“The carpet bends and goes down the front staircase and I go with it, one hand on the banister, once a tree, turned in another century, rubbed to a warm gloss. Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a large rich family. There’s a grandfather clock in the hallway, which doles out time, and then the door to the motherly front sitting room, with its flesh tones and hints. A sitting room in which I never sit, but stand and kneel only. At the end of the hallway, above the front door, is a fanlight of colored glass: flowers, red and blue.” — The Handmaid’s Tale, pg. 9
In this excerpt from the The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the biting irony and satire is blatantly apparent. This excerpt is a microcosm of the text, and if extrapolated to the entirety of the work, contains thematic elements that are prevalent throughout the novel.
The first and perhaps most integral aspect which is present in this excerpt is the idea of a “family” or lack-there-of. In Gilead the idea of a perfect family is perpetuated. The Commanders and Wives of each “family” are seen as the ideal matriarchs and patriarchs. However, the Handmaid’s represent the perverted idea of a surrogate mother, seen merely as an incubator. The focus on family oriented terms in this passage, such as “family”, “grandfather”, and “motherly” draw attention to a contradiction. Although these items are present in the house and are applied to describe it, they are clearly lacking in the society and in the house itself. This represents the satirical nature of the passage.
Furthermore, the idea of time is represented in this passage. By drawing attention to the Victorian period this house was from and the purpose of the grandfather clock, these representations again highlight the skewed perception of Gilead. As diligently as the officials of the Republic of Gilead attempt to erase signs of the past, it is impossible for them to block them out completely. This is important due to the placement of this passage at the beginning of the novel. Due to the primacy of this excerpt the audience is granted the ability to witness the utter failure of Gilead in its principles and ideals.
This up to date version of Beauty and the Beast, I believe to be the most current, is one I found quite interesting. It was written in 2009 by Juliet Marillier. To summarize it quickly, the main character, Caitrin, is on the run from an abusive past. She makes her way to Whistling Tor where she comes across a deformed man, Anluan, whose family and hisself are cursed. As time goes on and Caitirin learns more about the man and sees him through his bitterness, she falls in love. This version differs tremendously from our classic “Disney” version we are most familiar with. In that version, we see Beauty running off to save her father, whereas Caitrin in “Heart’s Blood is running from her past and looking to find something new. Her (Caitrin’s) beast is not truly a beast but a man who has a curse on him which left him crippled and deformed. In our classic version, the curse on Beast left him as a “monster” and once broken. turned him back into the handsome man he once was. We do not see Caitrin longing to want to be reconnected with her family or escape from the castle as Beauty did. Instead, she finds her new home somewhat “safe” despite is terror and wickedness. This version of the tale puts a unique twist on it as we can connect with this “Beauty” (Caitrin) more than we can with “Beauty”. Her escape from an abusive past/family leaves us to question why/what caused the abuse she suffered and to learn more about her background. As with Beauty, we know she was already the “prettiest” of her sisters and treated like an angel by her father, which doesn’t make her past as interesting. This version puts a unique spin on the novel and no longer leaves it as a “bore” as it once was in the classic version.
While reading Blu’s Hanging by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, I was struck by the similarities between this particular text and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things is a work which centers around the decline of a formerly wealthy and affluent Indian family. On the brink of their decline, the narrative highlights the final years and events which act as catalysts to the final blow dealt to the family; the matriarch’s affair with a man in a caste much lower than that of the family’s. Much like Blu’s Hanging, this novel is viewed through the eyes of children and encompasses many similar aspects including, but not limited to, the sexual abuse of the son of the family.
