Throughout both ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘1984’ oppression and despondence are clear within the texts. The book was written in 1948, during the Franco and Mao regime and after the Nazi government, therefore giving us an indication of Orwell’s intentions within his text, as a reaction to these regimes and is an attempt to draw comparisons to these states. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ tackles the same issue, whilst also taking a more social perspective as there are more realistic elements of gang culture and violence in this society, focusing on the necessity for commitment amongst the people. It is fair to say both writers create a drastic government highlights the problems within society, constructing an ideology of power and manipulation. The society’s lack of freedom, excessive power of the governments within both novels and the manipulation within the society, all show the intentions by both authors to belittle these types of governments, whilst also emphasising contemporary concerns within society like gang violence, rape and drugs.

‘Big Brother’ symbolises control within 1984, the fact Winston, our narrator and protagonist, observes the words ‘Big Brother is watching you’ wherever he goes suggests that there is no freedom of movement or speech. The society is led to believe that Big Brother is the face and leader of the party. It is never clear what the life of the hierarchy is like, or who truly rules Oceania, but what is certain is that they have reconditioned and oppressed the people. Believing that they are in a place where they are being looked after and in a state whereby they put the wellbeing of the people first. An example where we can see that the state oppresses and as a result indoctrinates is through the control they exercise over the youth, ‘the songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking…the worship of Big Brother- it was all sort of glorious to them’. The manner in which Winston describes the control of children, reminds the readers of the Hitler youth, they too did similar activities and idolised Hitler, like the youth in ‘1984’ worship ‘Big Brother’. Therefore as Hitler symbolised control and power as Führer, ‘Big Brother’ symbolises a similar concept whereby ‘Big Brother’ is unchallengeable.

Within ‘1984’ the party in control are able to recondition people’s memories so as to manipulate the truth. This in turn makes it impossible for the people to challenge the state. The concept of ‘doublethink’ allows for the state to create contrary beliefs within a person. In addition to this the fear instilled in the citizens contributes to the party’s overwhelming control. The ‘thought police’ are used to monitor and act on this, and when Winston attempts to reconnect with the past and remember his relationship with Julia. In one instance Winston purchases a paperweight in the antiques shop which he considers beautiful and resembles his hopes in the world, as well as a metaphor for his memories. Smith purchases the glass paperweight when he and Julia just commenced their affair with each other. However as the thought police detain Winston the glass paperweight smashes on the floor signifying the end of his hope and his relationship with Julia, and thus shows the allegorical use of the paperweight as it resembles oppression. ‘Someone had picked up the glass paperweight from the table and smashed it to pieces’ in this instance the ‘someone’ is referring to the ‘thoughtpolice’ and this particular moment symbolises the states control over peoples, in this case Winston’s, fate.  Furthermore his memory will inevitably be reconditioned and so shows the ruthless nature of the government.

The slogan of the party of ‘Oceania’ is ‘War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’ this represents the cyclical nature of control over the citizens, and as a result debilitating the people’s ability to think for themselves. The party slogan leads into the idea of ‘doublethink’, because it is weakening the mind, which allows for it to decay and believe whatever the party tells them. This essentially means that the slogan proves a symbol of the citizen’s confinement within ‘Oceania’. Furthermore Winston’s diary is a strong representation of rebellion towards an oppressive society, although it is a crime to even question the state. ‘Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.’ Orwell’s use of language here suggests he is warning someone to not be complacent in this type of society. Even though a diary should be personal he may be considering leaving it for someone else to read. This act of criminality indirectly challenges the state and underlines Winston as a sign of rebellion against the party.

Perhaps the most explicit tool of oppression within the text is the use of ‘telescreens’ this form of technology allows the party to monitor and observe, whilst also emphasising their propaganda. As a result the ‘telescreens’ symbolise the totalitarian nature of the government of ‘Oceania’ and show how they have the ability to exploit society. ‘The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely’. The author’s intent here is that the ability to dim the ‘telescreens’ but not completely shut it off, shows that although it is possible to temporarily withstand the state, there is no way of escaping from the government. Orwell does this to demonstrate the oppressive nature of such political setups pre ‘1984’. For example Nazi Germany thrived on having the ability of knowing who challenged their ideology and monitor those who posed a threat to the political regime. Similarly with Stalin, his paranoia led him to be so obsessive with detecting potential threats to his government. ‘telescreens’ show how important it is for a totalitarian government to be able to influence a society, and it would be valid to say represent many forms in which a party of this nature can maintain complete control.

