates then replies, “We can’t sir… They sent us up so quickly that none of us was issued masks.” (Findley 123) Because of this failure on the part of the government, Robert is forced to take matters into his own hands, and orders his men to urinate on their handkerchiefs and breathe through the saturated material so they can survive the attack. Soldiers who ignore the orders given to them by their superiors can be killed for their disobedience. Robert and another soldier named Devil decide, against Captain Leather’s orders, to release some horses from their pen to save their lives. Leather catches Leather and Ross disobeying him and orders them to stop. “But Devlin went on driving as many horses through [the gate] as he could until, inevitably, Captain Leather shot him.” (Findley 177) Like the soldiers in “The Wars”, citizens of the Gileadean society in “The Handmaid’s Tale” are put into situations that are beneficial to the government, but endanger their own lives. One example of this is the sending of the “unwomen” and other non-valuable citizens to clean up toxic waste in the Colonies. “In the Colonies, they spend their time cleaning up…the toxic dumps and the radiation spills. They figure you’ve got three years maximum…before your nose falls off and your skin pulls away like rubber gloves. They don’t bother to feed you much or give you much protection, it’s cheaper not to. Anyway, they’re mostly people they want to get rid of.” (Atwood 312-13) Citizens of the Gileadean society have to find their own way of overcoming the oppression placed on them by the government. The formation of the “Mayday” organization is one example. When the black van comes to retrieve Offred from the Commander’s home, Nick whispers to her, “It’s all right. It’s Mayday. Go with them” (Atwood 366) It is through this organization that Offred is rescued from the Gileadean society. Similarly to “The Wars”, individuals who act against the wishes of the Gileadean government are put to death. The bodies of those who are killed have their bodies put on display for the rest of society to see. Offred looks at the Wall, the place where the dead men are hung, on her daily walk. “These men, we’ve been told, are like war criminals. It’s no excuse that want they did was legal at the time: their crimes are retroactive. They have committed atrocities and must be made into examples, for the rest.’(Atwood 42) Both the soldiers in “The Wars” and the citizens in “The Handmaid’s Tale”, are taken advantage of and endangered by those who wield the power within their respective societies.

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        Another way ordinary citizens are put at a disadvantage in the two novels is by the lack of facts they obtain concerning what is happening in their societies. In “The Wars”, young men are made to think that doing to war would offer them the opportunity of glory, even in death. “Death is romantic…Someone will hold my hand and I won’t really suffer pain because I’ve suffered that already and survived… the hero sighs his way to death while linen handkerchiefs are held against his wounds. His wounds are poems.” (Findley 49) This romantic image of death is shown ...

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