The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 are similar in that they share a “subversion of authority” motif. In both novels, characters continuously rebel against the States that they are subject to, regardless of the consequences of their actions. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred subverts the authority of the State by having an affair with Luke before she was married to him. Serena Joy also rebels against the State in The Handmaid’s Tale by purchasing the illegal contraband, cigarettes, and smoking them in front of Offred and the rest of her house.
In 1984, Winston Smith subverts the authority of the State by writing in a diary that he bought from off of the black market. He and Julia later rebel against the State by having sex out in the country. All of these characters knew what the consequences to rebelling against their states could entail, but still chose to anyway because they felt that the states had done them an injustice and felt the need to express themselves.
In writing these personable examples, Atwood and Orwell both encourage their reader to be mindful of the power that States can have over them and to always think critically about the information governmental bodies give them. Both authors suggest that there are many ways to do this, but the most effective one is my reading and questioning the power of the state. Offred having an affair with Luke before she “solidified” her marriage with him conforms to the “subversion of authority” motif in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Offred realized that the Northeastern part of the United States that she was living in was swiftly turning into the religious Gileadean State. Offred’s knowledge of how things were changing can be noted in her mentioning how Serena Joy’s speeches about “the sanctity of the home [and] how women should stay at home” had just become “worthy of a profile [in] Time or Newsweek”. Despite the clear warning signs, Offred still had an affair with Luke while he was married.
Atwood goes into such detail discussing the social realm surrounding Offred’s affair to serve as a “pseudo-documentary device”; that is, it takes the events surrounding the novel away from the fictional text and places them into the reality of the reader. When Atwood discusses the changing realm within the text, the reader not only gets a better understanding of how Offred’s affair with Luke conforms to the “subversion of authority” motif, but the reader also understands why Offred felt like she had no choice but to resist the confines of the pre-totalitarian state.
Offred felt compelled to rebel against the State because she was in love with Luke, but could not be with him out of fear of judgment and/or persecution. Offred’s account also enables the reader to understand that this form of resistance is not limited to the novel and may fall in line with an experience of their own, as most readers would have had a moment in their lives where they felt that regardless of the consequences, they needed to express themselves. Offred was determined to spend some alone time with Luke and was willing to take the risks involved with being caught because she was in love.
Offred’s affair with Luke not only conforms to the “subversion of authority” motif, but by her pursuing Luke against the risks faced her, her affair shows that resistance to Gilead, as the reader would discover in the Historical Notes section, was more than likely to occur. Revolution was likely to occur because once an individual has a strong enough desire for something, no parent, boss or state can easily stand in the way of that individual having what it is they truly desire. 984 conforms to the “subversion to authority” motif by Winston choosing to write in the diary that he brought from off of the black market, despite the risks involved. Winston knows that the punishment to expressing his feelings in the diary, or “Thoughtcrime”, would “sooner or later” lead to him being “vaporised. ” Regardless, he decides to write “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” and other personal extracts in the diary. Orwell characterised Winston’s conformity to the “subversion of authority” motif to model himself.
Orwell saw himself as a frail and sickly intellectual, that had to write about the oppression of his state just like Winston. Orwell characterises Winston after himself through Winston’s perspective when he asks Julia what she could possibly see in him, as he was a “thirty-nine year old” man with “varicose veins” and “five false teeth” that had done nothing daring in his life other than write in the diary that he had recently bought.
For Orwell, writing 1984 served as a warning to where the Cold War could lead society, similar to Winston writing to a future society better than his, informing them of what was really going on in Oceania. Winston also hoped that in sharing he could enlighten a future society on where ignorantly believing in the rhetoric of a governmental body could lead its people. However, Orwell was afraid that his warning to future societies would either go “[un]listened to” or would be “meaningless”, as mirrored through Winston’s fear at the beginning of the novel.
In both the author’s and protagonist’s cases, people of their societies were getting caught up in an ideological battle that did not serve them as its creators, or enactors, profess it to. Both Winston and Orwell, even whilst knowing that their death was certain (Orwell for personal health reasons), felt that they had to rebel against the injustices that the state was acting out against its people through writing. By Orwell projecting himself and his view of the world on to the character of Winston, Winston was doomed to revolt against the state, as he did in the end.