Burgess creates a similar hierarchy within ‘A Clockwork Orange’ the government look to supress individuals in order to stabilise the state, so as to guarantee its own survival. The Russian influence within the text is reflective of Stalin’s regime, a catalyst for publishing the novel, showing the governments leadership. The book written in 1962 was a result of his trip to Leningrad a year previous and confirms to the readers that Russia’s political state was a contributing factor towards the novel. Propaganda, censorships and introducing a morally questionable scientific method to ‘reform’ criminals, are all ways in which this specific government have attempted to shape their idea of a perfect society. Furthermore adding to the idea of a ‘Utopian Society’ which is an ideally perfect place socially and politically, but in reality Burgess explores the flaws and corruption of  societies of this nature. “The point is,” this Minister of the Inferior was saying real gromky, “that it works.” epitomising the theme of power in the story, as it embodies the pragmatic attitude of the government stating that as long as oppression works then nothing else matters. Furthermore of the incorrect title as the ministers correct title is of the ‘interior’ reflects a lack of respect and ultimately a broken society.

Oppression is explicitly present in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, when Alex had to undergo a Reclamation Treatment, a metaphor to perhaps show forced modification in the behaviour of individuals, in this case Alex loses his violent nature. However this makes him defenceless makes him defenceless within society, which raises what Burgess’ intentions could have been, he is questioning the role of the state. The society is evidently broken and the fact the government has to call upon such measures suggests they have lost control of the people. The society acts pragmatically to supposedly solve issues of an already broken state. Burgess uses the ‘reclamation treatment’ as Orwell uses the ‘thoughtpolice’ to symbolise the ruthless nature of the state and makes it evident that they clearly do not have any empathy for their people. Burgess raises the motif of oppression as well as the one of power, illustrating how society would have more freewill, suggesting to the reader that without these features the government represents, the society would be one of freewill and freedom of choice.

Burgess uses milk to symbolise the immature and unresponsive nature of the youths who usually drink at the ‘Korova Bar’. Milk represents nourishment for infants, and the fact that the milk is laced with drugs, shows that this government are feeding their young population with corrupt and irresponsible behaviour. With this carries a huge irony as we would normally associate milk with a healthy lifestyle, however in this case the opaque nature of the milk would seem to drive Burgess to acquire milk as leading those who drink it down the wrong path. ‘The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultraviolence’. In this way our narrator highlights both the lacing of drugs and the use of violence. Burgess uses this to depict how something so vital to life has been corrupted by the government.

The language Burgess creates for the society seems an attempt to ‘dumb down’ civilization within the state. ‘Nadsat’ a merge between cockney rhyming slang and Russian shows the ignorance of such a society, the guileless language symbolises the destruction of communication creating a less intelligent society who cannot think independently. This creates a more basic society whereby expression and learning is wiped away from the population. If they cannot think as an individual then the state will always have complete control over everyone and ‘Nadsat’ allows for exactly that in favour of the government. The neologisms are extremely evident, for example cigarettes are called ‘cancer’ [1]. Burgess in turn has created a society where the language fits well with the atmosphere within the society, not only is society broken, but also the dialect used by the citizens.

Alex is an example of a victim within such a broken state, this is seen through his violent nature. Our protagonist, though seemingly a manifestation of evil, is left unaided in civilization. His violent nature seems to give him a sense of identity amongst such a society ‘and, my brothers, it was real satisfaction to me to waltz left two three, right two three-and carve the left cheeky and the right cheeky’; Alex describes this act as one of art and beauty, showing Alex’s extreme nature, that he is comparing violence to a dance such as the ‘waltz’. In fact Alex’s evil ways are a symbol of the government’s wrong doing. However Burgess is underline that no matter how morally corrupt a human being is, no one deserves to have the freedom of self-rule taken away from them. In this case Alex is the subject of a behaviourist approach. He is an experiment to judge whether the state can control human behaviour. Alex once through the process of conditioning, is still aware of what violence is, but he is physically unable to carry out his desires. However in the final chapter he comes to a realisation that he acted wrongly. Therefore it is questionable whether Burgess intended to demonstrate that the party in charge were in the wrong for tampering with individual’s mind-set or that indeed such apparatus is necessary to control a corrupt society. Therefore the ethics and principals of teaching within the state have to be questioned.

The effects of oppression in both novels are essentially presented through the downfalls of both Alex and Winston. They both rebel, Winston’s actions and writing of his diary is an act of defiance against the state ‘He had given a quick glance up and down the street and then had slipped inside and bought the book for two dollars fifty.’ Winston here enters a shop in the prole district which he is forbidden to go. Alex’s violence is a way for him to speak out and be his own person within such a state. This, in itself is an act of defiance against the government. Furthermore, both characters are reconditioned; Winston is essentially born again and has a fresh start within ‘Oceania’, whilst Alex undergoes an experimental treatment whereby he is socially reconditioned and unlike Winston is still aware of the past. Both Orwell and Burgess are ethically challenging such states and are questioning the nature of  controlling governments.