Prominent throughout both novels is the sexual perversion displayed towards the young boys of both works. Blu of Blu’s Hanging is consistently stripped of his masculinity and exposed to perverse sexual encounters through molestation, exhibitionism/fondling, and finally, rape. Estha, the young boy of The God of Small Things, is molested by a man inside of the lobby of a movie theater. Although the situations vary, both boys cope with these situations similarly. For Blu, the act of absolution is ignorance, Estha’s reaction is like-wise. Both boys essentially blind themselves to the acts, neither openly acknowledging or vocalizing the injustices acted upon them. For Blu, the instances are only highlighted due to his sister witnessing them. Similarly, Estha’s sister is the only informant of his molestation. In both of these novels, the sexual abuse of the young male protagonists is central to the text and is made all the more apparent through the lack of acknowledgment by the victims themselves.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred along with all the other women can be seen fighting for survival. Their “fight” can be seen as doing as they’re told and maintaining their roles and/or titles because if they disobey or become rebellious, their life could be at stake. Offred’s fight was once I found the strongest. Day in and day out, she played her role as a handmaid to the Commander and did as she was told–to lie on her back when ordered to. She knew what was happening to her was not right but knew if she were to fight against it, her life would be at stake. Longing to survive and not die at the hands of the Commander or the Republic of Gilead, she did as told and played her part well. Her strength to keep on pushing is what inspired me. Although she was not in the best situation, she made the best of it. Throughout the novel, I looked at her as somewhat of a heroine. She saved her own self, if that makes any sense. She did what she was instructed to do in order to get by. There are many women who would’ve probably given up or tapped out if they were in her shoes. But she tried to think of what her Aunt Lydia had told her, “Don’t underrate your freedom.” For she is “freer” than women once were with her type of freedom. The fact she held on to the end as she planned her escape is what amazed me. She was her own heroine by saving her own life and making it out of captivity alive. Her fight for survival shows us how strong women can really be even in the toughest situation. Atwood’s description of Offred shows her strength and determination as a woman.
After our intense class discussion of After Dark, I decided to come back and do an in-depth analysis of the novel. This novel by far is the most unique one we have read all semester. The fact that everything occurs within one night amazed me. As it was brought to my attention in class by Thomas, The Tempest also took place in a day’s span. But what intrigued me more with this novel is it took place within a couple of hours of night. The novel’s genre is one I found most difficult to decipher. Is it science fiction, a dystopia, speculative fiction? What genre would actually fit for this novel? To me, it appears as if the novel transcends into different genres. Science fiction, an obvious one, is seen throughout the course of nightfall and all the “magic” that takes place. For example, Eri getting sucked into the television and trapped in the room. I also found this to be connected to speculative fiction, as the two genres do not differ much. The dystopia can be seen in general with the “After Dark” part of the novel. When nighttime falls, a whole new world begins. We see things that we do not see occur during the daytime and everything appears as a blur. So what genre is truly suitable for this novel? I see so many different possible genres as the novel unfolds and transcends genre throughout the occurrence of nighttime. This is why I feel the novel is the most unique one we have read. To label it what one genre seems nearly impossible and I like how it challenges me to think of one that is suitable for it.
A passage I found interesting in A Small Place that I would like to go back and evaluate is on page 14 when Kincaid calls tourists ugly human beings. She states, “The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being. You are not an ugly person all the time; you are not an ugly person ordinarily; you are not an ugly person from day to day; From day to day, you are a nice person” (14). In this quote Kincaid criticizes tourists as being “ugly human beings”. However, she says you are not an ugly person. The ugly person only exists and comes into being once you decide to be a tourist. As a matter of fact, she says, you are a nice person when you’re living you’re day to day life. But once you make the decision to become a tourist all of this goes away. The fact that Kincaid separates one as a tourist and one as “their self” into two distinct categories is quite interesting. How can one human being portray two different sides when making one petty decision. A tourist is what turns you “ugly” and “bad” from the “beautiful” and “nice” person you once were. Kincaid’s meaning behind this passage goes to show how much she despises tourists. Her evaluation of them in this passage is one that makes you, as the reader, stop and think, do I want to become this “ugly” person, the tourist? Or do I want her to accept me for me–the nice, beautiful person I am living my day to day life in my own city. Kincaid’s view of tourists will make us as readers who love to travel stop and think for a second if this is truly how all natives of islands/places we visit think of us? Or is this just Kincaid lashing out on tourists? Either way it goes, the novel in general points its fingers at all who travel and become tourists of a place when they do. She wrote this book for us.
One of the of the themes of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was the ever-present estrangement throughout the novel. Although things in Gilead society seem to appear normal, the reader knows nothing is as it seems. This produces a nostalgic and almost sickening feeling as one reads the novel.
A specific example is Gilead’s false pro-women advocacy, the reality is women are subjugated and ultimately viewed as subhuman. In Gilead society women are reduced to nothing more than their reproductive capabilities. As Offred describes, “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will… Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping” (Atwood 73-74). Offred’s description of her own body describes how Gilead only value women for their uteruses and their ovaries. One could even go so far and argue that they are slaves of the state, with their bodies owned.
