The transition from early 19th century England, to a futuristic and oppressive dyspepsia, reveals humankind’s pursuit of love, their attitudes towards expectations placed on gender, social status and marriage, and also the freedom and confinement experienced by the characters in both texts. All these themes are addressed through two vastly different contexts, and thus they demonstrate how and why cultural values are maintained and changed.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood speculates on the possibility of circumstances In which innocent individuals are stripped of their power, Identity, and freedom. This Is represented through The Republic of Gilead, a nation which was the result of a group of conservative religious extremists taking over. This new nation was founded on a return to traditional values and gender roles, causing women to be so oppressed that they are forbidden to read or write. Living In this society Is Offered, a handmaid, whose sole purpose is to bear a child In a world where the birth rate Is rapidly declining.
The quote, “As long as we do this, butter our skin to keep It soft… We have ceremonies of our own, private ones”, uses emotive language with the use of words associated with Intimacy, such as “soft”, “desire” and “love”, to contrast the terrifying Gilead with Fried’s recollection and Imagination of a better time. In the quote, she describes how the small things she takes pleasure In, such as stealing butter to use as a lotion, serves as hope that she and all the other women Like her will someday be free.
Actions Like these also show that the narrator Is still revolting against the new government In which ever small way she can. Persuasion presents freedom, or lack of, In a different form; passivity. The protagonist of the novel, Anne Elliot, Is a twenty seven year old on the verge of spinsterhood. Eight years earlier, Anne had allowed herself to be persuaded by her vernally advisor, Lady Russell, to break off her engagement to the man she loved, Frederick Wentworth, because he lacked social rank and connections.
Towards the novel’s end, however, Anne rises above her social shackles and asserts her Independence and freedom of collects views, by neglecting preferential treatment to those of high social classes, and she ultimately marries Wentworth, despite her family negative pollen of him. The quote, ‘Who can be In doubt of what followed?… The want of graciousness and warmth” serves as the moral before a couple in love.
The protagonist realizes, through reflection of the decisions he has made, that freeing herself of other people’s foolish views led her to happiness. Similarly, Offered in The Handmaid’s Tale, also rises above conformity and confinement by putting her trust in Nick, a lowly chauffeur. Assuring her that he is part of the resistance, Offered takes her chances and escapes with him. In a society in which a woman like Offered was prohibited to even speak with a man like Nick, she takes a stand by simply communicating with him, for the sake of freedom.
The right to be treated humanely, and live in a world free of such atrocities as those experiences by the inhabitants of Gilead, is still a view led today, and will be held by the majority of humanity forever. Freedom is undoubtedly treasured by all, and when individuals are stripped of it, they will fight for it ruthlessly. In The Handmaid’s Tale, love as we know it today is a notion of the past, and only exists as a memory of the narrator, Offered. Constantly unhappy, Offered finds refuge in her memories in the quote “Or I would help Rata make the bread… Hunger to commit the act of touch. ” The quote uses similes to compare the feel of soft dough to the feel of human skin, as the narrator transmutes her “hunger” for food to what would really attics her, intimacy and love. This highlights the universal desire for affection, and reflects Fried’s changing values. In her life before the new regime, Offered valued the love she shared with her husband and daughter, but she took it for granted, not knowing that it would soon end, and in the new society, she believes love to be non- existent.
Her change in attitude was due to the change in the nature of the society in which she participated, and also of the new government, with the aid of the Eyes, an intelligence agency who attempts to discover anyone who violates the rules of Gilead. Thus, it is evident that factors external of individuals, such as changes in leadership and the style of power they exert, contribute to changing values. In Persuasion, Anne, like Offered, also laments the loss of someone she once loved. Wentworth return to town sparks a re-examination of herself. Personification is used in the quote “Here is a nut… Till in possession of all the happiness that a hazel-nut can be supposed capable of”, to represent Wentworth strong exterior, similar to a hard shell of a nut, and his values of constancy and strength of character, values he thinks Anne does to possess, as she was incapable of withstanding the disapproval of others. Wentworth powerful metaphor places emphasis on the idea that the values of individuals change when they are subject to scrutiny by others, and that things they once held close to them, most importantly Ann.’s love towards Wentworth, can be thrown away.
The title of the novel also indicates how persuasion, conducted by Ann.’s friends and family, could so easily cause her to disregard her own happiness and values. Persuasion also addresses the barriers between the different social classes, and the effect this has on the characters. Ann.’s father, Sir Walter Elliot, is a man preoccupied with vanity and his rank in society. He, along with Lady Russell and Ann.’s sister Elizabeth, are the major catalysts in Ann.’s decision to break off her relations with Wentworth as he is in the navy, which is what he considers as “a means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction. This highlights the tension in the face-off between those who inherit their social status and those who work for it. The Handmaid’s Tale offers the same themes of social segregation, yet in Gilead, it is your gender that determines your quality of life. Although in 19th century England, women’s rights were hardly developed, at least wives and daughters had a say in domestic matters, whereas in Gilead, they are stripped of their identities and are allocated a new role in society, one they must obey.
As a handmaid, Offered is valued because of her fertility, yet this ‘advantage’ forces her to a life of sexual servitude to the men of the upper class. In the quote, “Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia… This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary’, repetition of the word “ordinary’ is used to reinforce the idea of the brainwashing women experienced. Aunt Lydia is trying to Justify the horrors that are taking place, by saying that the torture and deaths of ‘useless’ people, such as infertile women, will soon become normal.
The totalitarian state of Gilead maintains accepted modern notions of social class, even today a man in a suit is respected more than others, but The Handmaid’s Tale takes these classes to extreme heights, and makes a comment that regardless of the condition of the world, social status will always be valued. The shift from domestic struggles in 19th century England, to the tyrannical Republic f Gilead, makes evident how cultural values are maintained and changed throughout time.
While more personal values such as love and freedom are more subject to change, due to external factors, social expectations placed on gender roles and status, are more enduring in their nature, as these traditions have been in motion for centuries. Despite their differing contexts, the comparison of Persuasion and The Handmaid’s Tale put forth values that will buckle under the intensity of cultural change, and values that will remain deeply embedded in the complex structure of today’s society.