Masculinity: Atwood and Orwell

Atwood and Orwell’s differing assessments of masculinity are largely due to their differing narrative voices. Through the eyes of Offred, Atwood constructs a pointed feminist critique of masculinity as a nymphomaniacal and tyrannical animal that can’t be tamed. Conversely Orwell, with his male protagonist, depicts a highly thoughtful and vulnerable man, whose maleness is defined not by his relations with women, but by his relationship with humanity as a whole.

In 1984 Big Brother is the ultimate patriarch. A retrospective fusion of two of the 20th centuries most evil dictators, Hitler and Stalin, he inspires fear and adoration in equal measure from the subservient party members. Yet it is not his maleness, so much as his omniscience that is his fear defining characteristic. He is all-seeing and all-knowing, able to detect the subtlest of thoughtcrime and hence he is feared. In fact it is his gendered nomenclature, the fact he is a “brother”, not a domineering father, which is what makes him so relatable and adorable to the party members. It provides an emotional affinity that is so vital for keeping the party in unity. Compared with the ‘god’ of Gilead, in The Handmaids Tale, Big Brother is so much more real and more present. As Offred prays “I’ll pretend you can hear me. But it’s no good, because I know you can’t”. But while the subject of peoples’ love might be male, so is the subject of their hate: Emmanuel Goldstein. It is certainly credible to suggest that the proliferation of these super-human male characters is not so much an authorial statement on the abundance of patriarchy, but rather a product of the state of Orwell’s contemporary society; since nearly all dictators throughout history have been male. But while the major male characters in Oceania may not be defined by their masculinity, the rulers of Gilead most certainly are. Although literary critic S. Vervaina argues the sexual model adopted by the Gileadean Patriarchy is socio-biologically oriented due to lack of fertility, exegetically it is clear that Gilead is a state principled upon the abuse and oppression of female sexuality. “The ceremony” is the antithesis of passionate consensual sex. During it Offred feels nothing, before it she feels dread and afterwards shame. The overriding sense is one of powerlessness and it is this complete lack of autonomy which induces her fear of the alpha-male commander. Still, for all his posturing we find that the commander craves passion just as much he wants power. In the same way that Winston wanted “to make love with Julia, before slitting her throat at the point of climax”, the commander, despite having already abused and denigrated Offred, wanted to ‘make love’. His fetishist games of ‘Scrabble’ stem from a complete of sexual empathy: Atwood shows him to be feared, whilst also desiring to be loved. In the same predatory fashion displayed by the now infamous Harvey Weinstein: the commander entices her with gifts and promises; invites her to Jezebels; rents out a hotel room; and lies naked on the bed leaving her with little choice but to satisfy his desires. The similarity with the behavior of ex-film mogul Weinstein is frightening and demonstrates just how accurate Atwood’s depiction of the potential primal behaviour of men is, when they perceive themselves to be in a position of power.

