Can someone explain why it would be interesting to propose a comparative literary analysis of gender aspects portrayed in dystopian literature of George Orwell's 1984 and Margaret Atwood's The...

Can someone explain why it would be interesting to propose a comparative literary analysis of gender aspects portrayed in dystopian literature of George Orwell's 1984 and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One reason why a gender analysis of both works of dystopian literature would be interesting is because of the relevance to the modern setting.  One reason why the study of dystopian literature is important is to "provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable."  The ability to transform thinking about the world and one's place in it is a major reason why a comparative analysis of both works could be interesting.

Atwell's The Handmaid's Tale helps to illuminate the condition of women in the modern setting.  The supposedly Biblical affirmations of Gilead come at the cost of women's voices.  The world of Gilead is presented in a dystopic manner because of how it alienates women's voices. Women are seen in a dehumanized manner where they only are kept for production of children.  Their voices are silenced: “But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”  Engaging in a gender based analysis of how women are treated in Gilead is interesting on a couple of levels. The first is that such an analysis reflects the very purpose of dystopian literature because it provides "fresh perspectives" on the "problematic social and political practices" of gender equity.  The issue of women's rights and ownership of reproductive rights is of critical importance in Gilead.  Yet, it is also a relevant topic in the modern setting.  Atwood's work reminds the reader that one cannot afford to take the issue of women's rights "for granted or considered natural and inevitable."  Another reason why the gender issue proves to be interesting is because it enables the reader to fully grasp the insider/ outsider dynamic in terms of the relationship between men and women.  

Examining the role of gender in Orwell's 1984 is a bit more intricate because the silencing of voice is not necessarily gender driven in Oceania.  Big Brother does not target women over men.  The Party seeks to silence any voice of dissent regardless of gender.  At the end of the book when Winston and Julia meet to discuss their betrayal of one another both of them tell the other "I betrayed you."  Gender is not the primary issue that defines insider/ outsider status.  Yet, the issue of women's rights can be seen in specific situations. Similar to Gilead, the Party asserts that sex can only be used for procreation, resulting in a lack of reproductive rights for women.  In both settings, examining the role of gender reveals how government intrusion on the rights of the individual can lead to vitiation of all rights. Echoing the fundamental belief of dystopian literature, the examination of gender issues in 1984  can result in transformative thought regarding "social and political practices."

Examining the presence of gender relations in both works is interesting because it aids the reader in better understanding the appeal of dystopian literature.  It can serve as a looking glass in which readers are able to gain more insight into their own world through the vision presented of "the other."  Gender relations in dystopian literature such as Atwood's and Orwell's helps to achieve the ability to think critically about issues within the individual and the world in which they live.


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