Control, submission and rebellion in the novels The Handmaids Tale, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Hunger Games and the film V for Vendetta
Control, submission and rebellion. To control is to take over, to submit is to conform with orders and to rebel is to fight back to the people in control. These are a few of the most important themes featured in the novels The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the film V for Vendetta directed by James McTeigue. This report will explore issues such as how the main characters show their rebellion, how the authorities show their control and a comparison between the lives of those in the texts and our lives today.
How does the main character show their rebellion?
In all four texts, the characters have shown submission in the beginning of the texts. Their rebellion was brought upon not being able to handle the control they were being put in. Rebellion was shown in various ways across the texts. The characters defiance against those in control was shown by violence, emotions, survival, taking chances and most of all vengeance.
The main characters show a drastic transformation from being just a part of society who takes orders to a distinctive individual fighting back for freedom.
In the novel The Handmaid’s Tale the act of rebellion was shown through the use of emotions and taking chances. Offred is a Handmaid in the totalitarian government called ‘Gilead’; a Handmaid’s duty is to bear children for Gilead. Offred’s importance in Gilead is the fact that she is a woman, in Gilead if you are a fertile woman then that is the only thing you are good for. It’s interesting how Offred uses the ultimate weapon of Gilead’s control to backfire on Gilead itself as she uses her body to defy the laws of Gilead. Offred’s rebellion against Gilead is very ironic. Offred first shows her defiance against Gilead’s system by having a discreet friendly relationship with the commander.
The commander is one of the main founders of Gilead. How ironic that Offred’s rebellion was aided by the person who helps make the rules himself. The commander asks Offred to have a game of scrabble; Offred does not refuse even if she knew the consequences by doing so. She says ‘My presence here is illegal. It is forbidden for us to be alone with the commanders.’ This suggests that despite Offred’s knowledge of what could happen to her if she gets caught; she decides to grant the commander’s wishes anyway. This also suggest that even though the commander serves as her controller, the fact that she has a companion and freedom to express herself makes her disregard the rules and commit and act of rebellion. The most significant act of defiance Offred has done was to take a chance and attempts to escape Gilead.
‘The van waits in the driveway; its double doors stand open. The two of them, one on either side now, take me by the elbows to help me in. whether this is my end or a new beginning, I have no way of knowing; I have given myself over into the hands of strangers because it can’t be helped. So I step up into the darkness within; or else the light.’ This suggests that Offred has given her life up to her fate by escaping, unsure but willing to take a chance. Offred realises that there are other possibilities of her life whether it may be good or bad; she took a risk instead of wasting her life being society’s slave. The author’s purpose is to illustrate how rebellion doesn’t always have to be an act of violence. Rebellion can simply mean freeing yourself from control even in the most ordinary way such as playing a game as long as it leaves you with a sense of freedom.
In the novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Rebellion was shown through the means of survival. Panem, a country that symbolizes a dystopian North America. The capitol is the main city of Panem where in people from their get to live a normal life or if not, a very extravagant life while the rest of the districts suffer from the control of President Snow. The Capitol forces teenagers from all the districts to complete to their death. Katniss Everdeen serves as the main protagonist in the novel. In Panem the gap between the rich and the poor is massive. The districts are restricted with technology; clothing and most notable is food. Katniss shows her defiance against the Capitol firstly by hunting illegally in order to survive. Katniss says ‘Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it if they had weapons.’
This suggests that Katniss willingly violates the Capitol’s rules so that she will be able to feed her family and survive. Another act of rebellion shown the Hunger Games was when ‘star-crossed lovers’ refuses to kill each other in the final round. Once again, Katniss brushes off the dynamics of the game and threatens the Capitol to commit suicide together with Peeta. ‘They have to have a victor. Without a victor the whole thing would blow up in the gamemakers’s faces. They’d have failed the Capitol.’ This suggests that Katniss thought of a way to outsmart the Capitol. This act was a big slap in the face to the Capitol as both Peeta and Katniss were announced the winner of the Hunger Games. This act did not serve both of them very well in the following books of the trilogy. Rebellion in the Hunger Games is inevitable as people had to strive for their survival.
In the novel Memoir’s of a Geisha Rebellion was in the form of the most beautiful thing in the world, an emotion every man and woman desires, love. A Geisha must never fall in love for they are Japan’s most beautiful form of entertainment. Sayuri, an orphan taken to the okiya as an exchange for money has served the okiya as a slave. As the years gone by, she has strived to be more than a slave and eventually became a geisha herself. Sayuri rebelled against the principles of being a Geisha by falling in love. Hatsumomo, Sayuri’s mortal nemesis says ‘Why Sayuri…look what I found. You’ve been hiding your love for a long time…the sacrifice every geisha must make.’ After Hatsumomo found a stash of the Chairman’s personal belongings. This suggests that Sayuri has ignored the main rule of being a Geisha. ‘Memoir’s of a Geisha’ illustrates rebellion in a much more subtle way unlike the other texts.
