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The Handmaid’s Tale and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? draw on different narrative techniques to establish our relationship to their protagonists. Margaret Atwood allows the reader to share the thoughts of the main character, while Philip K. Dick makes the reader explore the mysteries behind the story. Atwood’s style works because she can directly show her readers what she wants. Dick’s opposing style works for him because he can present paradoxes and mysteries and let the reader form the conclusion. Both of these styles are skillfully utilized to create complex stories without losing the reader along the way.
Both of these works establish relationships between the reader and the protagonist. In Atwood’s, the reader feels empathy and sympathy for the main character, Offred. Dick’s story is less clear-cut. While the initial reaction is usually empathy and sympathy for the human Deckard, further study often leads to the controversy that Deckard may truly be an android. The goals of the authors differ greatly, and so do their narration styles. But they are both effective in getting across the author’s intentions.
Atwood needs to make the reader relate to the main character, to get inside the thoughts and feelings. So she uses certain style, for instance, to make the reader relate more to the character, she would have phrased that sentence: I need to make you relate to Offred, to get inside her head, and understand her thoughts and feelings. This sort of personal narrative of the thought process is the style of The Handmaid’s Tale. You learn Offred’s motivations and they are so perfectly articulated that you begin to yearn for the same things she does, and to despise the same things she does. This kind of personal relationship is necessary for the setting of the story. The best way to explain this future society and it’s rules and to make the reader truly have an emotional response to it, is to put the reader right into that society and let them feel what it’s like.
This is the way Atwood gets across her feelings about the future world that Offred lives in. She forms a close relationship with the reader and the character, and then shows the reader Offred’s feelings about different aspects of the world. This is not to say that everyone reading the book will get the exact same thing from it.
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Phil Dick’s story is interpreted in even more varying ways. The main concept of the entire novel changes depending on the reader. Arguments can be made that the main character Deckard is either a human or an android, the two opposing sides in the central conflict of the story. If he is a human, his thoughts and feelings can be related to very similar to the relationship with Offred in the other story. However, if he turns out to be an android, he is missing the one single thing that ends up defining the human race: compassion. This would mean he is a cold hearted robot killer, and then still the reader is presented with two choices, denounce that difference as bad, or question the basis for what we consider to be human.
This brings up Dick’s intentions in the story. Unlike Atwood, he wants to present readers with his future society and let them question and explore and come to their own conclusions. They are presented with the emotions of many of the characters, but not in a way that forms such a close direct relationship between the reader and the main character. To force the reader to make these decisions and consider these things, Dick utilizes many paradoxes and open ended visuals. While Atwood paints the picture, and not only shows but narrates Offred’s feelings about it, Dick paints the picture and hides parts of it from view to make you wonder and speculate.
To accomplish this goal, Dick writes in a certain style, just as Atwood did. Above, when explaining the controversy over whether Deckard was human or android, the two sides were merely presented. Without a definitive answer, you are left to ponder. This is exactly the style used by Dick to create that exact same response of wonder and intrigue. This is not saying that Dick doesn’t have a point or a theme, quite the opposite. The points and themes to the novel are extremely complex, and a mere confrontation of them would lead instantly to rejection. The only way to get someone to consider such drastically different ideas is to gradually allow them to stumble upon the ideas on their own.
Dick’s points of emphasis are more subtly revealed, and this gives a better chance for them to be accepted readers. He needs to do this because of the shock factor and the sense of mystery that he strives to create. He must have the reader accept and begin to think of the situations presented and not just reject them at face value. This is a different strategy from Atwood. She just throws out the imagery right there in front of you and sees what you do about it. If you accept it and identify with the character, or you reject the character but oppose her, either way you have formed a relationship with the protagonist of the story and are intrigued to see how it ends.
Now in typical Phil Dick style, without giving away what I think any of those intriguing concepts are, I will leave you to ponder. By doing that, you will completely understand the ideas and concepts the way the Dick intended, by falling upon them yourself not being told or shown. The concepts presented here must be gradually realized, not told all at once. They must be gently displayed. And of course by giving you my feelings on the subject, and in fact analyzing them, I am taking a page from Margaret Atwood’s book of tricks and making you relate by being inside the character’s head. In this case I am a character, but the point has been made.