Dystopia The Handmaid's Tale & Hunger Games
Imagine, for a moment, living in a society where public information is strictly controlled, propaganda being your only source of knowledge, independent thought is frowned upon, and your freedoms are restricted as you are perceived to be under constant watch. Although written nearly two and half decades apart, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games are both famous novels based on dystopian societies that thoroughly incorporate these dystopian characteristics. But how are they connected and will we live in their reality in the future?
The societies are fed information by their governments, thus regulating public information by way of propaganda. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the main character Offred faces life in the highly controlling and cult-like community known as the Gilead. Within the walls of the Gilead, everyone has a role and Offred’s role is to be handmaid: a female sex-slave in which the sole importance of life is to bear a child. There is an incredible amount of propaganda used, particularly by the Aunts to brainwash the Handmaids into believing that this oppressive lifestyle is the only way and, quite frankly, an honorable way. In the novel, Aunt Lydia is even quoted telling Offred, ‘Yours is a position of honor'(p. 6). This statement seems irrational to us, however, in the Gilead, the Aunts and their crazy statements are just tools of manipulation. Similarly, in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen struggles with life in an extremely controlling, propaganda-fueled society known as Panem. Panem consists of twelve Districts and the all-powerful Capitol. In the novel, The Capitol uses many tools of persuasion and propaganda to keep the Districts maintained under their absolute control.
Another very prominent theme of dystopia is the discontentment of independent thought. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the women’s thoughts are disregarded, and they are forced to do whatever they are told. Because their only importance is found in their ability to conceive and carry a child, all else is ignored. In an attempt to open the eyes of the reader to the absolute loss of independence for women in the Gilead, Atwood writes, ‘I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will” (p. 23). Offred also expresses at times that she feels as though she is incapable of having clear thoughts. ‘I feel drugged. I consider this: maybe they’re drugging me’ (p. 33). In another scene, Offred metaphorically illustrates the roles of the Handmaids’ in reference to the Aunts’ beliefs. ‘We are hers to define, we must suffer her adjectives’ (p. 34). This shows how the women must subject to a higher authority, no matter what they believe. Because, when it comes to dystopias, independent thought is of the least importance.
This theme is also illustrated in The Hunger Games. After the death of Katniss’s dear friend, Rue, Katniss feels the need to defy the Capitol’s authority as well as the propaganda used to brainwash all citizens into conforming to the Capitol’s unorthodox ways. ‘I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their games. And so am I’. She realizes the oppressive ways of the Capitol: their desire for everyone to ‘do as they are told’ and not question their rule. In the end, Katniss comes up with a great idea to keep both her and her ‘partner’, Peeta, alive: a fake suicide set-up. President Snow threatens Katniss at the end of the novel for her act of defiance against the Capitol, thus proving the significance of controlled thought within the dystopia of Panem. The last characteristic connecting the two works is the perception of being under constant watch, a theme that has even become more prominent and controversial in modern society today.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss also struggles with this feature. However, the watchmen are known as ‘Peacekeepers”: military forces controlled by the Capitol to watch over and keep order among each district. In the novel, Katniss even reveals how she must refrain from expressing her true feelings about the Capitol in fear that someone would hear, and she would be punished. She explains, ‘When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually, I understood that this would only lead us to more trouble’. Katniss learned that defying the Capitol in any way would lead to horrible consequences. So, in response, she taught herself to keep quiet. ‘I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts’. In The Hunger Games, the citizens of Panem are forced to keep all of their negative thoughts regarding the Capitol bottled up because of the obvious threat of being under watch.
So even though the novels vary in many ways, from characters to the setting and storyline, it is plain to see that both stories were written with a connecting theme: the life-altering powers of dystopian government control. It is a theme that always has been around in our society. The constant fear of not being in power or always wanting to climb up the social ladder. In my opinion, it is in our blood. We want to have control over our own lives and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that whenever there is injustice, we need to speak up instantly, otherwise we risk to end up like either Offred or Katniss.
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