It has been said that Atwood has included nothing in The Handmaid’s tale that does not exist in our society already; she has simply taken ideas to their logical conclusion. Compare and contrast how far the authors of The handmaids Tale and Stepford Wives draw on the issues of the society in which they are writing to create a disturbing vision of the future.
“There isn't anything in the book not based on something that has already happened in history or in another country, or for which actual supporting documentation is not already available.1” Margaret Atwood tells us herself that she has based the novel ‘The Handmaids Tale’ on events, regimes and issues that exist in our society today. It is clear from both the narrative of the novel and “The Historical Notes” that she has taken aspects of society in order to create Gilead. Similarly with Ira Levin’s “Stepford Wives” it is evident that he has drawn on past and present feminist issues in society in order to create a disturbing yet arguably accurate vision of the future.
In Stepford Wives when Joanna moves in to Stepford and asks her neighbour to have a coffee with her, her neighbour replies “I have to wax the family-room floor”. This shows Ira Levin introducing the idea of a typical 1950’s domestic housewife. Both of the patriarchal regimes depicted in the novels reflect life for women in the 1950’s, when women were inferior to men. This would have influenced both Ira Levin and Margaret Atwood at that time.
The Handmaids Tale depicts feminist attitudes of the 1960’s when Offred reflects on ‘the time before’ when she “got a better apartment…I paid for it myself, with my new job”. In the 1960’s contraception and equal opportunities were enforced with The Civil Rights Act introduced in 1964 so that women did not have the same barriers. They had equal opportunities in the work place and divorce laws were more prominent; men no longer had a hold on their wives. Atwood also highlights attitudes of the 1970’s when Offred sees her mother in a video at the Red Centre taking part in a feminist rally. They hold signs saying “DO YOU BELIEVE A WOMAN’S PLACE IS ON THE KITCHEN TABLE?”. Through the 70’s Levin and Atwood saw that men’s position of power in society was threatened by a new generation of women and Offred’s mother is a prime example of this. Chuck Palahniuk describes this time as “politically charged2” and Atwood demonstrates this in The Handmaids Tale. Aunt Lydia describes feminists as “Unwoman” and Atwood highlights the sexual politics in the 70’s and 80’s as part of Offred’s life. However Gilead eliminates it which creates a disturbing vision of a future of world without comparative freedom. “Stepford Wives” was published in 1972 and Levin created Stepford depicting men swapping their liberated wives for robots. Both novels show the result of men wanting to return to the position of power they had in the 1950’s thus creating a disturbing vision for the future.
In Stepford Wives men view their wives as objects to be admired for their beauty reflecting male attitudes in the 1950’s. All of the men in Stepford are part of the “Men’s Association” and bring their talents together in order to create the perfect wife. The phrase “every girls an Ike Mazzard girl” is used when the illustrator from the Men’s Association makes beautiful sketches of Joanna, reflecting men capturing a woman’s image and glorifying it in their own fantasy. However Levin uses this idea and creates a disturbing image when it transpires the pictures are to create a beautiful robot to replace Joanna, as it is impossible in reality to live up to such beauty. This idea is reinforced when Walter, Joanna’s husband, states “these are beautiful”, thus Levin is creating a disturbing image of the future, which is based on reality, as women of the 1950’s wanted to look beautiful for the benefit of their husbands. Indeed, even in today’s society, women are encouraged to look ‘perfect’...
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