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The Handmaid’s Tale and The Giver

2009 March 22
by ZY

One of my absolute favorite books from childhood is The Giver by Lois Lowry. Does anyone else see any connections between The Giver and The Handmaid’s Tale?

The society in The Giver appears to be utopian at first, but then gradually appears to be more and more dystopian. Each individual is assigned a job, husbands are matched with wives and only allowed 2 children per family unit: one boy and one girl, to keep the genders even. And the children are produced by girls designated to be “birthmothers” and family units have to “apply” for children. In the society, all emotions are suppressed. Beginning at puberty, everyone takes a pill to suppress any feelings of love or sexuality, called “stirrings”. Essentially, the society strives for “sameness,” which is absent of all violence, sadness, prejudice etc… and consequently, there are no such things as color or music or joy, as well. The main character is given the role as “the giver” who stores all the memories and emotions of the time before “sameness.” In this society, there is also minimal technology- no televisions or radio- except for 2 way microphone/speaker systems for announcements, and surveillance. Transportation is limited to bicycles, although there’s mention of cars and airplanes mainly for the transportation of food.

Even in hypothetical fictional societies which seem to reject the mainstream uses of technology, technology is still very much present. What does that say about the necessity for technology? While people are forced into these strict roles, they themselves are becoming a form of technology (such as the birthmothers in The Giver or the handmaids in The Handmaid’s Tale).

3 Responses
  1. Melinda C. permalink
    March 23, 2009

    Oh wow, how funny… I was actually just thinking earlier about connections between The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, and our class discussions! It was also one of my favorite novels when I was younger, and I just re-read it last semester for a young adult literature project in my education class, so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind. My connection with the book was triggered by AH’s post about the technology of colors, since that is such a big part of The Giver, when Jonas (the main character) begins seeing the color red (which is obviously a significant color in Handmaid’s Tale as well).

    It’s definitely interesting to think about parallels between how technology is used in The Giver & Handmaid’s Tale. In the English majors group last week, we talked about how they chose not to use a lot of technologies in an attempt to improve their society, but that their avoidance of using many types of technology led to their society deteriorating so much in the end. In The Giver, they use their grasp on technology in order to go to Sameness, also in an attempt to improve their society… however, they regularly utilize technologies that allow them to euthanize people who do not fit in or do not contribute to the society in the correct way, to stifle sexual feelings, and to constantly monitor the entire community. And yet, the giving of memories, which seems to me the most profound “technology” in the book, is carried out through human touch… through the Giver placing his hands on Jonas’s back. The most intimate, human connection between characters in the book is the one that is kept the most secret, but also the one that allows the community to survive without carrying the weight of the past… and also the one that is, in many ways, beyond technological control (they have found a way to contain the memories, but not to completely get rid of them).

    In both books, it seems as though they use technology to move toward these highly regulated systems to keep people in line, and to supposedly benefit everyone… and both books follow the characters who end up seeking the ways that have been abandoned… and both books end on a note of uncertainty of what happens to those characters. Either they make it out or they don’t. Ahh, I feel like there is so much to analyze here, but I am too tired to go much further. Hopefully we will touch on some of these ideas in class tomorrow!

  2. Aline permalink
    March 23, 2009

    I agree! This book reminds me of the Giver and 1984. I feel like one can point out the parallels between the technology, the gaze, and the conection to utopias/dystopias. Perhaps, there should be a separate genre for these three books. Or maybe it is an emerging genre? I keep trying to classify all three, since that is what we were trying to do in class today. I believe all three have the same style or format.

  3. Natasha permalink
    March 24, 2009

    Ah, I do see the connection (and also thought The Giver was a great book). Similar ideas are present in the movie Pleasantville, with a society with rigid (gender and other) rules (eg depicts a 1950s housewife with hard-working breadwinner husband and two kids) that, like Jonas, they eventually break out of to embrace color and differentness/diversity/plurality/acceptance/etc. Melinda, interesting that Jonas first starts seeing red. I’d forgotten that. A similar thing happens in Pleasantville too, the world is originally black-and-white and then I think the first thing seen in color are red roses. Aside from the technologies of gender stereotypes, the black-and-white world itself is actually a TV show that the two main characters end up in. Hence they are within a context of TV technology as they first conform to and then reform cultural/social technologies.

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