However maleness, or masculinity, is a state of behaviour, not a state of being. Simply because a character is male, it does not necessarily follow that they embody maleness. For example, in The Handmaid’s Tale, the Aunts who run the Red Centre are portrayed as semantically masculine. Their permission to read and write (an almost exclusively male freedom in Gilead), immediately marks them out as masculine figures. Moreover, the way in which Aunt Lydia almost disenfranchises her femininity in order to amalgamate her views with that of the governing Patriarchy is truly chilling. “The spectacles women used to make of themselves”, she says, attempting to exclude herself from the collective of women, as she viscerally breaks down at the thought of bikini-clad sunbathing women. As critic Onyett notes, “Essentially the aunts are ciphers of a continuing patriarchy that merely pretends to be a patriarchy” – yet the pretense is merely biological. The supposed distinction between a person’s biological sex, and gender-identity is a relatively recent phenomenon, propagated by 21st Century liberal institution such as the Women’s March of 2017. Therefore the fact that Atwood subversively deploys these ideas in her novels show just how attuned she was to sex-gender dynamics. The Aunts may be female, but their behavior is principally masculine, and thus they are feared. The distinction between sex and gender, or biology and behavior, is less clear in Orwell’s 1984. Orwell’s 1984 was written post two World Wars – wars which had inadvertently led to an increase in woman’s rights and suffrage since women were called into to fill labor shortage caused by male military conscription. This national experience, along with Soviet Russia which in the name of equality also began to change the role of women in society to become more part of the workforce, probably caused Orwell to portray ‘The Party’ as largely gender-equal. Within the party hierarchy Winston and Julia are defined by their jobs not their gender. Furthermore, Julia does not fear male sexuality but pleasures in it, boasting to Winston of the numerous sexual partners she’s entertained since the age of 16. And although Offred’s frigid state during “The Ceremony” mirrors the semantics of Winston’s wife’s “stiff” body, Winston’s wife stiffness is out of autonomous sexual repression rather than fear of Winston’s masculinity. 20th Century critic Atkins describes Winston as “A weak creature who was born to be victimised” and arguably one could regard him as the antithesis of alpha-male patriarchy. His relationship with Julia is clearly dominated her, after all she is one who actively strips naked in front of him. Winston is portrayed as perpetually weak, his failure to be able to stretch like his female fitness instructor further demonstrating his ineptitude. If one is to view Orwell’s INGSOC as some subversive patriarchy, then one must also except that Winston is its biggest failing. Unlike the commander, Orwell’s Winston neither inspires fear nor wants to inspire fear. He thinks he craves power, but after meeting Julia realizes he instead requires love.

Ultimately Patriarchy is predicated upon contradictions, since men are reliant upon women for the affirmation of their masculinity. Women are simultaneously oppressed but necessary to the functioning of Gilead. Atwood uses Serena to show the reader this paradoxical relationship. Most likely based on American conservative pioneer, Phyllis Schlafly, Serena Joy is described as an anti-feminist women’s rights activist, who became the victim of her own success when actually subjected to the Gileadean society she helped bring about. Schlafly once said that “so long as a woman’s husband earns a good income, she doesn’t care about the pay gap between them”. However, while Serena Joy’s husband certainly earns a good income, her despondent depression is clearly ostensible as she wallows in the shadow of her husband. Yet women are necessary not only for the control of the women but also for the sexual satisfaction of men. ‘Jezebels’ is justified on the pretense that men have their “needs” and patriarchy could be defined as a system which panders exclusively to men’s supposed “needs”. Winston has his “needs” too. His initial lust for Julia is violently consuming as he fantasizes about killing her. But Julia also has her “needs”, arguably even more so than Winston. If Winston is to embody masculinity, then Orwell seems to show maleness as less primal and sex based then femaleness. As Boddoe observes, “She [Julia] is totally incapable of understanding the motives which drive Winston to revolt”. Julia is too visceral and emotional to see the party for what it is, and falls asleep while listening to Goldtsein’s book. Whereas Winston is much less concerned with gender and sex dynamics, than he is with humankind and societal liberation. The skill of Orwell is to create in Winston a character which rises above individual self-centered emotions of love and fear, and take a more holistic view at the fate of all humanity. For Orwell, Winston’s masculinity is his intelligence and his emotional detachment, characteristics which Atwood parallels in her own female protagonist.

Therefore, in Conclusion I believe that Atwood and Orwell’s presentation of maleness is vastly different. Whereas Atwood constructs a picture of sex-driven, power-hungry, love-starved masculinity, Orwell takes a more positive outlook: For him masculinity is defined by intelligence and emotional detachment. “If you are a man, you are the last man”, boasts O’Brien as he inflicts Winston’s torture; however Orwell’s story is not just about man, but about mankind.

Conflict between sacrifice and love against selfishness and contempt

In George Orwell’s novel 1984 and Fritz Langs’ Metropolis, it is seen that both texts explore the conflict between the value of sacrifice and love against selfishness and contempt. Both Orwell and Lang explore this conflict in light of their differing contexts. Behind Metropolis, Lang foregrounds his own Christian values as the counter to economic pragmatism, reflecting the influences of his own Catholicism along with the emerging technological advancements of the Weimar Republic. Whilst, Orwell advocates the value of sacrifice and love of others in the face of political power, reflecting his fears regarding totalitarian regimes emerging out of WWII.

