In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, central ideas are shared with Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger. In her novel, Atwood depicts a totalitarian society in what was the United States, where women are property of the state and their sole purpose is to procreate.
While their plot, characters, and messages are different, both The Handmaid’s tale and The Stranger illustrate individuals who are given the illusion of autonomy when in reality they have none. Atwood illustrates this through the main character, Offred, stripped of her own name, who, throughout the novel, was given opportunities of normalcy in her secret meetings with the Commander, visits to the brothel, and relations with Nick. While these midnight rendezvous feel like a breath of fresh air to Offred, it is simply a step up from her normal oppression. In the authority allowing her to “rebel” in small, controlled manners subconsciously discourages Offred from going entirely against the system.
This false autonomy is similarly present in the Stranger in the characters’ mirage of distractions that bring meaning to their lives, such as family, religion, and love. Characters are under the impression that they have total control over their lives and their sources of meaning, but it becomes completely absolved in Mersault’s narration. While they have the freedom to choose, for the most part, what they spend their time doing, they have no choice or say in the inevitable end of their lives.