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If we are to view fairytales as presenting an ideal as they do in Lolita and American cinema, then it can also be argued that this imposition of fairytale elements and regalia is the imposition of an ideal by the regime. For example, the regime presents the feminist ideal that women are free from the sexualised standards set by magazines and industry, something striven for even by Offred’s overtly feminist mother (‘[the magazine] had a pretty woman on it, with no clothes on” / “Here, she said to me toss it in[to the fire], quick’). The regime soon rid of all but a few magazines, the impetus for which, the Commander tells, is, ‘they [women] were always complaining. Remember the ads in the Personal columns, Bright attractive woman, thirty-five… This way they all get a man, nobody’s left out’. Though this could be seen as Atwood making a statement to highlight the liberty women of the West had in the ‘80s, and that the contemporary wave of feminism was perhaps somewhat superfluous, it seems probable, given Atwood’s strong feminist sentiments, that she used the regime as a satire of those against women’s rights. The 1980s saw a return of conservatism to the Western world and a frequent message was sustained that longed for a return to ‘traditional values’. The regime, with its extreme devout religious rituals (though many are warped) and low regard for women, can be viewed as a satire of such politics, and presents its own insidious oppression under the guise of an ideal. Thus, the completely non-revealing fairytale outfit can be seen as a ‘parody’ of the liberation of women from sexualisation and fetishism. Where Nabokov highlights the incompatibility of reality and fantasy, Atwood seeks show the manipulation of fantasy to fit a particular version of reality. In doing so, she draws attention to how our fantasies are, like reality, pliable.
Lolita and The Handmaid’s Tale present to us, on the one hand, the importance of empathy, to allow ourselves to tap into, explore and understand the realities of others, but on the other, show the danger of allowing our realities to not only become distorted by other portrayals of reality but also of fantasies. The novels show the nature of reality to be something with the capacity for extrinsic distortion and highlight our own susceptibility to be drawn into following paths of ideals, which do not necessarily reconcile with objective facts.
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