Atwood Vs Orwell

Word Count: 2190 |

A democratic government is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” (“democracy”). Basically it means the people (you) decide what they want. Democracy gives people freedom; the freedom of speech, the freedom to think, the freedom of press, etc. This is the type of government most countries have, for example the United States. Now imagine it all starts to change. Little by little that freedom gets taken away. This is what happens in George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Their democracies have become a dictatorship (1984) and a communism (The Handmaid’s Tale) Now the question becomes, how do both governments of 1984 by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood employ scare tactics to achieve absolute control? The tactics they use include violence, control over sex and love and the constant watch over the citizens. In 1984, the violence they use is torture rooms, while in The Handmaid’s Tale the government hangs those who have done wrong. As for controlling sex and love, in 1984 the government created groups such as the Junior Anti-sex League, while in The Handmaid’s Tale, the handmaids are used just for reproduction. Then the government constantly watches you by telescreens in 1984, and guardians in The Handmaids Tale. The representation of absolute control is shown through the scare tactics the governments use in Orwell’s 1984 and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

In 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, the governments share a common scare tactic, the act of violence, although it is used differently throughout both books. In 1984, the government uses Room 101, a room known throughout the Ministry of Love. The Ministry of Love is actually a trope Orwell uses to display irony. In reality, it is a prison, a place of torture, with an ironic name to cover up any suspicion about what happens within the four walls. Inside this vicinity, there is a certain room that brings terror to those unlucky people who are called to go in it, a kind of terror that makes people go insane. “You can take the whole lot of them and cut them in front of my eyes…But not Room 101!”(Orwell 195) Although it can be concluded that the building was named because the party forces you to love Big Brother, the name in reality has nothing to do with what happens inside. In Room 101, the government officials basically torture they’re victims. The victim is interviewed by a government official to reveal what their thoughts on big brother are, the official then attempts to convince his prey that big brother is great, and last he make his victims worst fear come true. In Winston Smith’s case, it was rats. “…the mask will fit your head…no exit…starving brutes…attack the eyes first…” (Orwell 235) This is the moment of truth; it shows if their victim’s willing to die for what they believe. The officials have the power; they can change anyone’s mind simply by inflicting fear or pain. “…I have it in my power to inflict pain on you at any moment and to at any degree…” (Orwell 202) In addition to the Ministry of Love and the horrifying Room 101, the government exercises violence through a group called the Thought Police. The Thought Police is the equivalent to an undercover police in today’s society. The Thought Police are hidden throughout the community and integrate with the society to deceive those who commit thought crime (when the people don’t believe what the government tells them.). It scares the citizens into thinking that no one can be trusted and it stops any ideas of rebellions or revolts.

The use of violence by the government is also noted in The Handmaid’s Tale, by the use of Aunts, and hangings. In the novel, the Aunts are the teachers and guides to the handmaids. The Aunts use violence as a way to present to the Handmaids, that the Aunts will put them in their place if they get out of line, and that they will extinguish any ideas of rebellion. In a society where men dominate and women are oppressed, the Aunts are the most powerful. Mary McCarthy, a literary critic from the New York Times mentions the power that a man has in this society, “The Commanders, presumably, are the high bureaucracy of the regime, yet they are oddly powerless in the household, having no part in the administration of discipline and ceremonially subject to their aging wives.” It can be assumed that Atwood is under the impression that men will always need women. Although, in this case, it is because men can not be trusted to be alone with so many ladies, and the Aunts have more experience in teaching about handmaids then a man could. Moreover, the government uses hangings to “…make examples, for the rest.” (Atwood 33) The bodies of those who “…have committed atrocities…” (Atwood 33) are flaunted on the walls of the old church, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The people hung range from doctors, to priests, to homosexuals, to secret lovers. The fear of being captured by the Black Van stops many from committing these so called “atrocities” (Atwood 33). The Black Van is also known as the Eyes of God, it appears almost as if out of no where and forcefully it’ll pull its prey into the van. The only way you see that person again, is hanging on the old church wall. The black van is like a black hole, once people go in, they never come back.

The governments of both 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale try to control the use of sex, and use it strictly for reproduction purposes with the attempt to destroy love. In 1984, the government controls love by choosing everyone’s spouse. The spouse that the government chooses is used to the idea that sex is revolting and it is their duty to Big Brother. The government has created groups such as the Junior Anti-Sex League to brainwash adolescents into maintaining abstinence from an adolescent age. The government calls sex a duty. That’s an understatement, because sex is an act that is performed when two people love each other it is not just to reproduce. Not only is sex a “duty”, it’s outlawed. Prostitution is illegal, as in today’s society. Although, in the novel, it does not matter if the woman is elderly, perfection is not a desire. In Julia’s explanation of the government’s fear of sex, she states,” When you make love you take up energy; and you don’t give a damn for anything…If you’re happy inside yourself why should you get excited about Big Brother…?” (Orwell 110-111) She uses colloquial language to express how crucial people’s emotions are to a dictator, and that the government suppresses your emotion of love to another person, by covering it up with love for the dictator himself. A deduction can be made that Orwell was trying to display the importance of love and the rewards it can have.

