Individual Freedom and the Power of Free Will in A Handmaid’s Tale and Anthem

As I was reading A Handmaid’s Tale, I noticed how prevalent the issue of freedom versus government control was. I am personally very interested in these kinds of issues and love discussing them, so that is why I decided to choose this as my topic. I have studied objectivism (Ayn Rand’s philosophy centered on individual rights) for many years now, and so I really enjoy reading texts that center around the individual and their power. I decided to bring in Ayn Rand’s Anthem into the discussion because it has some very similar concepts and incidences regarding the individual’s power as A Handmaid’s Tale, and I felt like it would strengthen my argument while incorporating a text that I love. Some moments that I am going to use from A Handmaid’s Tale are Offred’s relationship with the Commander as well as her multiple subversive acts throughout the work, including her creation of the tapes. I am also going to use examples from Anthem such as Equality 7-2521’s invention of the light bulb and discovery of the word “I”. These examples, as well as many more found in these works, show that free will cannot be suppressed by government and how important and powerful free will is.

Some things I would like to investigate further are:

  1. Are there any times where free will is overpowered? What were the circumstances?
  2. Is the distinction between intentional subversive acts and unintentional subversive acts important when discussing this topic?
  3. Is there another aspect of free will that I can bring to the discussion to strengthen my argument?

 

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Individual Freedom and the Power of Free Will in A Handmaid’s Tale and Anthem

  1. siegvald

    This topic catches my interest. Of course being a “fan” of Ayn Rand, you probably already know that she lived in Communist Russia. Do you think her life experiences with Communism played a factor in what motivated her to write what she did? And this leads to another point you could discuss: 4. historically, how have real-life politcal systems subjugated the self-will of individuals?

  2. smboehm

    This is an interesting topic and I think it’s great that it’s something that you’re passionate about. Although I’m not very familiar with Ayn Rand, from reading some of your ideas about the power of free will, I thought it might be interesting for you to look into the specific language used in these situations of free will. There may even be similarities between the two novels of certain language used or ideals that are clearly against the government ruling.

    5) In reference to the language used to express free will, are there any strong similarities or differences between characters trying to obtain individual freedom opposed to the people apart of the government control? What do these similarities/differences say about the way free will is a uniting factor but also still a limiting factor when under government control?

  3. looloo14

    The novel which discusses the discovery of the word “I” portrays a very interesting idea. Perhaps you can connect this idea with words from Offred’s world. For instance, the idea that “I” is a new discovery suggests it is a concept that the society never previously considered. It is the idea that words shape our thoughts, and without certain words, we are unable to grasp different ideas.
    6) Can you think of any words from Offred’s world which have a different connotation or meaning than in our world? For instance, the difference between freedom from and freedom to?

  4. Samantha Cooke

    Freedom definitely is an important aspect of The Handmaid’s Tale. Having never read the other book, I cannot offer comments on it. I do think your second question, that of the distinction between intentional and unintentional subversive acts, is an interesting consideration. Perhaps you might want to also consider:
    7. Offred avoids or turns down many opportunities to undermine the government (such as not pressing the Commander for information or going through his personal effects). Is she only interested in gaining some small measure of individual freedom, and not in overthrowing Gilead? What if she were allowed those freedoms? Would she take others denied to her? What conclusions about humankind can we draw from that?

  5. I think you topic is very interesting in addresses deeper philosophical questions where there is no clear answer, which always makes for an interesting read. For this reason my favorite question that you posed is #1 because it explores the constraints of free will. A Handmaid’s Tale & Anthem are both very strong and influential texts and I believe will make for an excellent paper!

    #8 I think it is also important to consider are there even constraints to free will in the first place? I think you need to clarify #1 a little more, are you trying to say are there ever instances of free will being overpowered or do you mean solely within the context of the novel? I think this should help you with #3. Perhaps you might also want to consider the idea of determinism, which is generally contrasted with free will. You could argue against it, thus adding a new dimension to your paper.

  6. stperry1

    I think adding The Anthem to your paper will definitely back up the ideas you are most focused on in The Handmaid’s Tale. Playing with the idea of free will can be long winded and complicated, but given the fact that you have a prior interest it seems like your idea will be very focused and supported. I think the most interesting question you posed was the first one, because it would be interesting to see the conquering of free will contrasted with the success of free will.
    #9. How many of the individuals in the government demonstrate free will? Are there individuals on both sides of the situation who are forced into uncomfortable actions?

  7. This is a very interesting topic that you chose. As a biochemistry major, we learn that most decisions that all animals make, including humans, are in order to propagate our own fitness and be able to grow and reproduce. The society of Gilead in the book cannot make decisions for their people, they simply offer strong incentives to not make decisions that the government would not approve of (i.e death). So my question is:
    10. How does Offred abiding by the law of Gilead actually benefit her own survival? Would she be better off living completely alone or is there some sort of trade-off?

  8. vrosengrant20

    The theme of free will is prevalent in A Handmaid’s Tale and can be well explored since you have chosen specific moments of importance. You can include another aspect of the novel in conjunction with the second question by exploring Offred’s need to stay beautiful though she has no one to impress since she is only supposed to have sex with the Commander and even then they are not supposed to be lustful about it.
    11.) What are Offred’s goals throughout the novel and which of these goals does she takes risks in order to achieve?

  9. I think your topic says plenty about what occurs in “A Handmaid’s Tale”. Having never read “Anthem”, I am curious to see how you will bring this into your work and learn more about the novel, in general. A question of yours which posed the most interest to me was “Are there any times where free will is overpowered? What were the circumstances?” I immediately thought of Offred and her Aunt trying to decipher between “freedom from” and “freedom to”. Her aunt wanted her to “cherish” her “freedom” she was given but she was not at all free. Another question you might consider is:
    12.) Without the discovery of the word “I” or giving it any meaning, do you still think any of us would have a free will?

  10. autumncassidy

    I am unfamiliar with /Anthem/ so can do little commentary on the interaction between texts, however, your topic is one that evokes curiosity. However, the concept of “free will” is one that I find very fluid.

    Question: How is the definition of “free will” outlined in both texts? Is “free will” more focused on mental freedom, physical freedom, etc.?

  11. Sophi

    Free will is definitely a topic that appeals to almost any reader, but people have such different perspectives that the confines of “free will” have to be established. No matter how determined the individual, their will is only as free as what the government allows them access to, and not everyone is born and raised under the same government.
    One question to consider is:
    14.) Though free will cannot be suppressed once an individual has begun towards something they are fighting for or are passionate about, how “free” is their free will — from the beginning of their life to the present — when government is most likely the greatest determining factor of what they are exposed to in society?

  12. ashleighbarraca

    I think individual freedom is a great topic to explore in HMT, since a lot of focus (at least in my opinion) is usually given on certain groups’ freedoms. Your question #2 is the most interesting one to me; we of course know what Offred thinks about the regime, but she does seem kind of clueless about the whole “revolutionary acts” thing. I too haven’t read Anthem, but based on what you’ve written I have this question to posit:

    15) You mentioned a character named Equality 7-2521. How does this tie in with the names of the Handmaids (e.g. Offred, Ofwarren)? How do the unconventional ways of naming take away, or add, personal identity?

  13. I think this topic is very interesting, and I think it’s great that you are so passionate about it! I am not very familiar with Ayn Rand’s writing, but this sounds like a fascinating topic.

    I think the first question is the most interesting to me, it’s quite something to think about free will being overpowered. I’d like to see where you go with this question!

    16) Just how free do you think free will is? What do the authors of these texts think about this? What is their take on free will, and how do they differ?

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