“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.