Isolation as Social Control in The Handmaid’s Tale and Other Dystopian Literature

While reading The Handmaid’s Tale it was very clear the Offred was existing in a dystopian world, as this is one of my favorite types of writing it immediately stood out to me.  As a sociology major I find interaction between individuals very interesting and I found the aspect of isolation in this story very intriguing.  Although there may be characters in other stories who are more isolated, such as Robinson Crusoe, I find the isolation while still surrounded by many individuals worth exploring further.  Similarly to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games also takes place in a dystopian culture and the leaders of this world utilize isolation as a means of control.  In The Handmaid’s Tale it is by placing women in very specific roles that are pitted against each other and not allowing the individuals to speak freely, and similarly in The Hunger Games the different Districts are pitted against each other and therefore not able to unite for their common purpose of freedom.  Additionally, the lack of access to reliable and accurate information about the world at large.  Through depriving the public of a true feeling of community the governments were able to keep their population in line and keep them from having a revolt at large.  Things I would like to explore are:

1)  Will The Hunger Games really work in a effective way to illuminate the isolation and deprivation of the women in The Handmaid’s Tale?

2)  Was there more than isolation contributing to the control over the public in The Handmaid’s Tale? If so, what else contributed to this lack of motivation to change their environment?

3)  Do other dystopian tales exhibit similar isolation tactics?  If not, what other environments produce similar issues?

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14 responses to “Isolation as Social Control in The Handmaid’s Tale and Other Dystopian Literature

  1. aeernst

    While I have never read The Hunger Games, it seems like it has many of the same elements as many of the dystopian texts we have looked at this semester. I think it would be interesting if you could find some examples of how women are pitted against each other in The Hunger Games to emphasize your point about women in The Handmaid’s Tale. Maybe you could consider as well:
    4) What is the purpose of women being pitted against each other in many of the works we have looked at? Why women?

  2. smboehm

    I think it’s interesting that you chose this aspect of these two works. Since you’re looking specifically into the treatment of women, I thought it would strengthen your argument and give it an interesting take if you also talked about how different the situation would have been if the genders were reversed.

    5) If the women being pitted against each other were instead men, how would this change the story? Would it still have the same effect? Why do you think women were chosen to turn against each other instead of men?

  3. siegvald

    I think the isolation of certain groups was definitely a control tactic by the government in The Handmaid’s Tale. But perhaps you could 6. address the other aspects of control used as well. The women were not allowed to read or write–how did this also contribute to their isolation and control?

  4. I can see th logic behind your paper, although Offred feels and is so isolated in actuality she is surrounded by many people and allowed little freedom to do as she would like. In response to your #1, I think this is something that needs to be addressed and assessed as being useful before including it in your paper. If it does not help to shed any new light I do not think its inclusion would be beneficial.

    #7 I think considering this idea of isolation mixed with no freedom to do what you please is of great importance to explore. Perhaps this is the kind of condition that could cause someone to go insane? You analyze what methods or techniques does Offred or other women use to cope with given their situation? Are these tools effective?

  5. vrosengrant20

    Though I am not familiar with the Hunger Games, I like how you have incorporated it into your paper and just how relevant it is to A Handmaid’s Tale. I especially like the question on the lack of motivation by the people in changing their environment since you can incorporate various elements common in both novels, like a lack of communication or a benefit given to a certain group that creates jealousy. Another question to ask could be:
    8.) What techniques does the government create distrust between the oppressed groups in order to keep them separate?

  6. Samantha Cooke

    I know only a little of The Hunger Games but I think your approach sounds valid.

    9. In The Hunger Games, the people are controlled through food, and they have representatives who are forced to physically fight for them, using their wits and their strength. In The Handmaid’s Tale, they are controlled through language and fear, fear of the past and of not having children (the end of humankind). Their hope, their champions are the children produced by the Handmaids. How do those differences affect each society? Is there much difference?

  7. The fact that you can still be isolated while surrounded by many people is an intriguing topic and I am glad that you chose it. One question that I think may benefit your paper by answering it is:
    10. What is it about the people in these oppressive governments that they feel that they can not connect or express themselves with those around them? How do governments make these people feel different?

  8. looloo14

    From what it sounds like, competition plays a big role in The Hunger Games when it pits people against each other to compete for food.
    11. Do you think competition is a controlling factor in The Handmaid’s Tale? For instance, could the reluctantly of the Marthas, Wifes, and Handmaids to work together be seen as competition?

  9. autumncassidy

    I would have to disagree with your interpretation that the roles the women in /A Handmaid’s Tale/ are placed into are intrinsically meant to be in competition. I think the basis of Gilead is to form a Republic in which each aspect of the community is delegated in order to maintain order and to be the most efficient possible. I think that the competition factor in Gilead amongst the women is more of a human -like characteristic rather than one imposed upon the inhabitants of Gilead.

    Question: Why are woman the more consistently oppressed and isolated gender in both of these works?

  10. Sophi

    Since I do not know anything about The Hunger Games, I cannot really comment on your use of it, but the topic you’ve chosen is interesting and narrow enough to maintain good focus. A question you should consider that may add to your argument is:
    13.) What roles do the men play in these stories? In The Handmaid’s Tale, there were women almost head-to-head with the Commanders, yet they remained just as powerful as, say, the Marthas. In what ways were these groups beings controlled? What made these controlling factors fearful?

  11. I agree with your topic and do think that isolation in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is used as social control. This social control was where the term “freedom” came in and was misused. Instead, by having the women isolated, it gave them the opportunity to control them socially.
    14.) In “Hunger Games”, who rules over the districts? Do they have any freedom?

  12. I agree that there is a a calculated tactic to isolate the women in The Handmaid’s Tale, and I think it would be good to examine why these tactics, both on a practical level and on an abstract level. I think you should highly consider question 5 because I feel like there is an innate association of defenselessness directed toward women that greatly affect the rhetoric of the novel.

    15. Even though the men of The Handmaid’s Tale have different social levels, there does not seem to be nearly as much jealousy and spitefulness among them than the women. What could be the reason for this?

  13. ashleighbarraca

    I just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy and I absolutely LOVED it, so I’m really interesting in seeing how this paper turns out. I definitely think you’ll be able to make a good comparison between the governments in the books in terms of keeping the people oppressed through lack of information. However, I do think that they both use other main ways to keep its peoples oppressed; the Capitol mainly uses hunger and Gilead just uses fear. However, restricting access to news and communication is definitely a good way to keep people in check.

    Question: 15) Can the people who live in the Capitol be compared to the Commanders and maybe even the Wives? Are all so privileged that they genuinely don’t realize the terror going on around them?

  14. I like your topic a lot, and I think it’s great that you are able to connect it to your major which is obviously something that you are very interested in! I really like your third question and would be interested to find out just how related the isolation tactic is in dystopia stories.

    16) Is there more than can go into controlling the people (in the novels) than isolation? What specifically are these things? Are they apparent in these books?

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