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It is not Nabokov, then, that wishes us to empathise with Humbert but Humbert himself. Whilst Humbert distorts reality to mist his immorality, Offred does it, as Jeanne Campbell Reesman argues, ‘in order to overcome oppressive designs imposed on human beings’. In another example of Offred commenting on her own narrative, she states that, ‘those who can believe that such stories [her own story that she’s telling] are just stories stand a better chance’ and that ‘attaching [something] to the world of fact [reality] is riskier, more hazardous’. This creates a distinction between ‘hazardous’ reality and haven-like fantasy, which offers a ‘better chance’ and is, by way of inversion, less risky. Thus, Offred distances her story from the danger of reality and instead distorts it into a fantasy world. Atwood’s suggestion could be, therefore, that to achieve a degree of survival within a climate of such oppression, one must distance themselves from - or distort the nature of - their own reality. However, the novel appears to also resonate a contrasting notion that appeals to those who do not see themselves under such
oppression as a Gileadean system. In certain parts of the novel, Atwood offers us flashbacks into Offred’s pre-Gilead life. In one such instance, Offred tells of the initial stages of the overthrow of the government, particularly the loss of her own job. The events within this passage echo past real-life events, such as ‘some other army’ overtaking the present one (showing parallels with the Bolshevik revolution of Russia) and the fact that, ‘nobody wanted to be reported, for disloyalty’, which echoes the ‘terror state’ of the Nazi regime in Germany. Offred depicts these soldiers of ‘some other army’ within a semantic field of abstractness (‘sudden apparitions, like Martians.’/ ‘There was a dreamlike quality to them’). This juxtaposition of real-life event similarities and abstract qualities could be Atwood highlighting the way in which we view regimes of the past, similar to that of Gilead, through a lens of detachment, as if they were fantasy. This is emphasised in the ‘Historical Notes’, which is set some centuries after. Offred’s personal ‘tale’ is reduced to the Professor’s ‘item’ for his ‘little chat’, which elicits laughter and applause from his audience. Just as Offred was detached from the reality of the initial stages of the Gileadean regime that echoed past events, so too is the Professor and his audience from Offred’s story. Thus, Atwood could be highlighting that such detachment from the realities of the past make societies such as Offred’s pre-Gileadean and the Professor’s ripe for repetition of the same happenings in the future. As both of these societies share striking similarities with our own, it can be argued that Atwood’s novel seeks to be unnervingly ominous and serve as a call to change our attitude towards history.
Within the two novels, there exists an allusion to fairytales, which is used as both a means of satire and to illustrate the conflict between reality and fantasy.
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