In Metropolis, Lang presents this conflict through specific reference to self-sacrifice foregrounded by his Catholic values. Maria, being the ultimate depiction of these values, foretells to the working class, revealed in the inter-titles, that ‘the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart’. By metaphorically representing this process as a person i.e. Freder, Lang is accentuating the role of human values in reforming the societal structures’ power, ultimately reflecting his intentions of Metropolis being a contextual message to the German people for a peaceful revolution. This recurring motif foregrounds Langs Catholic values as central to the continuation of human values. This is contrasted against the intertextuality of the original Tower of Babel story where a long shot displaying the exploited slaves reveals the implications of the selfishness of the upper class and how such power ultimately diminishes human values. In further exploring this conflict, Lang employs a symbolic exclamation from a worker “someone has to stay at the machine”, emphasizing the influence of the machine age upon the selfish morality dictating current society. Lang further employs a medium shot portraying Freder replacing the worker which make evident Freder’s self sacrifice to relieve the oppression of the worker; that the preservation of their lives is Lang’s privileging of the human value of sacrifice that would otherwise be lost in the midst of selfishness. A long shot then portrays the religious iconography in the crucifixion pose of Freder working the machine. This reinforces Lang’s Catholic values and his idea of Freder as a Christ like savior who will restore the values in the midst of the selfishness diminishing them.

Orwell similarly makes this conflict evident in 1984 where such selfishness ultimately deprives any forms of emotional human connections. The installation of the party into power creates a new hierarchical structure where their unilateral selfish desires are for ‘power…power, pure power”. The repetition of ‘power’ reinforces that its preservation is the driving force behind their oppressive crushing of human values as metaphorically conveyed in ‘power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together”. This diminishing of values is reflected through the restrictions on emotional relationships, based on Orwell’s fears of the continuity of totalitarian states and their devaluing of love and sacrifice. He presents love as the antithesis to these structures through Winston and Julia’s relationship: “a battle, the climax a victory… a blow struck against the party” as Winston believes they ‘could not alter (their) feelings’. The metaphorical military imagery aligns the relationship with the revolt implicit in it, but also their love that conflicts with the party’s selfishness. However, O’Brien highlights the ineffectual nature of their opposition to authority in the metaphors “You are a flaw in the pattern…a stain that must be wiped out”. Their inconsequential revolt is further reinforced through Winston’s torture as he exclaims: “Do it to Julia! Not me!… Tear her face off, strip her to the bones”. The graphic imagery within the imperative possesses violent connotations of suffering and evokes the horror of what Orwell is foreshadowing; that such totalitarian regimes destroy human values. This further reflects O’briens statement to Winston: “We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them” foreshadowing Stalin’s totalitarianism where the Party’s selfish fabrication of reality; “Who controls the past controls the future” contributes to the demise of human values, metaphorically rendering Winston a “lonely ghost uttering a truth”. In Metropolis, Lang presents a resolution through a return to human values, Orwell presents no such resolution as O’Brien metaphorically asserts: “We shall squeeze you empty … fill you with ourselves”, highlighting the irrelevance of human values in this world.

In Metropolis, Lang continues to portray the same diminishing of human values by the selfishness of those in power. Freder’s symbolic hallucination depicts a long shot portraying the workers being consumed as a sacrifice to ‘Moloch’ for the selfish desires of Frederson. In Personifying the workers’ actions as an act of satiating the machines: “Who feeds the machines with their own flesh?”, Lang is reflecting on his warnings that human values are lost as a result of embracing new technology as he found through his experiences of the Weimar republic’s privileging of automation. That for the sake of the ‘revolution of a mechanical wheel’, as revealed through the intertitle describing the Son’s club, human values are ultimately diminished. In alluding to the tradition of child sacrifice through the Moloch image, the workers are metaphorically made into “the living fodder for the machines”. This highlights Lang’s warning about the innate dangers of selfish oppression, as he saw emerging out of the economic imperatives within the Weimar Republic. Despite this, Lang foregrounds mediation so that such contempt does not continue to diminish these values. The reverse angles between Grot and Frederson that suggest a space between them is contradicted against the subsequent two-shot of them standing on level ground on either side of the frame, with Maria in the middle facilitating mediation between their respective values. Lang is offering a positive reconciliation between the value of love after having been diminished by the selfishness of the upper class.

