In both the novels “Frankenstein” and “The Handmaids Tale” (HMT), Shelley and Atwood have purposefully manipulated linguistics, narrative, themes and imagery to show impacts of science on social order. Both novels seem to show a dystopian trend in the impacts of this science –very explicitly reflected in a HMT through the society of Gilead, and more subtly shown in Frankenstein through exploration of multiple characters through different narratives.
“Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate” – states Victor Frankenstein in the opening of his narrative. Through Frankenstein’s acquiring of this “natural philosophy”, we can already make a link to a broader view of society. His early access to these books of science to which he quickly becomes obsessed with comes solely through his social class – a privilege that the creature he creates does not have the luxury of. Through knowledge comes power, and this instant hierarchy through social class is a reflection of society in the 1800s, upper classes having access to the best education and through this, separating themselves from the lower classes. Shelley reflects this through victor’s narrative voice, which is eloquently spoken and rich in figurative language – “I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead and found passage to life, aided only by one glimmering and seemingly ineffectual light” being a prime example of not only his fluency of articulation but cultural knowledge. Furthermore, the creature’s discovery of books such as “paradise lost” when observing the “lower class” family in the woods educates him not on science but rather on humanity and the human condition. The disposition of the family in the woods as opposed to that of Frankenstein can also show the negative impact of science on society (as I will go into later in the essay).
Similarly, Atwood expresses a hierarchal system through knowledge in the society of Gilead – although seemingly science and society seem to be distant. With a nuclear disaster being the cause of this dystopian society, science seems to have been replaced with religion, contrasting the forward momentum of science not only as in the novel “Frankenstein” but in the societal context of it. As opposed to Victor’s eloquent speech, the character of Offred speaks in a Dispassionate and Factual tone. Whilst science consumes Victor’s life, it plays no part in that of Offred, nor the vast majority of Gilead. Atwood’s frequent reference to women as “fruit” that are “ripe” or “rotten” simplifies any scientific aspect of the female to nothing but an object – any medical procedure being cold, clinical and rushed, “my breasts are fingered in turn, a search for ripeness, rot” showing the lack of care or explanation of medical processes to the women. The impact of science on the society of Gilead is that of ignorance, the fear of acquired knowledge leading to abortions meaning all books and non-religious education is clamped down on.