Dystopian Imagination in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World

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Literature as a whole grows and changes from generation to generation. Each age has its own particular point of interest and its own particular way of thinking and feeling about things. So the literature which it produces is governed by certain prevailing tastes.

Modern age is a complex age and the changing attitude of this period has influenced thought and literature of this period too. Of all forms of literature, fiction dominated the twentieth century as it reflected the currents and forces that were shaping and moulding society. The twentieth century with its complexities of Communism, Capitalism, Democracy and various other political doctrines, changing pattern of women’s position in society and dominance of science and scientific research caused a new kind of imaginative writing in the form of ‘dystopian fiction’ that blended modernism and social realism in one form.

Dystopian fiction records the contemporary social trends and projects them into imaginative reality, while stretching them to extremes to forewarn that taking anything beyond its limits can have drastic consequences. Dystopian fiction attempts social criticism as it has opened new ways of seeing and feeling about things. Although dystopian fiction lacks basic essentials of novel writing such as characterisation, psychological realism and suspense, it is still quite powerful and popular means of presenting a vision of distorted tomorrow that results from present itself.The major feature of anti-utopian fiction is that it revolves around conflict, which results from certain weakness or inefficiency in the society or system it depicts.Thus the dystopian fiction often revolves around dramatic conflict between society which is very often a totalitarian society and a protagonist, who is a non- conformist. In The Handmaid's Tale it is the conflict between Gilead and Offred who believes that something is terribly wrong with this society. The conflict here is internal one as she manipulates the circumstances of getting out of this so-called 'perfect society'. On the other hand the conflict in Brave New World is both internal and external. It becomes internal when the protagonist John or the Savage feels distressed with the World State and its spiritual vacuity. The conflict becomes external in John's questioning of Mustapha Mond's 'utopia' and his rejection of this supposedly 'happy society'. The conflict in the dystopian novel arises from the central idea of the novel. An idea that becomes a commanding passion and moves the plot ahead. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale revolves around the revival of religious fanaticism and how this conservative totalitarian theocracy has made its citizens more or less captives.Thus the novel becomes the study of survival. Similarly Huxley builds the plot of Brave New World on the idea of staying human in the high-tech and materialistic society. Huxley's vision moves on the premise whether the satisfaction of material wants and mindless pleasures would overpower the desire for freedom. The dystopian fiction often discusses ideas of its author and to save it from monotony and boredom, the novelist amuses his readers by the ingenious management of setting and detail. As the dystopian socities are often set in future, the novelist makes readers identify the trends that would lead to dystopian vision. Atwood and Huxley in their respective visions strain our senses of the probable, but they do not uproot us from the real world.The Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World depict totalitarian states as extensions of the trends and patterns of contemporary real world as already discussed in previous chapters. Since the twentieth century novels that have been discussed in previous chapters are dystopias, they share some common traits of dystopian fiction. Both novels depict totalitarian societies. The worlds of The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World are governed by...
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