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For my thesis I was thinking about focusing on gender situations in dystopian novels,...

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lolaleon | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted October 23, 2013 at 6:06 PM via web

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For my thesis I was thinking about focusing on gender situations in dystopian novels, more specificall,y a comparisson between Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" and Orwell's "1984". I was certain about it at first, but now I think the age gap and the female/male perspective might be a disadvantage and I would come up with more differences than similiarities.  Is this a viable option for a thesis?

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kipling2448 | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 23, 2013 at 7:19 PM (Answer #1)

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In deciding whether to adopt a topic for a thesis, the primary considerations are feasibility and level of interest.  Feasibility refers to the anticipated ability of the student to conclude the project in a timely manner; level of interest refers to how enjoyable the subject matter is to the student – in effect, will it hold one’s interest sufficiently to survive the rigors associated with producing a defensible paper.  Comparing and contrasting the role of women in two novels can provide the basis for a viable thesis.  Both Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 present vivid portraits of dystopian societies, and both involve themselves with the roles of women in those societies.  With Orwell’s story, however, important though women are to Winston’s mental evolution, they are not necessarily central to the story.  In other words, 1984 could have been written and been as effective and influential absent references to Winston’s deceased mother, his wife and his coworker, Julia.  Atwood’s novel, however, could obviously not exist absent the role of women; after all, the entire basis of the story involves the role of women in the society the author depicts.  The Handmaid’s Tale is about the treatment of women; 1984 is about a totalitarian society in which women, like men, exist to serve the Party. 

The remarkable similarities in the two stories, however, revolve around sex and, in the case of Handmaid, the role of women as reproductive tools.  Note from 1984 Winston’s observations regarding his beautiful wife Katherine:

“To embrace her was like embracing a jointed wooden image.” 

And, with regard to sex and reproduction:

“She had two names for it.  One was ‘making a baby,’ and the other was ‘our duty to the Party’.”

Compare these observations by Winston with Atwood’s characters’ attitudes towards sex and reproduction in the service of the government:

“A woman that pregnant doesn't have to go out, doesn't have to go shopping. The daily walk is no longer prescribed, to keep her abdominal muscles in working order. She needs only the floor exercises, the breathing drill. She could stay at her house. And it's dangerous for her to be out, there must be a Guardian standing outside the door, waiting for her. Now that she's the carrier of life, she is closer to death, and needs special security. Jealousy could get her, it's happened before. All children are wanted now, but not by everyone.”

More telling is the following discussion between Serena and Ollred regarding the latter's requirement to become pregnant and the difficulties she has been experiencing:

"Maybe," she says, holding the cigarette, which she has failed to light. "Maybe you should try it another way."

Does she mean on all fours? "What other way?" I say. I must keep serious.

"Another man," she says.

"You know I can't," I say, careful not to let my irritation show. "It's against the law. You know the penalty."

"Yes," she says. She's ready for this, she's thought it through. "I know you can't officially. But it's done. Women do it frequently. All the time."

 Clearly, women are subservient to men in both stories.  The women in Orwell’s story are accorded greater representation in responsible positions in society, but their indoctrination by the government has robbed them of their humanity, as it has with men.  In Atwood’s story, the plight of women is abysmal and their subjugation complete.

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