Orwell portrays no such mediation in 1984, only a selfish valuing of power that engenders a similar disregard for others as it does in Metropolis. Orwell evokes the significance of values of love and sacrifice, identified by Winston as the ‘human heritage’. Winston reflects this through recalling his mothers gestures: “the enveloping protecting gesture of the arm…” The present participle verbs “enveloping” and “protecting” suggest that her gestures, even when taken away, extend beyond the ordinary parameters of time. This reinforces Winston’s hope of the preservation of human values, that “if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human”, the goal is the continuity and preservation of the human heritage foregrounded in his mothers gestures. However, Orwell presents the conflict of the diminishing of this ‘human heritage’ to a mindless loyalty in the midst of the party’s selfishness through reference to his mother again who ‘had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was…unalterable’. The past tense ‘sacrificed’ foreshadows the self-sacrifice she represented that has been lost which is further echoed in the drowning metaphor of his mother and sister ‘in the saloon of a sinking ships, looking up at him through the darkening water’. This recurring motif and the present participle “darkening” further reinforce the irrevocable diminishing of human values in the midst of the party’s selfishness. These ideas are ultimately foreshadowing Orwell’s fears of the control of totalitarian dictatorships he found emerging out of WWII.

Struggle to maintain humanity when confronted with social change

Utilizing multidisciplinary knowledge gained from analysis of both George Orwell’s novel 1984 and Fritz Langs’ Metropolis grants the individual the ability to better understand the ways in which both texts portray that a major concern is the struggle to maintain what makes us human when confronted by overwhelming social change. Both Orwell and Lang explore this confrontation in light of their differing contexts. Behind Metropolis, Lang foregrounds his own Christian values as the counter to economic pragmatism, ultimately reflecting the influences of his own Catholicism along with the emerging technological advancements of the Weimar Republic. Whilst, Orwell advocates the values that make us human in the face of social changes in political powers, reflecting his fears regarding totalitarian regimes emerging out of WWII.

In Metropolis, Lang presents this confrontation through specific reference to the implications of a social change that privileges values that make the struggle to maintain what makes us human difficult. Maria, being the ultimate depiction of the values that makes us human, foretells to the working class, revealed in the inter-titles, that ‘the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart’. By metaphorically representing this process as a person i.e. Freder, Lang is accentuating the role of human values in reforming the societal structures’ power, ultimately reflecting his intentions of Metropolis being a contextual message to the German people for a peaceful revolution. This foregrounds Langs Catholic values as central to the continuation of what makes us human. This is contrasted against the intertextuality of the original Tower of Babel story where a long shot displaying the exploited slaves reveals the implications of the misuse of power of the upper class and how such power ultimately leads to the struggle to maintain human values. In further exploring this confrontation, Lang employs a symbolic exclamation from a worker “someone has to stay at the machine”, emphasizing the influence of the machine age upon the selfish morality dictating current society. Lang further employs a medium shot portraying Freder replacing the worker which makes evident Freder’s willingness to relieve the oppression of the worker; that the preservation of their lives is Lang’s privileging of the values that make us human that would otherwise be lost in the midst of the party’s control. A long shot then portrays the religious iconography in the crucifixion pose of Freder working the machine. This reinforces Lang’s Catholic values and his idea of Freder as a christ like savior who will restore the values that make us human.

