The Oxford English Dictionary defines dystopia as an imaginary place or condition in which things are as bad as possible and a world we should [not] like to live in, but one we must be sure to avoid. Furthermore, dystopia is the antonym of utopia, a perfect world (Worlds Knowledge). The genre of dystopian literature investigates how the human impulse to create utopia, [. . .] goes awry when it meets the power to make such a place a reality, creating a dystopia instead (Wikipedia). For these reasons, books such as George Orwells1984and Margaret AtwoodsThe Handmaids Taledepict the flaws with attempting to control human beings to create a perfect society. In addition, Wikipedia also mentions that the Republic of Gilead only achieved one thing: injuring its citizens. Other than that, the Republic of Gilead only succeeded at revoking womens rights and reverting science and technology back to an earlier state: Offred [the narrator ofThe Handmaids Tale] can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now. . . (Description). The days before that Offred refers to are the days before the Islamic-style regime usurped control of the United States of America. The goal was to create a utopian society modeled after the island of Utopia in Sir Thomas MoresUtopia.
Sir Thomas More was an avid Catholic and therefore did not support King Henry VIIIs Protestant Reform (16thcentury dreams). InUtopia, More created a society based upon traditional Catholic values. Utopians did not esteem fine clothes, nor did they were clothes of silk. When foreigners visited the island of Utopia, the Utopians felt that the travelers finery appeared imprudent as Utopians viewed lavish clothes and jewellery as a symbol of slavery and infamy and flamboyant items meant for children to play dress-up in (1516).
More constructed a democracy as the governing body for Utopia where groups of citizens get together to elect magistrates who then choose a prince to rule for a lifetime. The citizens do things equally and have equal representation in the political spectrum. Everyone can likewise partake in politics: If any man aspires to any office, he is sure never to compass it; they all live easily together, for none of the magistrates are either insolent or cruel to the people. In addition, Utopia has hardly any laws so that citizens can do want they desire so long as they do not harm anyone else (1516).
Quite the opposite, the Republic of Gilead is a Fundamentalist Christian theocracy that arose after they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency (Repressions of a New Day). The author ofThe Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood, describes Gilead as a theocracy (like Iran) ruled by religious leaders (Readers Group Companion). This is because Gilead has no elections. Commanders grant political positions to those citizens who support the Commanders by observing laws and contributing money to the state. This creates dissent in that only a select few citizens may therefore have a role in government. This group of elite citizens is further diminished because women may not participate in anything intellectual, including politics. Government is not the only difference amid the two books and societies. Betwixt the island of Utopia and the Republic of Gilead, there are many contradictions.
According to the parents of students in the Fairfax County Public School System, Margaret Atwood included eleven different allusions to suicide inThe Handmaids Tale. Before Offred was a Handmaid for Commander Fred, he had another Handmaid. Partway through the novel, we discover that Freds first Handmaid committed suicide to escape the torturous life of a woman, and specifically, that of a Handmaid. Offred herself contemplates suicide several times inThe Handmaids Tale. She attempted suicide only once but failed when the chandelier Offred uses as the anchor for her noose comes crashing down about her. This failed attempt does not deter Offred however: I think about the chandelier too much, though its gone now. But I could use a hook, in the closet. Ive considered the possibilities. All youd have to do, after attaching yourself, would be to lean your weight forward and not fight (Objections). In Sir Thomas MoresUtopia, citizens deemed terminally ill might take their own lives with permission from the priests and magistrates. However, this is neither encouraged nor mandatory of the incurably ill. Moreover, any citizen who takes their own life without authorization from the priests and magistrates are dishonorably buried in the ground as opposed to honorably being cremated (The Old Catholic Encyclopedia).
Another area of disagreement involving Utopia and Gilead is divorce. As a devoted Catholic, Sir Thomas More greatly contests the practice of divorce (16thcentury dreams). Utopians frown upon divorce. Even if a man notices an imperfection existent in his wife, he must stay with her until death. If however the Prince of Utopia grants a divorce to the couple, it must be because one of the parties was injured by/during the marriage. In this case, only the injured party may remarry. To prevent the necessity of divorces, it is important that a man and woman formally meet naked before the marriage. Nevertheless, they may not engage in sexual intercourse absent from wedlock. To ensure that the preceding holds true, this meeting is chaperoned: Before marriage some grave matron presents the bride naked, whether she is a virgin or a widow, to the bridegroom; and after that some grave man presents the bridegroom naked to the bride (1516). Once married, the womans function is to manage the slaves while they cook meals. The husbands role is to impregnate a Handmaid, or surrogate mother.