Similar to 1984, women don’t marry their husbands for love. As a result of the Handmaids in The Handmaid’s Tale, the intimacy between a husband and wife is controlled. The Wife’s position is to maintain the household, like the European women from the Fifteenth century (Kagan, Ozment, and Turner 380) The Handmaids were established for reproduction only. The government wanted to find a way to reproduce without there being any emotions attached, it would be the equivalent to a one night’s stand only you see the person everyday until a child is conceived. Since the Handmaids have no sexual contact with their Commanders, it’s almost like their job. After they have done their duty of reproduction, they move to the next household. During the ceremony, the Handmaids are fully clothed, lying on their backs, holding the wives hands symbolizing “…one flesh, one being.”(Atwood 94) The lights are turned on, to kill any minor mood of “…romance or eroticism…” (Atwood 161) It can be inferred that a Handmaids life is harsh, as their only purpose in life is to reproduce with a man you know nothing about, and may be nauseating. If Handmaids failed to give birth they were considered to be failures. That is why many took risks of letting a doctor have them set up a meeting with another man, just to live; to save themselves. , “Love is not the point.”(Atwood 220) is the phrase Aunts use to explain their situation.

Nothing can be more terrifying than living in fear of having someone watching you all the time, resembling 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. Throughout 1984, telescreens and microphones are put all over the city to watch the citizen’s constant movement. “…there was no way of shutting it off completely.” (Orwell 6) These telescreens were created by the government to eliminate any possibilities of rebellion from the start, or eradicate any signs of treason. Although the sole purpose was to create a sense of alarm, it was also used to sway the idea people had of their opposing country. The community had certain periods of the day in which they would stop working and scream at the telescreens when Asian faces would appear, and after show signs of compassion towards Big Brother (their leader). The telescreens contradict the rights that the people are entitled to, thus the government invading their privacy is an understatement. Another method of surveillance that the government uses is the Thought Police. Not only do the Thought Police produce fear by violence, they create fear by watching the people as well. The Thought Police creates instability because the citizens do not trust each other. Since they are hidden throughout the community, most people do not socialize. They are scared that whom ever they talk to might turn them in for any wrong word that might come out of their mouths. This is a scheme the government uses to stop the spreading of any ideas of uprising against them.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the government watches over the people through Guardians, people who monitor the streets and tend to their assigned Commander’s house. “…one of the Guardians assigned to our household was washing the car.” (Atwood 17) Guardians stand post at street corners, and all the entrances to the towns. The Guardians are used for “…routine policing and other menial functions.” (Atwood 20) They are your average day Policemen. It can be concluded that Atwood was trying to show that the government was everywhere and was attempting to demonstrate the importance of privacy, and freedom. Although the Guardians were used to guard, they didn’t pay much attention to the rules. Many were caught with Handmaids. Since their position was not high enough in the government, they were not allowed Handmaids. “He begins to whistle, and then he winks…Perhaps it was to see what I’d do. Perhaps he is a private Eye.” (Atwood 18) The Eyes are the second method that the government uses. Like the Thought Police in 1984, the Eyes are hidden throughout the community. This is the way most Handmaids get caught when they cheat on their commanders, or do anything illegal. The Eyes use violence if the citizens do not comply with their assigned tasks. “Two Eyes… Grab a man who is walking along…slams his back against the back side of the van…The Eyes move in on him… ” (Atwood 170) They are the drivers of the Black Van, and are never seen or questioned by anyone.

Consequently, the governments of both societies in 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are fearsome governments. Now referring to the original question, how do both governments of 1984 by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood employ scare tactics to achieve absolute control? The answer becomes clear; the government employs scare tactics such as violence, control over intimacy and reproduction and by invasion of privacy. In 1984 the government has a torture room and prison, and in The Handmaid’s Tale the government hangs people who they consider have done wrong. In 1984 abstinence is taught from a young age, meanwhile in The Handmaid’s Tale handmaids are the source of reproduction, not wives. And last, in 1984 privacy is invaded by telescreens, while in The Handmaid’s Tale, Guardians watch the people’s every move. The future is what most people look forward too. The future holds hope, which is what most people need to keep living. For the Protagonists of both 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, they look towards the future. They see life ahead of them. The people that both governments have brutally abused and taken for granted, will survive with the wish that their lives will change for the better. Those people will look forward to a life where they are free to say and do what they please, to marry whoever they please and not be told that sex is a duty. They will do everything these governments have deprived from them. They look forward to a democracy.


Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Random House, Inc., 1986.
Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment, and Frank M Turner. The Western Heritage. 7th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet Classic.1950.
Books, The New York Times on the Web. January 12, 2006.

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