In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood and ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro compare how the authors focus on identity through the use of their characters and their relationships. ‘The Remains of The Day’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ are two novels from opposing ends of the fictional literature spectrum. On one side we have “THT” a novel set within a dystopian future using relationships between characters to emphasise the strictness of the regime currently being operated in Gilead most fitting would the relationship between The Commander and Offred.
In a totally different end of the metaphorical literature spectrum we have “TROTD” which sets its main characters within Darlington Manor in the month of July 1956 where the novels protagonist, Stevens, the first person narrator looks back in retrospect towards the events of the early 1920’s where him and his fellow under-staff observe their employer gradually lean towards Nazism and becoming a national traitor in the crucial build up to World War II. The relationships explore within this novel are also used to enforce the hierarchy within Darlington hall. Both novels are shown to explore various themes including that of, Age, Personal interaction, Dignity (or a lack of dignity), regret loss and above all else personal identity and its effect on the individual characters identity.
In “THT” Offred’s society is set within a dystopian future whereas in “TROTD” Stevens is set within a nostalgic backdrop of rural England. This contrast of setting is ideal when comparing the main characters from the two novels. On one side we have Offred caught within a future that holds no resemblance to its former beauty and morals (we notice that various landmarks in “THT” i.e. Harvard university in Boston, Massachusetts where the dreaded ‘wall’ offers its sick service just outside the campus) where men are in charge of society using women plainly for reproductive purposes therefore being a patriarchal orientated society.
Again with Stevens we also have this male dominated hierarchal society but it’s entirely circled around a single most significant symbol, as we see that Stevens applies the same standards of greatness to the landscape of England as he does to himself. He feels that this English landscape is beautiful due to its restraint, calm, and lack of spectacle-the same qualities Stevens successfully cultivates in his own life as a butler aspiring to “greatness.” This use of setting in both novels is important as it gives ‘Stevens’ and ‘Offred’ noticeably pressuring conditions in which their relationships must triumph, blossom and most importantly evade.
“TROTD” tells the story of an elderly English butler named Stevens as he confronts disillusionment through a recalled life spent in service with his long remembered memories viewed against a backdrop of war and the rise of Fascism. “THT” Offred is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian and theocratic state that has replaced the United States of America. Because of dangerously low reproduction rates, Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving.
The Commander is the head of the household where Offred works as a Handmaid. He initiates an unorthodox relationship with Offred; He often seems a decent and well-meaning man. He almost seems a victim of Gilead, making the best of a society he opposes. The commander is another important name as it instantly adds a military structure to Gilead with the ‘Aunts’ already established as there to indoctrinate the handmaids and the ‘Angels’ as soldiers, we now can start to block characters together from the novel to associate them with the characters in “TROTD”.
In ‘TROTD’ the characters all work in a very constructed manner. This is shown through Stevens’s under butlers, housekeepers, cook’s etc. all working at the required times doing there required jobs much to the same way that “THT” features a military structured society where each mentioned character in the novel has a job to do i.e. the handmaids. This comparison between character structures is useful when determining is Stevens’s society much different to Offred’s?
The first relationship we notice that Stevens has is one with that of his employer Mr Farraday the new owner of Darlington Hall after Lord Darlington’s death, and, as such, Stevens’s new employer. Farraday is a very easygoing American gentleman, and frequently jokes around with Stevens, who does not know how to handle such “banter.” This is truly astounding considering his position as a personal servant under Farraday.
Mr Farraday and Stevens relationship is based on this idea of “banter” which provides an element of humour within the narrative, yet it is still one that ultimately demonstrates the degree to which Stevens has become an anachronism. Stevens repeatedly tells of various failed attempts at bantering, and muses over why Americans like his new employer, like to speak in such a casual and seemingly meaningless manner. By the end of the novel, Stevens decides that perhaps bantering can be a way to exhibit warmth, and he resolves to try again with renewed zeal. The fact that Stevens uses the word “bantering” instead of “joking around” or “sense of humor” in itself shows how old-fashioned and formal he is when speaking to others. This simple observation shows the reader that Steven’s relationships seem to rely entirely on his formality and possibly a little of his emotion…but definitely not much.
Offred is tricky when determining her main feelings towards her relationships with other characters as she is so personally and physically restricted that she seems worryingly oppressed by her society to prevent most forms of human interaction. Throughout the novel, Moira’s relationship with Offred epitomizes female friendship (feminist under thoughts are found in Atwood’s novel offer a strong feminist vision of dystopia that she personally has achieved through writing the novel shortly after the elections of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain ). Gilead seems to promote solidarity between women, but in fact it only produces more suspicion, hostility, and petty tyranny than it can internally cope with. The kind of relationship that Moira and Offred maintain from college onward does not exist in Gilead as it is not accepted by the regime.
In “TROTD” we instantly notice the formality in which the first person narrator Stevens speaks. This is quite clearly Ishiguro’s intention as it features predominantly throughout the novel. Usually Ishiguro writes post-colonial novels but “TROTD” is commonly branded a post-imperialist piece of literature. Ishiguro however seems to have changed his style completely as his Japanese heritage is non present within neither the plot nor the narrative of Stevens. In “THT” Atwood explores a basic “return to traditional values” society that basically highlights the nineteen eighties fears about declining birth-rates, the dangers of nuclear power, and environmental degradation. Much like “TROTD” Atwood tackles the intersection of politics – as well as sexuality -. Atwood’s novel is one of the only recent hard hitting portrayals of a totalitarian society.