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Society Degradation: Handmaid’s Tale and Revolutionary Letters Essay

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Updated: May 19th, 2020

Strength and independence are core attributes of a self-possessed and brave person who is fully aware of his/her goals in live. However, when people are reluctant to adhere to the established mission, they prefer stay in the shadow of societal values that often contradict the moral and ethical principles of behavior. Criticism of the current society and its ecological, religious, and cultural degradation is brightly represented in Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and Diana Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters. In particular, Handmaid’s Tale is a speculative dystopian novel that narrates about the shortcomings of citizens’ strong dependence on societal norms, stereotypes, and values, as well as about their reluctance to oppose to class stratification. At the same time, it is an account on women’s vigorous fight against the established clichés that prevent women from getting equal access to all spheres of social life. Similar to Atwood’s story, Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters allows the readers to go beyond the accepted paradigms in the pursuit of the truth and independence. In book, the poetess introduces her radical view on society, freedom, and justice. She also shapes her own morale that allows her to outstrip the paradigms and find her own truth. Such a perspective approaches the notion that the search for the truth makes people strong enough to fight alone.

Loneliness makes people free from accepted norms and paradigms. At the same time, it makes them stronger in the struggle for their goals. In Handmaid’s Tale, the author introduces a militarized totalitarian state in which people are endowed with specific social functions and responsibilities. They can only receive freedom and power when they adhere to the rules established by the theocratic government. Offred, the main heroine of the novel, decides to resist this stratification and, therefore, she is constantly searching for the way to go beyond the allowed frames and gain power and independence. Offred, therefore, is alone in her fight for returning her former life, the time when she was free to decide which role and position she can take. As a reaction to her loneliness and extreme aspiration, Offred acknowledges, “If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off” (Atwood, 1986, p. 39). Offred’s attempt to create a story endows her with hope for better future and a sort of control of her own fate.

In contrast to Atwood’s speculative perspective, Di Prima’s revolutionary thoughts seek to undermine the conservative views on society that were dictated by the American Dream concept. Her Letters denounce all restrictions of individual freedom that should oppose bureaucracy, conformity, and decorum. In particular, the poetess stresses, “Left to themselves people grow their hair. Left to themselves they take off their shoes. Left to themselves, them love, sleep easily, share blankets, dope & children they are not lazy or afraid” (Di Prima, 2007, p. 11). Interpreting these lines, the author tries to outstrip the established frames and make the reader understand that deviation from conservative norms can turn them into hermits. At the same time, it will endow them with greater power and freedom to realize what determines their life paths. As an individual gains more freedom and power, he/she becomes much stronger.

Strength achieved through deviation provides people with new revolutionary views on societal development. In modern society, people have adjusted to the roles that higher classes of society assign to them. In Handmaid’s Tale, the author criticizes the emerged stratification which deprives people of individuality and identity and turns them into tools of control: “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will” (Atwood, 1987, p. 73). However, the heroine’s further realization of her strength makes her change the vision of functions and roles. Therefore, Offred declares, “I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object…which is hard and more real than I am…Inside it is a space, huge as the sky at night” (Atwood, 1987, pp. 73-74). By stating this, the protagonist identifies herself with a personality who stands apart from the arranged system. Moreover, the author rigidly opposes the system where people are deprived of equal participating in social and cultural development and where a priority is given to divine rule, but not to worship of identity, uniqueness, equality, and freedom.

Similar to Atwood, Di Prima calls for resisting the clichés and stereotypic ideology exercised in our society. Instead, the poetess criticizes the social system that dictates values, morale, and ethic causing prejudiced attitude to all other aspects of social development, including aspiration for self-expression and determination. In particular Di Prima (2007) writes, “avoid the folk…who see the blood but not the energy form they …they have a colorless tasteless power which is the perfect synthetic food” (p. 14). While addressing these thoughts, it is possible to highlight an evident confrontation between material and spiritual worlds. Therefore, release from limited patterns is the only path for social progress and development of future societies. Recognition of diversity is another strategy that should be practiced in society.