Orwell similarly makes this confrontation evident in 1984 where social change that privileges power ultimately deprives any forms of emotional human connections. The installation of the party into power creates a new hierarchical structure where their unilateral desires are for ‘power…power, pure power”. The repetition of ‘power’ reinforces that its preservation is the driving force behind their oppressive crushing of the values of love that make us human as metaphorically conveyed in ‘power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together”. This diminishing of values is reflected through the restrictions on emotional relationships, based on Orwell’s fears of the continuity of totalitarian states and their devaluing of humanity. In hopes to counter the struggle to remain human he presents love as the antithesis to these structures through Winston and Julia’s relationship: “a battle, the climax a victory… a blow struck against the party” as Winston believes they ‘could not alter (their) feelings’. The metaphorical military imagery aligns the relationship with the revolt implicit in it, but also their love that conflicts with the party’s control. However, O’Brien highlights the ineffectual nature of their opposition to authority in the metaphors “You are a flaw in the pattern…a stain that must be wiped out”. Their inconsequential revolt and struggle is further reinforced through Winston’s torture as he exclaims: “Do it to Julia! Not me!… Tear her face off, strip her to the bones”. The graphic imagery within the imperative possesses violent connotations of suffering and evokes the horror of what Orwell is foreshadowing; that such totalitarian regimes destroy what makes us human. This further reflects O’brien’s statement to Winston: “We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them” foreshadowing Stalin’s totalitarianism where the Party’s fabrication of reality; “Who controls the past controls the future.” contributes to the demise of human morality, metaphorically rendering Winston a “lonely ghost uttering a truth”. In Metropolis, Lang presents a resolution through a return to human values, Orwell presents no such resolution, and only a struggle, as O’Brien metaphorically asserts: “We shall squeeze you empty … fill you with ourselves”, highlighting the irrelevance of attempting to oppose the struggle.

In Metropolis, Lang continues to portray the same confrontation between what makes us human and the social change that diminishes that. Freder’s symbolic hallucination depicts a long shot portraying the workers being consumed as a sacrifice to ‘Moloch’ for the economic desires of Frederson. In Personifying the workers’ actions as an act of satiating the machines: “Who feeds the machines with their own flesh?”, Lang is reflecting on his warnings that the values that make us human are lost as a result of embracing new technology arising from social change as he found through his experiences of the Weimar republic’s privileging of automation. That for the sake of the ‘revolution of a mechanical wheel’, as revealed through the intertitle describing the Son’s club, these values are ultimately diminished. In alluding to the tradition of child sacrifice through the Moloch image, the workers are metaphorically made into “the living fodder for the machines”. This highlights Lang’s warning about the innate dangers of oppression, as he saw emerging out of the economic imperatives within the Weimar Republic. Despite this, Lang foregrounds mediation so that the struggle to maintain humanity is countered. The reverse angles between Grot and Frederson that suggest a space between them is contradicted against the subsequent two-shot of them standing on level ground on either side of the frame, with Maria in the middle facilitating mediation between their respective values. Lang is attempting to offer a positive reconciliation so as to counter the oppression of what makes us human arising from the social change in political powers.

Orwell portrays no such mediation in 1984, only a valuing of power that engenders a similar disregard for others as it does in Metropolis. Orwell evokes the significance of the values of love that make us human, identified by Winston as the ‘human heritage’. Winston reflects this through recalling his mothers gestures: “the enveloping protecting gesture of the arm…” The present participle verbs “enveloping” and “protecting” suggest that her gestures, even when taken away through social change, extend beyond the ordinary parameters of time. This reinforces Winston’s hope of the preservation of these values, that “if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human”, the goal is the continuity and preservation of the human heritage foregrounded in his mothers gestures. However, Orwell presents the struggle of the diminishing of this ‘human heritage’ to a mindless loyalty in the midst of the party’s oppression through reference to his mother again who ‘had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was…unalterable’. The past tense ‘sacrificed’ foreshadows the self-sacrifice she represented that has been lost which is further echoed in the drowning metaphor of his mother and sister ‘in the saloon of a sinking ships, looking up at him through the darkening water’. This recurring motif and the present participle “darkening” further reinforce the irrevocable struggle to maintain the values that make us human. These ideas are ultimately foreshadowing Orwell’s fears of the control of totalitarian dictatorships he found emerging out of WWII.

Mood and Imagery in 1984

The mood of 1984 is extremely sorrowful and full of despair for the situation that the characters are going through. The government is controlling all aspects of their lives and it is dreary throughout. The reign of the totalitarian government is developed in detail throughout the entirety of the novel in different settings.