Serena Joy owning cigarettes and smoking one in front of Offred conforms to the “subversion of authority” motif that runs throughout the The Handmaid’s Tale. Serena Joy knew that “cigarettes [were] forbidden” and that if she were caught with them, the consequences could amount to something along the lines of having her dead body end up on “the Wall” with a placard hung around her corpse. Despite these risks, Joy decides to smoke the forbidden contraband in front of Offred and the rest of the house when she is introduced to the novel.
Joy’s characterization in her introduction not only conforms to the “subversion of authority” motif because Serena knew that anyone in the house could turn her in and that she would be at the mercy of the state, it also conforms to what Nakamura hasi coined as Atwood’s “attempt to establish a female figure beyond the stereotypes of the [science fiction, dystopian] genre. ” Nakamura explains that often in Science-Fiction Dystopian novels, women are portrayed as “sexless automatons or rebels that [have] defied the sex rules of the regime. In developing a character that subverts the gender stereotypes of the genre, Joy’s characterization conforms to the “subversion to authority” motif because Serena knows what the consequences of nonconformity to the state could be. Similar to Offred in seeing Luke, Joy had a desire, that was to be recognised and respected, and when her dreams were crushed by the religious totalitarian state, she still pursued what she wanted the most, despite the risks involved.
The state was not going to get in the way of Joy’s desire to be recognised, regardless of what it would do to her for thinking and behaving that way. Joy’s characterization could be interpreted a key feature of the revolution as inevitable theme that runs throughout the novel, especially at the end in the Historical Notes section, as women’s individuality and/or empowerment hold no place in Gileadean society. By Atwood placing a character such as Joy in the novel, she subverts the gender hierarchies that exist within the novel.
Winston and Julia having sex out in the country conforms to the “subversion of authority” motif in 1984 because both knew the risks they were taking, but both still chose to meet up in a secluded space out in the country. Winston and Julia both knew that if they were caught out in the country making connections and talking against the Party, that they could both be “killed off. ” However, neither seem to care as they both hated the “self-denial” that the Party preached.
To strike “a blow… against the Party”, Winston and Julia decide to have sex underneath the heath Julia secured for them. Julia and Winston having sex out in the country not only conforms to the “subversion to authority” motif because they both knew the risks involved in going to see each other out in the country, but it also conforms to Rodden’s critique of how 1984 can be read as a novel that was written by a novelist and political rebel, rather than a social theorist and revolutionary.
Rodden explains that Orwell was more focused on how the state in general affected the lives of its people and wrote 1984 to encourage readers to become conscious of how the government was controlling them and shaping their lives, rather than provide an alternative to the reality surrounding the time he wrote the novel in. Winston and Julia affair serves as a personable reminder for the reader to be conscious of how governmental bodies can mold the day-to-day lives of its citizens and prevent them from making the most basic connections out of fear of judgement or persecution.
By approaching the text with a political rebel mindset, Orwell sends the reader on a plotted timeline where the reader begins to get the sense that Winston and Julia are not the only ones in the Oceanic society that have repressed their sexual and other desires, as Julia speaks of having sex with “hundreds” of other party members. This builds the reader’s anticipation that citizens like Winston and Julia will one day unite to revolt against the state for repressing their basic desires for human connection and contact.
A key theme that runs throughout both 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale is subversion of authority, regardless of the consequences involved in doing so. Winston and Julia having sex out in the country, Serena Joy smoking a cigarette in front of Offred and Winston writing in a diary that he bought off of the black market are just a few examples of how Orwell and Atwood chose to represent the “subversion to authority” motifs that run throughout both of their Science-Fiction Dystopian novels.
By closely reading the sections where these examples are present in their respective novels, the reader is given a connoted message that as a citizen of a state, he or she must be conscious of how governmental bodies are controlling their everyday actions. Neither author provides an alternative to the states they were subject to during the time they wrote their novels in, which are mirrored through the portrayal of hyperbolic totalitarian states. However, through these personable examples, both authors encourage their readers to “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”.
That is, Atwood and Orwell encourage their readers to seek truth, investigate and think critically about the information and images that governments portray before their people. Both authors suggest in writing their novels rebellion is possible in a plethora of ways, but the most effective way is by reading. Both authors suggest that by reading, investigating and not blindly following a state’s orders, the reader can be free and empower their minds and ready themselves to stand up and speak out against the injustices their state imparts on its people.