To conclude it is evident that in both novels the oppressive nature of both parties in power, dictate the direction of the texts and allow for symbols to influence how the reader interprets the text. It is valid to say that both Winston and Alex are victims of society; both protagonists have their individualism crushed by society. Above all the symbols present are integrated within the text to create a society whereby oppression and power takes precedence. Both Orwell and Burgess attempt to challenge a society whereby totalitarian control is used by the respective states. This is achieved essentially through the allegories that portray a lack of freedom and the use of excessive power.



A clockwork Orange, Burgess, Anthony, 1962, William Heinemann

1984, Orwell, George, 1949, Secker and Warburg




Atwood’s use of symbolism within the novel is shown through the expression of the urge for freedom amongst women, whilst still demonstrating the themes of power and manipulation. This allows for the exploration of discrimination towards female characters, thus supporting feminist ideology of striving for gender equality within our contemporary society. Offred unlike the other handmaids is aware that Gilead has full control over its people and is explicit throughout the novel.

Offred, our narrator, shares her story as a handmaid within the Gilead state. There is a contrast of both submitting through fear, whilst showing signs of rebellion and this is evident through her flashbacks and her thoughts towards the state. Power is portrayed through the use of language, the fact that Gilead can sustain control over women’s names shows that they maintain control over their bodies and essentially their identities, which is evident through the commander’s control over their handmaids. Offred reminds us that she has no name and that the state has complete control over her, it is only later in the book we are told the narrators name is Offred ‘My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden’, even when her name is mentioned she does not delay in disregarding it, showing that she wants to keep her past a secret, it is precious to her and allows her to have some hope. The dystopian genre shows the insignificance of woman; their roles in society are amplified, by creating the roles of handmaids, which shows how the state has control over these women. Offred reminds the readers that the handmaids are confined to the handmaid centre and furthermore the power possessed by Gilead is able to take away the freedom from women, in reference to seeing many bodies hanged she describes to us what Aunt Lidia states, ‘This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will’. In contrast we see how men are sorted hierarchically by their military ranks, but women are just defined by their gender roles as wives, Martha’s or handmaids, taking any sense of identity away from them.


When she first enters the Commander’s house, Offred notices one particular way in which the state are able to control her actions ‘I know why there is no glass….It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.’ This shows that the handmaids have no free will, and do not even have the option to commit suicide. The language present suggests that the state want to control not only people physically, but in all aspects of their lives, including their thoughts. Once the state is able to control their minds, they will therefore possess ultimate authority over society.


Aunt Lydia, who leads the teachings in the handmaid centre, argues about freedom with Offred, confirming to the protagonist that women in society are completely indoctrinated, ‘There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia…Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.’ It has been made clear by Atwood however, that this is not a ‘feminist dystopia’, because the system is still run in a very traditional pyramid structure with there being both powerful men, in commanders, and powerful women, in the wives.[1] However it is hard to disagree with the fact that the novel presents the readers with a clear differentiation in gender roles, the women are controlled by the hierarchy in Gilead which is completely dominated by the patriarchy.

Feminism within The Handmaids Tale can be argued to challenge a lack of gender equality within our society. Atwood has created a society whereby the little power and respect women have are being amplified. Atwood segregates the handmaids by making them dress the same and live in the same quarters. Even their bodies are subject to control. Lack of power amongst the handmaids is symbolic of a contemporary problem within today’s society, where women are seen to be less powerful than men. The irony in this however is that without the handmaids, the system would collapse as it would mean there would not be a reproduction of offspring. However in this novel, even those women who hold power, such as the wives, have a degree of restriction in their lives, due to the fact that they are unable to independently create their own family. Perhaps this was done by Atwood to remind us that women are still restricted in society. ‘My nakedness is strange to me already. Did I really wear bathing suits…I did without thought, among men without caring that my legs, arms, my thighs and back were on display’.  Her dwelling on the past in this instance shows the loss of control over her body, perhaps she now appreciates what she could do previously. The relationship between herself and Nick show that there is potential to break away from such a society, but the ambiguous ending suggests that perhaps Offred is never happy, which in turn would support Atwood’s message of the restrictions women face.