In the film V for Vendetta Rebellion is shown in the most dramatic way, change and vengeance. V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian version of Britain. The government in control of Britain is called Nosefire. Nosefire appears to be a very corrupt government taking advantage of the people’s trust in them. Evey Hammond shows her rebellion through change. V has tortured Evey until she learnt to let go of her fears and free herself from the confines society and the government places on her. V felt that torturing Evey would eventually gain her the immunity and strength to surpass her fears and society’s expectations of her. Evey was freed by V when she was asked about V’s whereabouts and she responds with ‘I’d rather die.’
This suggests that Evey had finally been transformed into a different person who would rather take on death than submit to the governments orders. Evey was crossed at V at first when she found that V was the person behind her torture. Until, one day Evey met one of her friend in the market and she tells V ‘She looked me right in the eye and didn’t recognise me. I guess whatever you did to me worked better than I’d even imagined.’ This illustrates Evey’s change being so intense that people don’t even recognise her anymore. This then allows Evey to be confident about rebelling against Nosefire and so she helps V carry out his plans to destroy the Parliament and Big Ben tower as a symbol of Nosefire’s fall. Evey’s rebellion was brought upon V’s vengeance to the Nosefire party who has been manipulating the citizens of Britain and brainwashing them into believing that they are there to aid the people’s needs when really they are just a group of people greedy for power.
The four texts show a wide range of responses regarding the rebellion of the main characters. In the case of The Hunger Games, rebellion seems to be inevitable as it is the only way the people of the districts could survive. For Katniss it was either she rebels, or she dies starving or being slaughtered in the games. ‘V for Vendetta’ illustrates how rebellion is living inside every one of us but it takes courage to unleash it. ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ shows how woman are disregarded and being objectified in the society yet women are still able to fight back even in the simplest way such as love and owning your own self and body.
How do the authorities show their control?
In all four texts, the authorities have a wide range of tactics to show their control over the society. This includes stripping of identity and rights, media, religion, sexuality and an offer of both hope and fear to those living below the authorities. Some gained control through mass destruction, some gained through conspiracies and some are already in power due to tradition.
In the novel The Handmaid’s Tale Gilead shows control over the women by taking away the rights of women to their own body. Offred being a Handmaid means she is to bear a child whether she likes it or not for the commanders. Offred’s identity has also been stripped off her as she has lost her real name and goes by the name ‘Offred’ meaning ‘of’ ‘Fred’ as the commander’s name is Fred. Offred expresses her sorrows of this matter as she reminisces on her thoughts about her body before Gilead, she says ‘I used to think of my body as an instrument of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will…Now the flesh arranges itself differently.’ This suggests the contrast between the ways Offred used to think about her own body to the way she thinks about it now due to Gilead’s control. Offred thought of her body as an extension of herself; now her body is only important because of what it can do, bear children for the Republic of Gilead and nothing else.
In the novel The Hunger Games control was shown by the authorities through offering the people a slight sense of hope in exchange for the people’s fear against the Capitol. The Capitol uses the hunger games itself to remind the districts of how powerless they are compared to the Capitol. The hunger games began after the districts had an uprising against the capitol. The rules of the game are simple, ‘in punishment for the uprising: each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy to participate…they will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena…the competitors must fight to the death.’
This suggests the horrors in which the people of the districts must go through, therefore the people of the districts fear the Capitol as they have ultimate control of their lives. ‘all year, the Capitol will show the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of us battle starvation.’ this illustrates hope for the contestants which will motivate them to participate in the hunger games in order to win those prizes and ‘honour’. By doing this the people of the districts have no choice but to live under the control of the Capitol as they are being brainwashed to believe that the purpose of the hungers games it to reward those who survive but really it is just a painful reminder of how much the Capitol controls the lives of the district people.
In the novel Memoirs of a Geisha It is traditional for the ‘Mother’ to have total control of the Geisha’s earnings, social life, body and everything else. Sayuri is has been living in the same okiya since she was a child, except she started off as a slave. She eventually grew up and worked towards being a Geisha herself. Mother, the owner of the okiya shows her control over Sayuri by taking her right to love away from her, although it is not Mother’s complete will do this, she is in charge of making sure that a Geisha must keep to what tradition has placed them on. ‘A Geisha is not to want. It is not for a Geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world.’ This quote said by Sayuri suggest that being a Geisha meant you are purely a means of entertainment and nothing else. Therefore to fall in love is just going to interfere with your purpose in life. Another way in which control is shown to the Geishas is by getting them to wear elaborate clothing, shoes, jewellery and very thick make up.
