Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”: Echoes of Orwell

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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 Introduction and Thesis Dystopian novels emphasize a sense of the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the oppressive and brutal government. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and George Orwell’s 1984 intensely dramatic scenes heighten the idea of the powerlessness of the individual.

George Orwell’s in his novel 1984 presents a totalitarian regime that uses an oppressive method of control to confine individuality. The character O’Brien uses Winston’s worst fear of rats as a torture technique.

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He places a cage of carnivores’ rats over Winston’s head and threatens to release them while Winston is strapped to a chair. Winston then attempts to free himself, but he was incapable. The rats symbolize betrayal Winston told O’Brien to perform the punishment on Julia. Through the rats, O’Brien breaks Winston psychologically as he forces him to betrays his lover Julia. By breaking the bond between Winston and Julia, O’Brien erases the last fragment of humanity left in Winston. After the torture in Room 101, Winston has become a changed man as he is now in love with Big Brother. Transition to Work B The subconscious and physical torture in Room 101 drives Winston to lose of identity as eventually, Winston ends up becoming a devoted member of the totalitarian regime, whom he despised.

Similar to Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale who was ready to give up on her identity when the black van arrived for her after the commander’s wife discovers that Offred was having affair with the commander.  Similar to Orwell, Atwood creates the powerlessness of the handmaid through intense ceremony scenes. Gilead has a theocratical government that views women as baby-making machines to balance the population. The Handmaid in Gilead undergoes a sexual act with the commander or Angels in order to conceive a child for the Commander or Angel’s wives. The sexual act is more of ritual rape as the handmaid has no choice but to agree with it. Offred, the protagonist’s in The Handmaid Tale hands are held back by the commander’s wife when she is having intercourse with the commander. The holding hand implies that commander wives are in ‘control, of the process and thus of the product'(96). Correspondingly, Offred and Winston are separated from their families by the totalitarian regime. Winston’s mother and little sister had disappeared in the Great Purge of the 1850s, and likewise, Offred’s daughter was given to another commander family while her husband got shot. Both Offred and Winston have nostalgia for their past as they both want to go back to the pre-revolution era. Offred and Winston longing for their past become a rebellion against the totalitarian regime that is trying to erase the past. The action of the protagonists in both books reveal the protagonist’s desire to rebel. In the rebellion, Winston is bolder and outgoing while Offred is more subtle and discreet. Winston promotes his boldness by buying a dairy, and a paperweight. He then eventually rents a room above Mr. Charrington’s shop to have affair with Julia. On the other hand, Offred rebellion is more subtle such as when she kisses Nick, steals flowers, visits the commander at night reading, fathom about the hope pillow, and reading ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum’. These subtle rebellions give Offred a sense of control over herself, which was not allowed to have as she is seen as property.

Although both Winston and Offred try to rebel, they eventually both fall into the trap of the totalitarian regime. They were willing to give away their freedoms and rights in order to survive. In conclusion, Margaret Atwood and George Orwell created an oppressive society where individuals are powerless. Winston’s psychological torture in Room 101 and Offred ritual rape presents the oppressive methods or techniques totalitarian regimes used to confine individualism, therefore, creating powerlessness of individuals. Through this, the authors are trying to make the audience aware of the abuse of power by the government. Furthermore, the novel reveals the significance of questioning our government officials who are creating a “better” place. It also questions: how much control should the government have on our life.     

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Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid's Tale”: Echoes Of Orwell. (2021, May 26). Retrieved from