Religious Fundamentalism in Lowry’s The Giver And Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

handmaid taleUtopian stories are a very fascinating genre that most people like to read. Take The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 1984 by George Orwell as examples. How popular did that story finally become in the end? Utopian stories have the systematic story lines that actually predicted. They don’t take place in real life, but in an imaginary place, which have complete and proper order and revolves around perfect idealism. Where the world has (ironically) no conflict and its supposed to be flawless. Many movies are based from Utopian books. I think many people are insecure with their lives. They do not like chaos (in the other word, freedom) and really love to be part of strict and foolproof system.

The Giver is also an utopian story, written for young adults readers. Young Jonas lived in a community where everything was under control. The weather, the jobs, the family, even love was controlled. People had no kind of feeling any more, and the world became meaningless. It all changed when Jonas met the Giver, who gave his the memories that made him realize how beautiful a world was with freedom, and without being controlled on what you do. That’s what made me like this story, and that’s what had probably made this book in the reading list at my school this year.

The Handmaid Tale had happened from the point of view from a woman named Offred. It happened a few years the Republic overthrew and killed the president and the congress. Order was quickly restored, but there was one problem. The population was falling drastically thanks to more and more sterile people. Offred was given the role as a handmaid, meaning that all she should focus on was to actually reproduce. That time, being pregnant was like winning $200,000 on a weekly show just by filling a few random cards.

The Handmaid’s Tale will make people think about woman rights or feminism. As the president was overthrown by the conservative system, woman–yes, 21st century woman like us– lost all their rights. Starting from the rights to buy property, and finally losing all their freedom to do every single things. They were given a job — specific job — like, being pregnant, bearing a kid, nurturing the garden, and so on, in which they must spend all their time and their energy to do in  the totalitarian Republic of Gilead with its forms of systematic control, terror, surveillance, and ideology.

The Handmaid’s Tale presents a rhythmic sense of time based on the lunar cycle, the cycle of the woman’s menstrual period. Even the titles of the chapters reveal much: night, shopping, night, waiting room, nap, household, night, etc. Because the reader sees the world through the eyes of the Handmaid, everything revolves around fertility or, at the very least, potential fertility. The fear of infertility hovered over all. Should she not conceive, she would become an Unwoman.

PrintThis was also similar to the actions in the book The Giver. The child’s life cycle is fully controlled by the community. For example, a family unit can only have two children. A boy and a girl. The child would be getting their first bike when they were nine, and would be given their apprentice jobs which is carefully selected to match their interests and their talents. But the main focus was to make order in the society. Complete, utter order which was expected to last on many occasions.

The color red seems to be a symbol in The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred’s daily outfits could involve wearing long red garments that extends around the entire body. Since Offred was a handmaid, and therefore needs to reproduce, red could be interpreted as a lucky charm that all handmaids should wear to increase the fertility rate to make more babies. I think this could had just resulted in some very old superstition, trying to be forced to be reality because reality was already broken up into pieces. Red is the color of blood, and also the color of sin.

In Jonas’s world, everything was in black and white. Nothing had color–of course, only Jonas discovered the entire truth through the memories from the Giver. It was altered to stop people from making a choice, that can finally lend to chaos. I have mentioned about the butterfly effect in my last blog, and maybe people just got too paranoid for it. Too many years of war had finally became to complete utter need to have complete peace.

But will peace really ever happen in the oppressed regime? War sounds inevitable. It cannot be avoided. It has been dating all through history. There is ‘Golden Ages’, and places where peace happened, but there is always an end to it. The memories hidden away in The Giver were given back to their owners. But in Offred’s story, the ending isn’t so happy. Offred was taken away, her future uncertain because she was discovered to be exposed to things she wasn’t supposed to. A little bit like Jonas in some ways, although in Jonas’s case, he was legally allowed to do it. Peace in the ending would either continue. Or it would not.

Both The Giver and The Handmaid’s Tale are in response to the rise of religious fundamentalism. The totalitarian regimes favor tradition in the face of external forces for change. They seek to preserve the status quo and the values of earlier time. These two books can easily be read as a warning against Christian Conservatives or Sharia Law. They are conservative in the sense that it takes a stand against an incursion of foreign values and foreign culture. Therefore, the result from The Giver and The Handmaid’s Tale is a straight-forward morality tale. This particular nightmarish future remains a favorite nightmarish future.


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