These things make the Geisha very uncomfortable and no longer themselves as they are being hidden by the layers of clothing and make up. Sayuri says ‘I became aware of all the magnificent silk wrapped around my body, and had the feeling I might drown in beauty, and had the feeling of beauty itself struck me as a kind of painful melancholy.’ This suggest that all the things she must wear to prepare herself for a night of entertainment has made her feel overwhelmed and lonely at the same time because she does not feel like herself anymore. Though control in ‘The Memoirs of a Geisha’ is quite subtle and not as violent as the rest, for a woman being beautiful is one of the keys to make them happy and feel good about them. In the novel Sayuri describes her beauty as being too much for her to handle which shows how too much beauty that you can’t control affects the way you perceive yourself.
In the film V for Vendetta Nosefire take control over the society by the use of media. The media is the main means for Nosefire to communicate and brainwash the citizens of England. BTN (British Television Network) is Britain’s source of national news. A day after V had destroyed the ‘Old Bailey’ building, the news writers say behind the scenes, ‘You think people will buy this?’ ‘Why not, this is BTN, our job is to report the news not fabricate it. That’s the government’s job’ this dialogue suggests that even the people who are working under BTN know that the news they deliver to the citizens are false. Another example of the media being used as a weapon of control is when V was avenging what had happened to the people tortured at Larkhill; he killed those who were involved. His first target was Lewis Prothero, V brutally killed him in his bathroom at BTN but when the news about his death was reported, the news anchor that his death was caused by a ‘heart failure’ the media’s use of sugar-coating the news constantly is a way to keep the citizen’s trust in Nosefire and let the citizens know that Nosefire has everything under control.
Pun intended. Another way in which Nosefire keeps control over the society is through offering the idea of hope to the citizens. Nosefire created a secret propaganda where in the generated a virus that caused thousands of people to die. To create this deadly virus, they used the ‘undesirables’ (gays, Muslims, black people) as an experiment. After torturing these people and making sure they are sick enough, they used their bloods to contaminate a school and a water treatment plant. Rochwood, a man involved in the Larkhill conspiracy unveiled the truth behind the mass crisis. ‘Imagine a virus, the most terrifying virus of all, and then imagine that you and you alone are the cure. If your ultimate goal is power; how best to use such weapon.’ This statement illustrates that Nosefire spread the virus intentionally to have the citizens fear for their lives and then came the cure that Nosefire itself generated as well in order to give hope to the citizens and in return gain votes which was in fact effective as Adam Sutler was elected High Chancellor.
The four texts show various ways in which the authorities have shown their control. All four texts illustrates how much people who are greedy for power are willing to go through extensive measures to achieve their goals such as how control is perceived in V for Vendetta and The Hunger Games. The novels The Handmaid’s Tale and Memoirs of a Geisha shows control in a much more demeaning manner. In these texts the fact that they are women contributes to why they are being controlled. The author’s purpose in illustrating how the authorities manifest their control is an effective way to show that control comes in different forms.
How does the lives of the characters compare to our lives today?
In all four texts, some aspects of the character’s lives relate to ours of today whether it may be in similarities or differences. The author’s purpose of creating some kind of relation from the texts to the readers/viewers in a dystopian setting is to emphasize on the fact that most issues that we face today are so alike or different from the characters that we may either end up in their position or it may serve as a warning that we should give importance to what we have today so we don’t end up like the characters in the texts. These issues include; poverty, freedom to love, education and sexuality.
In The Handmaid’s Tale the people of Gilead were able to experience normal life like ours before The Republic of Gilead was founded. Women in Gilead were allowed to educate themselves but when Gilead rose to power; education for women was completely diminished. Offred describes her frustration about Gilead’s restrictions when she says ‘Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden.’ This statement suggests that that the simplest form of education such as reading and writing was strictly forbidden which symbolizes how much education was not an option for the women of Gilead.
Gilead’s attempt to keep the women illiterate is also a way of controlling them because Gliead thinks that by doing this women would be dumb enough to settle with whatever Gilead throws at them, this was not the case for Offred as she brushes off the rules of Gilead against education when she plays a game of scrabble with the Commander. Today we have the freedom to go to school and have a proper education. Although, most of us do not give importance to our right to have an education instead we result to dropping out and not taking school seriously. Atwood’s purpose of adding this aspect in the novel is a reminder and also a warning that women will always be a target for oppression and that we must not take our freedom for granted and always view it as temporary. We must also not stay complacent because our future may end up looking like Offred’s where knowledge will be the only thing we can own.
