To What Extent Can “the Handmaid’s Tale” and “the Scarlet Letter” Be Described as Works of Dystopian Fiction?

Topics: The Handmaid's Tale, The Scarlet Letter, Science fiction Pages: 5 (2079 words) Published: May 31, 2013
To What Extent Can “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Scarlet Letter” be Described as Works of Dystopian Fiction? The definition of Dystopia is an imaginary place where the inhabitants are exploited and control is maintained through oppression. Both “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” reflect characteristics of a dystopian novel. A dystopian novel is usually fictional and futuristic to the time in which it was written. The characters are made to worship a concept or figure as a way of control. Characters are subject to an irrational fear of what is outside their environment and the issues raised in the novel are commentaries on contemporary society at the time. Dystopian fiction depicts characters that live in a dystopian society, where often propaganda is used as a way of control. In both novels strict religious rules are used to manipulate inhabitants, revealing the hypocrisy of people in power. In “The Handmaids Tale”, the Gileadian society claims to be Christian, yet religion has become a commodity, “Soul scrolls, It’s a franchise... it must make a lot of profit.” The inhabitants are aware that the church has become an article of trade. Not only does this reveal the corruption of the society but it also reveals the hypocrisy of the people in power; the rules that the people are forced to abide by do not reflect the values of a Christian society at all. Similarly, in “The Scarlet Letter” people appear to be very religious; however elements of hypocrisy in the puritan way of life are exemplified. There is a strict hierarchy in a society that advocates equality, at the top are men like Governor Bellingham, who himself is very materialistic. “Hester Prynne went, one day, to the mansion of Governor Bellingham, with a pair of gloves, which she had fringed and embroidered to his order.” Because “she hath good skill at her needle” he orders her to make them for him, to show “he still held an honourable and influential place among the colonial magistracy.” The Puritans are meant to live simple lives, yet he lives in a mansion, the settlers are opposed to any luxury and yet he is ordering gloves that are hand embroidered to show off to other magistrates. These passages exemplify that religious propaganda is being used to justify the irreligious actions of the people in power. A dystopian society is often corrupt and oppressive to its inhabitants; this can be seen clearly in both novels. As well as propaganda, fear is often used as a way to maintain order in dystopian society. Fear of the outside world is the main cause of worry in “The Scarlet Letter.” The inhabitants are apprehensive to leave the settlement and venture into the woods. This was common in the 1600s when “The Scarlet Letter” was set as people had a genuine trepidation of witchcraft and the forest was often thought to be a place where evil gathered. “The black man” that dwells in the forest is likely to be a metaphor for the devil, “I hear...the noise of one putting aside the branches”...“Is it the Black Man?” The character “Mistress Hibbins” also helps to add to the towns fear as she is the only person who openly ventures out into the forest and “a few years later, [is] executed as a witch.” “Wilt thou go with us to-night? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.” Mistress Hibbins is thought to be named after Ann Hibbins who was the first innocent victim to be hanged as a witch on Boston Common. Fear of the outside world is abstractly present in “The Handmaid’s Tale” as the Handmaids are kept from knowing what’s happening outside the walls of Gilead, “This is the heart of Gilead, where the war cannot intrude.” They are only told stories to make them feel that they are the lucky ones; creating a feeling of apprehension towards what is outside,...
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