The Quintessence of Humanity
Often in life, people take their freedoms, a gift that allows them to express their individuality, for granted. However, in the dystopian societies of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, people are reminded of just how easily their freedoms and humanity can be stripped away. Attwood and Ishiguro urge people to never lose sight of the core values that define who they are. The compelling novels chronicle the life journey of two protagonists as they fight to define their own existence and worth in life. Offred, the central character in The Handmaid’s Tale is exploited as a baby making machine, while Kathy, the leading role in Never Let Me Go, is degraded as a lifeless android in a sea of clones. From Atwood and Ishiguro’s provocative coming-of-age novels emerge two beautiful and inspiring heroines. Whether it is through their remembrance of the past, their loss of innocence, their capability to hope, or their ability to establish relationships, Offred and Kathy prove that they are every bit as human as the rest of society. Ultimately, despite the many differences in their distinct masterpieces, Atwood and Ishiguro share the same intent in their haunting portrayal of the protagonists’ dehumanizabtion—to shed light on the true essence of what it is to be human.
Humanity is defined in a person’s ability to grow and develop. The stages of growth are displayed throughout the intricate past of human beings composed of memories, experiences, and the loss of innocence. The past reminds people of their true self, encourages them to discover their identities, and provides them with hope and strength. Before the Gildean Era, Offred enjoyed the freedom to determine her own fate, and purpose in life. A life where she, as a woman, could do whatever she desired: hold jobs, read, and write. However, when the Gildean Society was established, these things became the past. The new government stripped Offred bare of everything, not even leaving her dignity intact. As Offred struggles to find her spirit and identity among the broken pieces, she clings on to the past to remind herself of who she was, is, and will be. Attwood uses vivid imagery to portray Offred as she remembers her loved ones, grasping on to her fading memories of them:
I try to hold them still behind my eyes, their faces, like pictures in an album. But they won't stay still for me, they move, there's a smile and it's gone, their features curl and bend as if the paper's burning, blackness eats them. A glimpse, a pale shimmer on the air; a glow, aurora, dance of electrons, then a face again, faces. But they fade, though I stretch out my arms towards them, they slip away from me, ghosts at daybreak. Back to wherever they are. Stay with me, I want to say. But they won't (Atwood 224).
These memories are the air in Offred’s trapped hell. They give her hope to believe that one day she will wake up from this horrific nightmare...