The Use of Sexuality by the Female Characters and Government in 1984 and A Handmaid’s Tale

Atwood’s construction of A Handmaid’s Tale takes a lot of influences from the world of 1984 in order to construct that world from Julia’s perspective.  I wished to take into account my reading of 1984 to see just how this affects the portrayal of the characters and the government in both of the novels.  Due to the length of each of the novels, I will focus on the specific aspect of sexuality and how the women use it to either connect with society or be isolated from it.  Furthermore, there is the connection of the government, specifically how they control the people, through the use or limitation of the peoples’ sexuality.  The topic of this paper owes a lot to the construction of Julia in 1984, predominantly how she is a secondary character who has the majority of her scenes focused on her sexually connecting with the novel’s protagonist.  The difficulty of this paper will come from isolating the scenes in A Handmaid’s Tale that would best contribute to how the government uses sex to isolate the people; this is due to how the majority of the novel is focused on sexuality.  Though this problem is circumvented by focusing on the following questions:

1.)    Does the act of marriage contribute to a powerful connection between the two people involved or does the government have a negative effect on it?

2.)    How does the government in each novel differ in their procedure for controlling sexuality and how does that affect the mental and societal statuses of the people?

3.)    What connections do Julia and Offred form with the people around them and does the use of sex hinder or help these connections?

 

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15 responses to “The Use of Sexuality by the Female Characters and Government in 1984 and A Handmaid’s Tale

  1. aeernst

    The control that the governments have on people in general in both of these works is incredible, and focusing on the specific issue of sexuality will be very interesting. I agree that you have a wide range of examples to pull from in The Handmaid’s Tale, but that only means you will have plenty of proof for your argument. To ground your paper a little more, maybe you should first consider:
    4) How do each of the governments define, or try to redefine, sexuality?

  2. smboehm

    I read 1984 in high school and I loved it. As soon as we began to read The Handmaid’s Tale, I saw instant connections between the two works. I think your take on sexuality in both of the stories is interesting and a good way to narrow down your topic. I think it would benefit your argument to explore how the sexual relations are used in both the cases of Offred and Julia.

    5) Are the sexual relations between Offred and Julia in the works similar or different? Does one character benefit more from these relations? In which ways are they benefited/harmed from these relations?

  3. stperry1

    These two novels work very well together as a way to explore different aspects of control and more specifically governmental control. I think its very interesting that you are using a secondary character in such a way that she can be held up against the main character of another book. However, it will be important to make sure that Julia doesn’t get lost against Offred and that she truly provides the same amount of support for your thesis.
    6) Are there instances in which sexuality was used to be subversive and go against the government’s control?

  4. I think these two texts go hand-in-hand so I can see why you chose them. I also like that you picked a specific focus of sexuality since each novel does encompass a lot of material. I really like the logic behind #1, it looks at marriage in a different perspective than most, and uses the analysis of the government.
    #7 How are the concepts of individuality and sexuality related throughout the two texts? How are they contrasted?

  5. siegvald

    As you said, Julia in “1984” was a secondary character who had the majority of her scenes revolving around sexual relations with the protagonist. 8. Perhaps you could explore how this “secondary sexual character” role portrays her as a woman? What if she was the protagonist? (Like Offred.) How might that change the reader’s perception of her character?

  6. Samantha Cooke

    Though the effects of the government’s mandates on sex and marriage are definitely important to the women, you might also want to look a bit at their partners, the men, as they control the women and the government.
    9. How are the men affected by the government’s control of sex and marriage? .

  7. I love that you are comparing 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale as a dichotomy. It is interesting that in 1984 sex is used as a way to undermine the government, as a way to express freedom, while in The Handmaid’s Tale it is portrayed as the exact opposite- namely a way to oppress women by enacting state-sanctioned rape. So my question would be:
    10. Overall, what is the function of sex in a totalitarian government? Is it oppressive, liberating, or does it depend on the circumstances? How can sex be both enslaving and liberating?

  8. looloo14

    I think this topic is very promising. I have never read 1984 however, I know that sex is a very dominant these in the Handmaid’s Tale. The frequency of rape against women is one way the government justifies its new order. The say that women are safe from sexual violence, however, ironically handmaids are subjected to have unwanted sex with their new role.
    11. Are there any ways in which the government in 1984 controls the society through sexuality that results in irony?

  9. autumncassidy

    I also like that you have chosen /1984/ to compare with /A Handmaid’s Tale/ as the governmental aspects and the prefaces of either novel are similar. Your topic seems a solid one, but is it more focused on the sexuality of which, or both, genders?

    Question: To what extent do the female characters of either novel have sexual agency?

  10. Sophi

    This topic will definitely make for an interesting paper. I remember reading 1984 for the first time and thinking how crazy the idea of such tight governmental control sounded. I think the way you tie up these two pieces is quite clever. However, the ways the two governments utilize sex to control the women are both different. So I would consider:
    13.) How is either Offred or Julia more capable of limiting the oppression enforced onto them by living up to the governments demands form them? Does this difference depend solely on the type of characters these women are, or do other factors play a major difference?

  11. I love how you chose two novels which mirror each other. Being that they have so much in common and as you noted, you only have a limited amount to write about them, I think these two novels will give you much to talk about, especially with your topic you chose. This question you pose sparks the most interest to me: Does the act of marriage contribute to a powerful connection between the two people involved or does the government have a negative effect on it? Another question to ask is:
    13.) What type of effect/influence does sexuality have on the government and vice versa? Why so?

  12. I was actually wondering the same thing as question 10. The sex may seem liberating, but there are so many complexities that come from sex, such as pregnancy. I haven’t read 1984, but I would recommended focusing on female sexuality because The Handmaid’s Tale comes from the deep perspective of a female.

    13. When the commander is having sex with Offred, she simply just calls it ‘fucking’. How could this reflect her feelings of her sexual role?

    13. Why does Offred feel so

  13. I was actually wondering the same thing as question 10. The sex may seem liberating, but there are so many complexities that come from sex, such as pregnancy. I haven’t read 1984, but I would recommended focusing on female sexuality because The Handmaid’s Tale comes from the deep perspective of a female.

    13. When the commander is having sex with Offred, she simply just calls it ‘fucking’. How could this reflect her feelings of her sexual role?

  14. ashleighbarraca

    I love this topic. I think you’ll be able to make some really great comparisons with the regimes in the novels with the governments of today, if you want to get that political. Regulating sexuality, especially women’s, has been a hot-button issue since the beginning of time, it seems, so I think this paper will yield some very interesting results.

    A question about the novels as well as our government today: 14) Why do people (or just law makers) feel that sexuality must be legislated and kept in check? Why is (non-marital, non-traditional) sex seen as such a terrible thing by governments?

  15. I think this is quite a fascinating topic, and I rather like it. There is a lot you could write about, and I would be very interested in you expanding more on your third question. The characters in “The Handmaid’s Tale” are similar, and just how do they make connections with each other? This would be very interesting to find the answer to!

    15) How do these sexual roles that the characters are put in to actually affect how the characters view themselves, and sex in general? Does this change even throughout the course of the book?

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