Wednesday, March 01, 2006


First of all, sorry for the long hiatus. I had an eight page paper due Monday, a six page paper due Tuesday, and a two page paper for today. Plus exams are in two weeks, so stress abounds.
Anyway, the last reading for our Humanities class was The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Discussion was...quite an experience, since the book is a dystopian novel about the evils of a radical, anti-feminist theocracy, which of course transitioned into all the chances anyone would want to rant about the radical, anti-feminist theocraticness of today's America under the evil religious right, etc etc.
The main thing that occurred to me while reading and arguing about the book is this: dystopian novels are not fair. They are powerful, meaningful, moving, and often great, but they are not fair, precisely because of this power. By which I mean to say: Illustrating the evils of an idea taken to an extreme does not necessarily invalidate the idea. It may. It may be a sign that the idea contains grains of evil that explode when the idea is fully realized. It may also simply mean that almost every idea is dangerous when taken too far.
So why did the 'unfairness' of this novel bother me more than, say, the unfairness in 1984? Well, to be fair, partially because I agree more with the religious right than I do with communism. But there are a host of other reasons. 1) Communism practically demands that it be taken to the extreme- it is bent on world domination and so forth. 2) I like 1984 more for what it says about universal human ideas than the specifics of the evils of Communism- the book is also about the human spirit, and propoganda, and who knows what else. So, actually, is The Handmaid's Tale. Just not the way that we were discussing it. Which is probably actually a reason 3) We were reading the book as opposing all religious activists, rather than actually more narrowly focused on the evils that would lead to that society, which were very specific religious beliefs, totalitarianism, etc.
But still, at the heart of any dystopian novel is going to an attack on certain ideas, and an attack that necessarily overstates itself, uses what my english teacher in ninth grade called "loaded language." (Heh heh. Great story there. Basically, I argued against her reading of the text and said that the hero of the short story was morally guilty of murder. In hindsight, I may not have been right in this opinion, but I still hold the 'loaded language' thing against her. I mean, just say I'm wrong, it won't kill me and it won't attempt to control my rhetoric. Anyway, back to the point I was making before that long and useless tirade...) And to be fair, one must read every dystopian novel with this realization, rather than convincing oneself that the evils of the philosophy are being correctly represented.


e-kvetcher said...

Communism practically demands that it be taken to the extreme- it is bent on world domination and so forth

You must mean Marxism?

Tobie said...

I suppose so. I meant, specifically, the ideology that 1984 is criticizing- the Communism of the USSR.