Gilead is a theocracy run by Christian extremists in which women are not allowed to hold jobs, read, or use money (Review ofThe Handmaids Tale). Wives get the better deal as they get to observe the slaves working. Handmaids, on the other hand, get the short end of the stick. According to Margaret Atwood, [Handmaids], women who can reproduce, are prize objects for those in power. And as is the case in which prize objects are Cadillacs and you want to have as many Cadillacs as you possibly can, so too when the prize objects are fertile women, then you want to have as many fertile women as possible (Readers Group Companion). Women that are around Offreds age are forced to be Handmaids so that the population will keeping growing (Repressions of a New Day). The sole purpose of a Handmaid is to bear children hence an infertile woman serves no purpose and is killed. [Offred] must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable (Description). Offred tells of the Ceremony several times throughoutThe Handmaids Tale:
The Ceremony goes as usual. I lie on my back, fully clothed except for the healthy white cotton under drawers. [. . .] Above me, towards the head of the bed, Serena Joy is arranged, outspread. Her legs are apart, I lie between them, my head on her stomach, her pubic bone under the base of my skull, her thighs on either side of me. She too is fully clothed. My arms are raised; she holds my hands, each of mine in each of hers. This is supposed to signify that we are one flesh, one being. What it really means is that she is in control, of the process and thus of the product. If any. The rings of her left hand cut into my fingers. It may or may not be revenge. My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is [expletive]. What he is [expletive] is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what hes doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. [. . .] I remember Queen Victorias advice to her daughter: Close your eyes and think of England. But this is not England. I wish he would hurry up. . . . [sic] Serena Joy grips my hands as if it is she, not I, whos being [expletive], as if she find [sic] it either pleasurable or painful, and the Commander [expletive], with a regular two-four marching stroke, on and on like a tap dripping. [. . .] It has nothing to do with sexual desire, at least for me, and certainly not for Serena. Arousal and orgasm are no longer thought necessary (Atwood 109-110).
According to Offred, the duty of a Handmaid is solely to breed. She goes further to specify that Handmaids are not concubines, geisha girls, [or] courtesans. Everything possible has been done to remove [Handmaids] from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about [Handmaids] (Repressions of a New Day). Even the Handmaids clothes are drab and ill-fitting. As sex is for reproduction and not pleasure, the outfits are not to be erotic for the Commanders enjoyment.
The Republic of Gilead views dress codes [. . .] as a way to subjugate women. Handmaids wear red dresses with white veils as identification of their gender and role in society (Review ofThe Handmaids Tale). Offreds description of her wardrobe, if it can even be called that, expresses her negative attitude towards this lifestyle: a Handmaids uniform [worn] shopping: Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us. The skirt is ankle-length, full, gather to a flat yoke that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are full. The image of a scarlet nun seems appropriate to her role in this strange new society (Repressions of a New Day; the embedded quotation is fromThe Handmaids Tale). Sir Thomas More has a much more lenient view on the garb donned by Utopians: throughout the island [Utopians] wear the same sort of clothes without any other distinction, except what is necessary to distinguish between the two sexes, and the married and the unmarried (1516). In Utopia, marital violations deserve punishment, but not much else. In Gilead, almost everything deserves punishment, at least for women.
Imagine a society where a sign in red paint reads, We warn against not wearing a headscarf and wearing makeup. Those who do not abide by this will be punished. God is our witness, we have notified you. This describes the Republic of Gilead. In Gilead, women are executed for almost every crime (Review ofThe Handmaids Tale). The Republic of Gilead practices the death penalty. Handmaids are killed when they can no longer bear children: [Offreds] own survival [hangs] on her ability to obey and reproduce (Repressions of a New Day). Additionally, women are hung as witches quite frequently (Review ofThe Handmaids Tale).
[Utopians prefer] to use slavery as a form of community service order rather than the death penalty. Felons in Utopia become slaves (The Old Catholic Encyclopedia) who perform dirty and unpleasant jobs around the hall and kitchens (1516). In addition, Utopia rescues criminals sentenced to death in other countries and allow them to serve their punishment as a slave (The Old Catholic Encyclopedia). According to Repressions of a New Day Gilead has slaves as well, handmaids are slaves to their own biological possibilities and derive their identity solely from their Commanders. The narrators new name, Offred, really identifies her owner; she belongs for the time being to a man named Fred.
Although not intended to be punishment, the treatment of women in Gilead is equitable to punishing them. In Gilead, women are no longer permitted to read. When Offred goes to the food markets she explains that the store signs are now pictures instead of words become women are no longer allowed to read. Women are not even allowed to read from the Bible. Offred and the other Handmaids must listen to recordings of the Bible: for lunch it was the Beatitudes. Blessed be this, blessed be that. They played it from a tape, so not even an Aunt would be guilty of the sin of reading (Atwood 105). Sir Thomas More was not a sexist. He designed Utopia to be fair to everyonenot just men. The Utopian society designed everything to be sexually equal. The Prince of Utopia as well as the Utopians think it unreasonable to design laws so vast and so dark as not to be read and understood by every one of the subjects. Furthermore, both men and women are taught to spend [free] hours in which [Utopians] are not obliged to work in reading (1516).
The difference between a utopia and a dystopia is that the utopia is perfect towards its citizens. Sir Thomas More understood this and modeled Utopia in this fashion. The Commanders in the Republic of Gilead tried to force perfection on imperfect humans and gained more problems. Margaret AtwoodsThe Handmaids Taledemonstrates a dystopian society in turmoil.The Handmaids Taleis a cautionary story of what to avoid in society whereasUtopiais a handbook on how to have a perfect society. These two works contradict each other in almost every area. They are exemplary in their definitions of utopia and dystopia in that utopia and dystopia are antonyms just as the island of Utopia and the Republic of Gilead are polar opposites.