The protagonists in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Margaret Laurence’s The Fire-Dwellers are very different in character. However, both of these women lose their identity due to an outside influence. In each of the books, we see the nature of the lost identity, the circumstances which led to this lost identity, and the consequences which occurred as a result of this lost identity.
In The Handmaid’s Tale our main character, Offred, has her whole world stolen away by the government of Gilead. This new society is sexually repressed and is founded by religious extremists. Women are only used to produce children, and they have no rights at all in the new world of Gilead.
In The Fire Dwellers our main character, Stacey MacAindra, has been thrown into a life of responsibility. She has an uncommunicative husband who means well, but shows her no love, as well as four children who she feels are being ruined by her every action. She feels that life has much more to offer than the tediousness of every day routine.
The nature of Offred’s lost identity is very drastic. Before the new religious group of Gilead took over the world, she was a very normal every day woman. She did what was expected of her time and continued to do so after the take over. She had a husband and a daughter who she loved very much. In the new society in which she lives, however, love is not permitted. “ If I thought that this would happen again I would die. But this is wrong, nobody dies from lack of sex. It’s lack of love we die from. There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I could love are dead or elsewhere”(page?). **Are these words spoken by Offred? ** Offred also had the choice of free will before her civilization changed, but then slowly women began to lose all of their rights and were no longer allowed to have jobs or even to use money.
“Sorry, he said. This number is not valid.”
“That’s ridiculous, I said. It must be, I’ve got thousands in my account.”
“It’s not valid, he repeated obstinately. See that red light? Means it’s not valid,”(p.
Comparing the Rights of the Individual in Handmaid’s Tale and Invisible Man
Rights of the Individual in Handmaid’s Tale and Invisible Man
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, and Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, are two novels which use an essentially “invisible” central character to comment on the manipulative power society holds over people, destroying the individual. Offred, the protagonist of The Handmaid’s Tale, and the narrator of Invisible Man are both invisible as individuals and are manipulated by society to become a dehumanized natural resource. The authors of these two works use the protagonist to criticize society’s use of certain groups of people only as resources to reach a goal, ignoring the individuality of these people.
The very names, or lack thereof, of the main characters indicate their invisibility in the eyes of society. Offred is named after her commander; she is Fred’s possession and therefore of Fred. Her original name is never mentioned. Likewise, the name of the narrator of Invisible Man is never mentioned. When he joins the Brotherhood, he is given a new name. Both Offred and the narrator of Invisible Man see their real names as a source of self-identification, yet society refuses to use their real names.
Offred is a natural resource to Gilead because she is one of few women who still have viable ovaries. She describes the existence of the handmaids: “We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices. We are containers, it’s only the insides of our bodies that are important. What we prayed for was emptiness, so we would be worthy to be filled: with grace, with love, with self-denial, with semen and babies.” (pg. 176, 124, 251) The narrator of Invisible Man is a resource is a similar way. The Brotherhood uses him as a speaker to advance their efforts to take power over the blacks. He says”What was 1, a man or a natural resource?” (pg. 303)
Offred is seen not as an individual, but as one of a group of women who must serve the Republic of Gilead. When Offred asks the Commander for skin lotion, she says, “Our hands get very dry. For some reason I said our instead of my.” (pg. 203) Here she sees herself as one of many handmaids, as she was taught to see at the Red Center. The narrator of Invisible Man, like Offred, finds himself identifying with a group and not with himself. He says, “they usually think in terms of “we” while I have always tended to think in terms of “me.