Further estrangement occurs in a society based upon misogyny. The women are traumatized and demoralized, through ceremonies of forced rape. This rape is then juxtaposed with the communities supposed acknowledge of rape as an evil, punishable by death. The only difference in these two instances is if the government has sanction the rape to occur or not. The handmaid’s name is the taking on of the word “Of” and their master’s name, makes the handmaid not just a possession of the state but of their master as well. Although The Handmaid’s Tale possess many of the characteristics of a normal functioning society, the characters within the novel know something is just not right about the circumstances.
After writing my essay on An Enemy of the People, I started taking offense to the notion that “the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone” because while I understand that standing up for what you believe in, though you may be the minority, takes courage alienating yourself from everyone does not automatically make you strong (82). For a counterexample I offer Spiderman, though I understand being startled at how I am using a comic book character in relation to an old play by Ibsen but bear with me. Spiderman is known not only for his powers but also for his difficulties in his social and familial life that is exacerbated by being a superhero. Yet, Spiderman continues to care about his family and friends even when they are exposed to danger by his presence, such as Mary Jane being held hostage in each movie and Aunt May being shot in the Back in Black comic book. This shows Spiderman’s strengths since he is willing to risk the grief of losing his loved ones and is also willing to go through the extra work of saving them in order to maintain his relationships. This leads to reciprocation with Spiderman’s friends lending their physical strength, this usually being the Fantastic Four, and emotional support. These symbiotic relationships prove that Spiderman becomes stronger and healthier as he relies on the people around him and continues to care for them. Ibsen’s quote comes off as narrow-minded in this sense with how the situation where this applied was when the character was obviously right and everyone around him was either a mindless follower or the enemy. While I understand how it takes a great amount of strength to stand alone, I do not believe that it would make you the neither strongest nor most virtuous.
While reading The Classic Fairytales this semester, the one I found most interesting was Bluebeard. New to me, Bluebeard put me on the edge of my seat as I read further and further into the tale. Seeing his wife be so curious about what was in the locked room and disobey him by going into it, its gruesomeness and suspense kept me intrigued. Doing some research on the tale, I found out there were many films that had been made of the tale, most recently in 2009, Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard). While watching the trailer just now, I found it quite interesting to see a modern-day remake of the tale. However, with this being a literature class, the first question that came to my mind was , Does the tale have any poetry? When researching, I quickly found the answer to my question–yes. The poem I found most interesting was one by Leon Gellert. Titled “Bluebeard’s First Wife”, the poem tells the tale of the murder of his first wife. I love the analogies used to compare her death to the earth (sky, clouds, etc.). For example, “One by one on the stone, The blossoms shudder and die.” This line refers to the women who were murdered at Bluebeard’s hands. “The dark blue face of the sea” she is claiming to have loved refers to Bluebeard. The context of the poem gives us an idea of her death, why it occurred, and explains her love she had for the “dark” man.
|I lie by the garden wall,
Buried and all alone;
The brown camellias fall
One by one on the stone.
Buried and all alone,
Because I had loved the sky!
One by one on the stone
The blossoms shudder and die.
Because I had loved the sky—
The dark blue face of the sea!
(The blossoms shudder and die)
He murdered me at his knee.
The dark, blue face of the sea.
Nothing so dark as the tomb!
He murdered me at his knee.
I knew the truth of the room!
Nothing so dark as the tomb
For the vile revenge of the vain.
I knew the truth of the room
And the price of his hidden stain.
For the vile revenge of the vain
I suffered the knife at my skin,
And the price of his hidden stain
Was two and eleven a tin!
I suffered the knife at my skin;
I knew the dye that he used
Was two and eleven a tin.
I confess I was somewhat amused.
I knew the dye that he used.
I heard the stitch of my shroud.
I confess I was somewhat amused
At the fury that burst like a cloud.
I heard the stitch of my shroud,
And all of the world disappeared
At the fury that burst like a cloud
From the heaven’s blue of his beard.
And all of the world disappeared!
I lie by the garden wall.
From the heaven’s blue of his beard
The brown camellias fall.