The new trends in social development and organization are confined to subjugation of people for assigning them with new responsibilities and duties. In Handmaid’s Tale, the protagonist opposes the government’s intention to distort the previously existed concept of humanity, equality and freedom that prevent people from understanding their veritable roles, duties, and responsibilities. In particular, the author notes, “How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation” (Atwood, 1986, p. 146). In this respect, the writer stresses that contexts affects people’s attitudes and behaviors by reiterating the importance of social environment throughout the novel. Hence, although the heroine lives in a morally strict society, Offred strives to release herself from the fundamentalist totalitarian regime. Slow transformation, therefore, make people forget who they are and what goals they can achieve. They are equal, but in terms of their social position in society. Therefore, the main heroine rebels against the system to prove that women are strong enough to fight for independence and self-determination.

The criticism of the social system in the United States at the end of the twentieth century is also illustrated in poetical works by Diana Di Prima. Specific attention requires the author’s deliberation on the loss of individuality and paths of self-determination: “a lack of faith is simply a lack of courage one who says ‘I wish I could believe that’ means simply that he is covered, is pleased to be spectator’” (Di Prima, 2007, p. 36). In the pursuit of the truth, people become much stronger, as compared to those who prefer to be on the safe side. Their searching, however, is not shared by the majority and, a as result, they often feel lonely and isolated. Despite this challenge, all people striving to fulfill themselves will constantly face barriers that can be surpassed as soon as they encounter their fears vis-à-vis.

The eternal confrontation between matriarchal and patriarchal structures, as well as constant struggle between male dominance and female resistance, has a potent impact on the role of women in society, which is differently represented in the books under analysis. Although both sources introduce women as lonely fighters for the truth, there are different visions on the strategies and paths they should take to overcome men’s power and control. Feminist views are radically represented in Atwood’s novel. In particular, the author focuses on women’s illustration as the lowest cast of society that is restricted in many opportunities. They are forbidden to read and their only function lies in subjugating to male authorities. Their spiritual, moral, and cultural needs are suppressed because women are described men’s property. In the novel, Atwood (1986) explains, “You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability to feel.” (p. 210). By turning themselves into militarized, theocratic tyrants, male society deprives itself of the ability to impact their lives with sense and, therefore, they have lost their freedom, just like women. Obsessed with power, they do not allow women to restore freedom and equality that would allow both classes to understand the veritable cost of life.

Criticism of inequality in Di Prima’s works is represented through understanding gender confrontation as discrimination. The poetess reveals herself as the only representative who is ready to fight for freedom and equality and oppose the prejudiced attitude to women’s role in society. In this respect, Di Prima (2007) promises, “I will not rest till men walk free & fearless on the earth…till the young women come into their own, honored & fearless birthing strong babies, loving and dancing” (p. 33). The author expresses her revolutionary approach to resisting the established frameworks and focusing on personal fulfillment. The societal ideology should restrict women to their roles housewives and mothers; rather, they should be more centered on themselves as full-fledged members of society. Di Prima’s rebellion spirit is typical of social environment of her time and, therefore, much of her ideas were quite predicting.

In conclusion, it should be stressed that social development undergoes fixed stage of transformation. The first one refers to denial of the majority’s opinion and separation from the established regime. The second stage involves full awareness of a person’s loneliness in ideas and attempts for change something. These stages are accurately described by Atwood and Di Prima, two revolutionary authors, whose literary work focuses on the analysis of social structure and its negative impact on women and minorities in general. In their stories, they strive to emphasize the strength and courage of the hermits in the search of truth. In addition, they also underline the fact that the truth itself is never supported by the dominating class. On the contrary, it should go beyond the established value and defend its right for existence. The heroine of Handmaid’s Tale proves that struggle for self-determination is, first of all, the struggle with the themselves. She needs to stay alone to understand what values are worth fighting for.


Atwood, M. (1986). The Handmaid’s Take. US: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Di Prima, D. (2007). Revolutionary Letters. US: Last Gasp.

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