In the film V for Vendetta sexuality was a very dangerous subject as homosexuals served as the main enemy of Nosefire. An example of homosexuality being strictly forbidden in the film is when Gordon Dietrich, a TV personality showed Evey a hidden sanctum in his house containing prohibited items su8ch as important artefacts, Quran, other religious items that are not in branches of Christianity and most shocking of all, homoerotic photographs. Dietrich reveals that he is actually gay but he is scared of losing his job and eventually getting executed if caught by the government. He says, ‘The truth is after so many years, you wear a mask for so long that you forget who you were beneath it.’
This illustrates that because of the government’s expectations of Dietrich to be a straight man, he is forced to hide his true self. Since he has been doing this for a very long time, he is now used to it and just conforms to the government’s rules. Instead, he locks a part of himself together with other forbidden things in his sanctum. Today, although most homosexuals are accepted by society, some are still being judged by this or being forced to conceal their sexuality due to bullying and discrimination. Study shows that as of the year 2000, 30%-40% of suicides are committed by homosexuals. This suggests that like Dietrich, homosexuals of our time are still affected by society’s judgements and are still not allowed to profess their love publicly (marriage). This leaves them either very unhappy like Dietrich or even suicidal like the 30-40% of people that have died.
In the novel Memoir’s of a Geisha, The difference between our lives and Sayuri’s is that she is not allowed to love who she wants unlike us who are free to be with anyone we please. The freedom to love is something very common in our lives nowadays. Our virginity is ours to lose when we want and usually given up for love and not for a price. In the novel, Sayuri’s mizuage (virginity) is something only wealthy men could afford. Usually the money earned from the bidding of a geisha’s virginity goes to the okiya as a payback for training the woman to be a geisha. In one incident, Sayuri is being accused of giving up her virginity to the Mameha’s Baron but in reality, he tried to sexually abuse Sayuri. This was all cleared up when the Baron joined the bidding for her virginity. Mameha tells Sayuri that she believes her because ‘No man would ever bid so much for a thing he had already taken.’ This quote suggests that Sayuri’s mizuage was only regarded as a ‘thing’ which shows the lack of value they give into it. The author’s purpose of including this aspect in the novel is to emphasize on the non-material things we own as women. Also, to show how even non-material things such as a woman’s virginity is still not completely owned by every woman therefore the freedom we have now to control our sexual life is a privilege compared to Sayuri’s.
In the novel The Hunger Games Poverty is one of the main issues the districts go through, this is the same for our lives today except it is spread all over the world. The gap between the rich and the poor in Panem is quite significant, much like what we face in the present time. The people who live in the Capitol have feasts and elaborately prepared dishes while the poor districts are lucky to even have one meal in a day. When Katniss first arrived at the Capitol, they were greeted by a massive feast. She says ‘I’m stuffing myself because I’ve never had food like this, so good and so much.’ And ‘The pair last year were two kids from the seam who’d never not one day of their lives, had enough to eat.’
This illustrates how common starvation is for the districts. Today parts of the world experience famine just like in the districts. Also, the rich people of our time enjoy more than they need which results to one of the deadly sins, gluttony. Although, unlike in Panem the rich people do not fully contribute into why countries like Africa face famine. ‘In July 2011, a severe drought in Eastern Africa has caused thousands to die.’ This shows that another main cause of famine in our time is caused by our ever changing climate. The author’s purpose in including poverty as a key issue in the novel is to generate a relationship between the extreme poverty that the districts encounter and the poverty that we encounter in reality. Thus might create some sort of awakening that will allow people of today to take care of our nature and learn to share our resources to those in need unlike the greedy people who live in the Capitol who can bear going through life while the rest of their country starves to death.
All four texts show a close relation between the way of life in the texts and our lives in the present time. The similarities and differences we have from the texts are a way of reminding us of what good we have in our lives today compared to the characters in the texts. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale and Memoirs of a Geisha show that what we have as women should be treated as very delicate gifts because one day we may turn out like Offred and Sayuri. With The Hunger Games, the close comparison between hunger in the districts and our world must serve as a wakeup call to those who are very wealthy to share their blessings to those who are in need. V for Vendetta shows us that Homosexuality is nothing to laugh about and is a very concerning subject as it one of the leading causes why people become depressed and suicidal. These aspects are ways of the authors to dig in to our minds as we view the texts and hopefully have an effect in our lives today so that we never end up in the position of the characters.
Overall, the texts I have studied offer a broad range of insights regarding the theme of control, submission and rebellion. These texts show
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