The mood in Winston’s apartment is similar to that of the rest of the novel, but the audience is aware that Winston is more comfortable in this location. Orwell depicts that “the hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats” which utilizes senses to explicitly describe the setting (Orwell, 1). Given the diction of the description which pulls on the senses of scent with extremely detailed and specific words, the audience knows that Winston is aware of his surroundings and is very cognoscente of his environment. The scents, however, are described in a pungent manner, which sets an unsettling tone.

At Winston’s workplace, the mood is very monotonous and overbearing. Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, which is the “enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air” (4). The depiction was given at the beginning of the story which sets a mood for the remainder of the novel in regards of the Ministry of Truth. The detail of the physical depiction of Minitrue is full of luxury which sets the mood as one of control and power.

The apartment that Winston rents with Julia has a mood of comfort and character. This is depicted because Orwell explains that there is a “strip of carpet on the floor, a picture or two on the walls, and a deep, slatternly armchair drawn up to the fireplace.” (150). It is also important to recognize that he makes a point to evaluate the “old-fashioned clock with a twelve-hour face [which] was ticking away on the mantelpiece.” (150). This is interesting because, as an audience, we believe that a clock with twelve hours on it is very normal, but in the novel it is old fashioned. We imagine the other type clock to be one that shows twenty four hours which is military time. This resembles industrialism and war, which alters the mood to be harsh and fearful. D. The Ministry of Love has a mood that is combined of contradictions and juxtaposes because it is grotesque and sterile. The sterility is depicted by Orwell’s description of the “high ceilinged windowless cell with walls of glittering white porcelain” (231). This demonstrates the cleanliness and positive connotation of the setting, but there is also an old woman who is rotund, intoxicated, and obnoxious which contradicts the sterile environment.

The imagery in the novel is descriptive and brings light to each scene to ensure the reader is aware of the tone and experience that Winston has in each setting. In the depiction of Winston’s apartment, Orwell uses imagery to depict the scent that sounds to be overwhelming to the character, but it is stated in a very matter-of-fact manner which indicates that Winston is adjusted to the misery of the scent of old rags and boiled cabbage (1). The outside surroundings are also described at the beginning of the novel which seems dreary. There is little to no happiness outside and there are massive and intimidating posters pasted in multiple locations for viewing that remind citizens that “Big Brother is Watching You” (3). There really is absolutely no privacy for Winston and he understands the effects of rebellion against the Party. We know this initially because he makes a point to stare at the poster.

Winston’s place of work, the Ministry of Truth, has a stressful feeling and the imagery matches this tone. The government clearly controls Winston’s work very closely because they are the ones who inform him of what he must do to completely alter the written history of the nation and change what the public knows about political affairs of the Party. The building is described in a triumphant manner which implies that the government has control over all l that is good and is responsible for it. Also, the workspace for all workers, which is segregated into cubicles, is significant and parallel to the lack of collaboration that occurs outside of the work place because the government does not want the citizens to rebel together.

The apartment that Winston and Julia use for their personal affairs is also describes using plenty of diction that is straightforward but elicits emotion from the reader. The fireplace and bed by the window draw a picture in the reader’s mind that it is quaint and calm and relatively “inviting” (99). The lighting is also enabling the entire room to be visible so it seems as if there is no place for the Party to see them, although they are mistaken. This place is the only location through the entire novel that elicits a comfortable emotion and feeling from the reader because of the sensory description because it a getaway for the couple when they want to remove themselves from the sterility and monotony of everyday life in Oceania.

The Ministry of Love is the exact opposite of what is expected by its name. The Ministry is consumed by a lack of hope and extravagance of fear and sadness. The individual person is extremely lonely and there is no freedom to work together or speak and have a conversation. Orwell depicts the building to be “a maze of barbed wire entanglements” which indicated the struggle that it must take for one to endure the Ministry of Love (5). We know it must be difficult because of the names of the other Ministries and the contradiction between the name and the purpose. Also, the description of the inside, “high ceilinged windowless cell with walls of glittering white porcelain”, does not aid in the unappealing outside appearance (231). The simplicity of the design on the inside resembles that of a mental hospital in which people with psychological disorders reside to get medical attention. There is nothing in the space for them to ruin. This is similar to how Ingsoc ensures that there is no way for the citizens to ruin anything by scaring them.