What are the similarities between The Handmaid's Tale (by Margaret Atwood) and The Stranger (by Albert Camus) in terms of the individual within society?

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Albert Camus' The Stranger deal with issues of alienation, existential despair, nihilism, and state authority. Each work depicts a modern society in which human relationships are fundamentally dysfunctional.

In The Handmaid's Tale, interactions between people are coerced and closely monitored by the state. Since the totalitarian state mediates all human relationships, people do not experience authentic connection or real intimacy with one another. People become alienated from one another and begin to see others and themselves as objects. 

In The Stranger, individuals are also severely alienated from one another. The unnamed narrator does not relate authentically to others, and does not reflect upon his own actions and behaviors. He does not recognize human dignity at all; instead, he treats others as utilitarian objects lacking inherent worth.

The main characters in both texts struggle with the consequences of this severe alienation. For Offred of The Handmaid's Tale, relief is found in transgressing the state and discovering true intimacy. The Stranger's protagonist simply gives in to his alienation, committing a radically absurd act of violence in the process. 

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The Handmaid's Tale

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