Furthermore manipulation as a theme is explicit through the Gilead states control over the handmaids and how they can manipulate a society so as to take advantage of women who are fertile. The handmaids are made to believe that they are in a privileged position. Offred is starting to abide by the Gilead attitude towards women whilst in the red centre, and she now thinks of her body as an extension of herself, rather than an essential part of her being, this is because at the handmaid centre, teachings of how women are to behave is repetitive, their bodies are for the use of the commanders and are to be looked after by the wives ‘I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation… which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping’. Offred again dwells on the past and she suggests that she no longer has power over her body, and she also infers that she is no longer the person she once was when she suggests that she is not as real as her own thoughts. Furthermore the glowing red arguably demonstrates the loss of her innocence, not in a sexual meaning but in terms of her pure and honest thoughts being turned into what Gilead want. This not only denotes how Gilead has been able to manipulate these handmaids into their way of thinking, but now the reliability of the narrator is in question.

Offred describes the Gilead red centre as a ‘Palimpsest’ suggesting that the state had completely wiped out traditions, historical context and knowledge from their society. However due to the nature of a palimpsest where the writings are only scratched off, this could suggest that Gilead has only partially erased the old world. Therefore the system is flawed and cannot last forever, demonstrating that Offred remains free thinking, although, somewhat still in the control of the state, the fact she is able to identify this ‘palimpsest’ means she is still a free thinking women. Her relationship with Nick shows Offred’s desire to continue to have love in her life, however essentially if it was not for Nick Offred would not have been able to escape, Nick organises the escape, and this could connote that women are always reliant on men. Her thoughts and feelings represent what every woman in Gilead wants to feel and Offred turns into a symbol of rebellion, due to breaking the laws of Gilead. Atwood describes her novels as a speculative fiction rather than using its dystopian nature to describe it as a science fiction, suggesting that in her books she is not writing about the impossible, but simply employing the means of what already took place in our society, using a dystopian method. Atwood wrote this novel shortly after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher gained power; there was a conservative revival in the Western world partly powered by a strong movement of religious conservatives whom perceived the 1960s and 1970s as a “sexual revolution”. Atwood attempts to explore the reversal of women’s rights in a dystopian environment, furthermore demonstrating Atwood’s attempt to convey the state’s power over all women.

Atwood’s influence by the “sexual revolution” allows her to explore the theme of sexual violence throughout this novel. The Gilead state prevents rape from occurring by punishing those who attempt rape through allowing the handmaids to physically tear apart the accused. However though Gilead seems to attempt to supress sexual violence and rape within their society, they are actually institutionalising it, with Jezebel’s, a club which provides commanders with prostitutes. Furthermore the ceremony where the handmaid is obliged to have sex with her commander also shows how Gilead is full of contradictions within their legal code. The fact that a women has to give their body to a stranger, yet the state are able to distort this and claim this act to be one of good, which helps create families. The gaze theory by Laura Mulvey is evident within this text, therefore can be considered as a feminist text. This theory essentially suggests that women are objects, whose sole purpose is to be at the disposal of men and is clear that this is the case within Gilead and how the handmaids are used as objects rather than having their feelings considered [2].

To conclude Atwood’s use of Offred provides us with an insight into a female’s perspective on extreme oppression amongst women. She wants to be with her family, and symbolises that she is her own person, who, as much as Gilead try to manipulate her, has aspirations to be happy again. This represents the contemporary issue of women wanting equality.


[1] article exploring Atwood’s intentions and feelings towards her novel.





Margaret Atwood, The Handmaids Tale, Bodily Harm, 1985





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Book written by Margaret Atwood, mainly explores the theme of Feminism, but Marxist theory can also be applied to this piece of text. This particular book i feel shows both sides to feminism, one side is showing what happens when womens rights are taken away from them, yet the handmaids are vital in making sure the problem of low reproduction rates, showing that women are important in our society. Atwood is someone who is seen as a feminist and is evident throughout the Handmaids Tale. Marxist theory enters through the fact that society is a totalitarian theocracy, furthermore people have the right to receive a quantity of goods and services that is unequal to the quantity received by others. Also a stance taken by that of Gilead is that there are gender roles within society, similarly within Communist and Marxist theory. Atwood also delves into sexual themes and it almost came across as if women were just used as an item rather than taking into account their feelings it was only certain male characters who actually demonstrated consideration towards how female characters felt throughout the book. The aim of the Gileadean regime is on the control of sex and sexuality. They execute gays and lesbians; they destroy pornography and sexual clothing, they also kill abortion doctors and they outlaw divorce and second marriages, this underpins both Marxist theory and Feminist theory in this regime.

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