Barbara Hill Rigney highlights that "oppression in all its manifestations, both physical and psychological, is Atwood's subject in 'The Handmaid's Tale'". The threat of "being transferred…to the colonies" hangs over the Handmaid's placing a psychological presence of repression in their minds. The physical sense of repression comes through the RSA of the horrific scenes of public salvaging and persecution – used as a tactic of suppression. By not revealing the crime committed, the Handmaid's are left in fear that they could be persecuted for almost any crime of any scale.
The inhumane act of the maiming of an unknown man, carried out by the handmaids is further evidence of 'self policing' subconsciously connecting them to the regime through involvement. By complying, Offred is accepting her position as a possession of the system, she does not have the desire to truly revolt as she recognizes how unrealistic it would be. Offred still however manages to retain some feeling of emotion – this is shown through her language at certain times of privacy; "feathers, flittings, grace notes, metamorphosis run wild…it's amazing what denial can do". It is the language of feeling and memory which contrasts to the repressed and muted language of the regime; the recognition of denial symbolises the lack of reality of her image in this regime.
Binary opposites compare repression within both novels; such as the opposites of Man versus God. The 'Handmaid's Tale' shows how 'man's' world had brought about a lifestyle of pollution, abortion and a common misplacement, showing how the manipulation of God's world can lead to disastrous consequences. Ironically it is the manipulation of the text of God which is used to define the new repressive state and instill its actions – religion is a stronghold for repression and it is through the use of religion as its foundations that it legitimizes coercion as both ISA's and RSA's. 'The Bible' and the words of the church are dealt with sarcastically by Dickens: Gradgrind, working in his study "proving something probably, in the main that the Good Samaritan was a bad economist" shows the conflict between God's world and the world of human capitalist structures.
It is one interpretation that Dickens was making a statement in this novel as to the nature of capitalism – while capitalism thrived; the workers were condemned to nothing more than 'hard times' – religion offered no hope. The actions of Sissy and eventually Louisa in realising the repressive nature of capitalism still has no effect on the overall system – individuality and Christian actions therefore can be considered to be worthless within this society as they cannot provoke change. The lack of RSA's within this novel clearly indicates that Dickens did not wish to deal with repression on a physical level; ideology is stronger in this novel than in 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
Karl Marx, essentially an ideologist would evaluate 'Hard Times' in a similar way to George Bernard Shaw who said the novel is a "denunciation of our entire social system". The lack of freedom within this system was the source of Marx's theory of mass revolution. The systems of repression are too strong for any alternative way out shown by Louisa's conversion to fellowship at the end of the novel. Although this could be interpreted as Dickens maintaining the social order by not revolting I believe Dickens is in fact showing how strong the social system is and that attempting to create change is unrealistic.
The novels share several fundamental similarities when showing the social and cultural forces which contribute to repression; uniforms, education, religion and names, however, ultimately they are used for different objectives. The futuristic setting of 'The Handmaid's Tale' allows for speculative interpretation of where our society is heading today and therefore gives warning by taking the RSA's of today's society and taking them to their logical conclusions. 'Hard Times' from a modern perspective is talking about the past and is therefore very real to a 21st.Century reader.
The predominant use of ISA's in his novel shows how he represents the strength of repression through the mind – "the novel has seemed to many critics a symbolic and poetic work"iv; one which today we can see the logic to. In future years a similar relevance may be found from Atwood's novel however the reality of the repressive forces within her novel seem much more distant to a modern audience relying on the imagination which contrasts with 'Hard Times'; fundamentally based on historical reality.