Dystopian Worlds In 1984 By George Orwell And The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood

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1984 by George Orwell is about a dystopian society where citizens are taught to love and follow their leader, in this case, Big Brother.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a book by Margret Atwood and is also a dystopian society in which fertile women are forced to become handmaids and produce children for their commander and wives. Both stories share similarities as they try and get the point of dystopian futures across to the audience. Types of control, literary and Semiotic elements, and how their similar governing powers use similar forms of control to maintain power create the stories of Winston and Offred.

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1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, have similar governing powers as they are both in dystopian worlds although their governments do have some differences. In 1984 and the handmaids’ tale both governments use fear to control their citizens, fear is maintained through threats and what they have heard that happens to people if they go against their parties. Surveillance is everywhere in both stories not just cameras being everywhere but people, the people you think are your friends could just be spying on you, you can’t trust anyone in a dystopian society. Restrictions are also used to keep citizens in their places, restrictions that take away your freedom of speech and even thought. In 1984 surveillance was telescreens and microphones placed everywhere, ‘The eyes’ of 1984 are spies who work for big brother and could be anyone, parents have to be cautious because even their children are trained to watch them and report back to big brother about anything they have done. The thought police are people hired by the government to be secret police to monitor telescreens and uncover and punish thought crimes that have gone against the party.

The Handmaid’s tale, a dystopia known as Gilead like Oceania have cameras everywhere recording them 24/7 and guards around with guns watching them. The eyes of Gilead are secret police in charge of maintaining law and order, traitors and people who go against the beliefs of Gilead. The eyes of Gilead are much like the thought police in 1984, in both societies, no one can be trusted. When going anywhere handmaid’s need to go in pairs, not as friends but the purpose is so you can watch each other, offrend says, “We go everywhere in twos, it’s supposed to be for our own protection, for companionship”, “There are no friends here, the truth is we’re watching each other, she is my spy and I’m hers”, (the Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 episode. 1).

Therefore 1984 and the handmaid’s Tale have similar dystopian governments that take control of their citizens in similar ways.

Dystopian worlds use their power to control their citizens, Winston and Offred were both controlled in similar ways such as the language they could use and torture. In these dystopian worlds, languages have been reduced to remove independence and freethought from their citizens. Newspeak in 1984 is a version of today’s English with words removed that go against the party or are unsuitable. An example of newspeak is doublethink which is a word for believing 2 opposites ideas,“ war is peace, freedom is slavery”. Winston says “Even the slogans will change. How could u have a slogan ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished?”(chapter 5). Some other examples are, ‘unperson’, used for someone who has been executed that identity no longer exists to the people of Oceania and doubleplusgood, replacing words like excellent. Handmaid’s tale uses a similar way of speaking which also has the English language reduced. For example, “Blessed to be fruit”, a way of saying hello while also encouraging fertility amongst the handmaids. And ‘praise be’, a way of saying thank you. By reducing language the varsity of peoples thoughts are cut down leaving them with words that only express love for their governments and not words for their own opinions.

When a citizen of Oceania goes against big brother or has committed a thought crime they are taken to room 101 which is where they are punished with their biggest fear. For Winston it was rats and although he only told Julia his fear, big brother is always listening. In the handmaid’s tale punishment is death by hanging, eye removal and being tasered. “The wall” is a brick wall that sets a boundary around Gilead and is heavily guarded, so no one passes it. On the wall is a display of bodies that have been executed reminding the citizens of Gilead what will happen to them if they disobey the society and its laws, and a warning to citizens thinking of committing crimes. By having such terrible ways of torture, it lessens the number of crimes against governments because the citizens are too scared of the consequences. These are some ways the dystopian governments in both stories take control of their citizens.

Personification is used in 1984 to create Winstons story. “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that event, it never happened- that surely was more terrifying than mere torture and death”(Book one, chapter 2). This quote was said by Winston and is very scary as it explains the amount of power the totalitarian government has over Oceania; it explains that big brother has enough power to take the past and historical moments and alter them. Big brother can change the past or erase history and that is what makes big bother more terrifying than torture or death. Big brother changes or destroys historical elements because by controlling the past they can control and shape the future. They change the past to make it seem like Oceania has always been at war to show their people there is no other way of life. This quote shows big brother uses their power to maintain control by changing the past to shape their society, how they want it with everyone the same and no free thought. Flashbacks are another literary element used in 1984 to create Winstons story. Flashbacks make connections by giving relevant background information from the past to what’s happening now. Winston’s flashbacks show what has been taken from the people of Oceania. In part one chapter 3 Winston dreams of his mother. “The thing that now suddenly struck Winston was that his mother’s death…was tragic and sorrowful in a way that was no longer possible. Tragedy, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there was still privacy, love, and friendship.” This example shows Winstons desperation for humanity and how much he misses the old life he knows he had, but can only remember little of.

Therefore personification and flashbacks are used in descriptive ways to create Winston as a character and portray his story.

The handmaid’s tale uses semiotic elements like Symbolism and mise en scene to create Offred’s story. Colour in the handmaid’s tale shows symbolism, with different colours representing different things. The colour of clothes represents a different status, much like in 1984 which had different statuses shown on a pyramid. Blue is worn by the wives and represents power, serenity, cold and seriousness, blue is also a royalty, symbolising high status. “For her its blue, watercolour, not this red of mine that sucks the heat and blazes with it at the same time”(episode one). Red is worn by the handmaids and represents fertility, blood, despair and passion, even though they are not supposed to feel passionate, Atwood says (from the beginning of episode one) “Everything except the wings around my face, the colour of blood, defines us”. While green is worn by the Marthas who are domestic servants and represents jealousy, service and misfortune, cleanliness and health. Mise en scene in the handmaid’s tale shows what is happening in the world around the main character. Mise en scene is everything inside the framing of the camera and how its placed. This helps us see what’s going on in the background of the main character’s story and lets us see even more of their dystopian world and what its like. For example in this image, we can see Offred and other handmaids, which are the main focus, but in the background, we can see the bodies of people who have been hung on “the wall”, for everyone can see it but the handmaids are used to the terrible sight. In another example, we can see the tall sharp gates, surrounding where Offred lives, and 2 guards with guns only a few meters apart. From these 2 examples, we can see what a scary dystopia Offred lives in. Symbolism and mise en scene are two semiotic elements used to create Offred’s story.

In conclusion George Orwells story 1984 and Margaret Atwoods series The Handmaid’s Tale are both similar dystopian worlds with ever watching governments who use fear, torture and threats to control their citizens, and restrictions on certain things such as language. Both stories use literary elements or semiotic elements to create their characters’ stories and illustrate what their worlds are like for the audience. From this essay, we can see that both dystopian worlds use similar forms of control to maintain and establish power.


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