Author Archives: akarow

Estrangement in The Handmaid’s Tale

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.

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After Dark: At a Distance

Murakami’s novel After Dark has the unique feature of keeping the reader at a distance while still incorporating them into the work as “we”. The reader is never directly involved in the action of the story but is able to relate as their, “point of view, as an imaginary camera, picks up and lingers over things like this in the room. We are invisible, anonymous intruders” (Murakami 33).  This same relationship the reader has with the novel can be expanded to how one feels as life happens and passes them by. One feels like, “we are not physically present in the place, and we leave behind no traces” (Murakami 33). It is this disconnection with other human beings and society that grasps the essence of this novel.

These relationships between the characters in the story help to define the “collective entity” of the novel while still showing the individuality of people. Each person with their unique characteristics must all together in this world. Unique to this story though is a character’s ability to not be present in a room, but still linger behind. Perhaps the author is trying to say that even when someone is not physically present we still have the ability to remember and learn from that person. It is these walls, either physical or not, that ultimately define our relations with other people. The novel’s greatest accomplishment is its ability to make the reader question who they are as a person.  And what defines being human? One is forced to analyze the unique human feature, the mind.

 

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Candide: In the Best of all Possible Worlds

I plan to do my final paper on the novel Candide written by Voltaire. I chose to do this because I have always wanted the opportunity to re-read the novel. I also really enjoy the many themes of the story and the symbolism of the garden.

My paper will be based around one of the books motifs, “All is for the best… in the best of all worlds”. My goal would be to examine what is the best of all possible worlds.  To do this I will have to define what the best of all possible worlds is and in addition consider opposing viewpoints. I hope to also tie this into the overall theme of alienation, and argue that it is better to have company so that one does not feel alienated from the rest of society. I plan to structure my paper in parallel to the traveling Candide does within the novel and incorporate the lesson learned at each place of visit.

Other aspects that I wish to explore include philosophical optimism which was popular at the time of the book’s writing of the Enlightenment period as well as other actual historical accounts Voltaire refers to. An important theme throughout the novel is anti-religion which I believe also needs to be addressed in my paper. I would like to end my paper with Voltaire’s garden and the symbolism behind it offering some kind of solution that involves happiness and simplicity.

1.How does one know once they have reached the goal of being in the best of all possible worlds?

2. How does companionship affect life satisfaction?

3.How do the ideas of the time such as philosophical optimism and anti-religion affect the context of the novel?

One thing I am not sure is if I am planning to cover too many topics and perhaps a narrower and more direct approach would be better? Any advice would be appreciated!

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Gorvernment Corruption, Preventing Self-Rule

The prevalence of widespread corruption is one of the key factors preventing the country of Antigua from succeeding in successful self-rule. In Antigua corruption is not found just among the natives, but throughout the government as well. Kincaid assumes the majority of her readers will be somewhat educated on colonialism and she attempts to tug at their conscience with, “and so you needn’t let that slightly funny feeling you have from time to time about exploitation, oppression, domination develop into full-fledged unease, discomfort; you could ruin your holiday.” (Kincaid 10) Although she assumes most readers have an idea that corruption was widespread through the colonial period, she is able to provide us with specific examples.

Kincaid goes on even further with corruption and implies that “the government is for sale” (Kincaid 47). How can an institution as important as the government be for sale? This is truly disturbing to me not just as a reader, by as a citizen of a country myself. I can not imagine my government being sold as some common commodity to the highest bidder. If that were the case, the country would always be re-organizing itself after the next highest bidder took over. One of the problems resulting from a corrupt government is that “all government services are bad” (Kincaid 60). This has widespread consequences for the country as a whole. How is a country going to be self-reliant when the education system is lacking and most of the young people appear illiterate? The citizens of Antigua must come together as a country and work toward the greater good to eliminate corruption within their government and society as a whole so that they may thrive as a country.

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The Library as a Symbol of Hope

The library stands as a symbol of hope for the people of Antigua. Although it has been over 10 years since the library was damaged the sign states “REPAIRS ARE PENDING” (Kincaid 42). The use of the word pending indicates that the government of Antigua believes in the educational purpose a library serves and plans to keep it as a valued part of society. Although the library was operational during the days of colonial rule, its now damaged state is a constant attribution to the shift from colonialism to self-rule, a further symbol of hope for the country of Antigua.  The library serves as a microcosm for the country of Antigua as a whole as each shifts from colonial to self-rule.  “Repairs are pending” as both the library and country are learning how to be self-sufficient.

Libraries serve as a place of education, so only those wanting to educate themselves would go to one. The natives of Antigua must first want to better themselves, and then they will find the appropriate funds for the library. Libraries can also serve as a place of escape, as one can be lost in history or in a fictional novel. The natives of Antigua could use this as an escape of their everyday life if they realized the importance of an operating library. Another reason having a library does not appear important to the people of Antigua is their lack of having a culture. Although there is a Minister of Culture appointed Kincaid points out, “in places where there is a Minister of Culture it means there is no culture”. (Kincaid 49) Perhaps the people of Antigua should focus on developing a culture of their own and with time a library too would arise.

 

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Historical Notes: a challenge to The Handmaid’s Tale

The historical notes section of The Handmaid’s Tale challenges the rest of the book in a variety of ways. One of the first and most obvious differences in regard to this section is the differing style of writing. The town hall meeting discusses average daily business and is filled with wit and laughter, a strikingly different tone then the preceding eerily memoir. The ending has a “lighter feel” and allows the reader a chance to recover from the story and gain a sense of closure. If Atwood had choose to omit this section, the story would have ended on a much graver note.

The reader is further comforted by the fact that much time has passed since the days of Gilead, and the customs of that society are merely a thing of the past. There continues to be much secrecy surrounding Gilead even to the present day and many questions remain unanswered.  I found it very interesting that the tapes had songs in the beginning of each to disguise their true content thus adding to the secrecy surrounding the story. The choice of these songs is also important to note, each adds meaning and irony to the story.

The historical note section may also serve as a warning to today’s society as, “some of the failure to reproduce can undoubtedly be traced to the widespread availability of birth control of various kinds”. It also blames many other byproducts of today’s society such as the AIDS epidemic, genetic deformities caused by nuclear power plants, chemical and biological warfare, and the uncontrolled use of insecticides and other sprays.

Choosing this ending also helps to legitimize the story. It attempts to show how a society like Gilead truly could have come about and in reality is not so different from other events that have occurred in history.  As the historical notes cleverly addresses, “there was little that was truly original with or indigenous to Gilead: its genius was synthesis.” I completely agree with this statement and believe that society is merely a culmination of the world’s past events and little is original, but rather a recombination of events and ideas.

 

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What is Freedom?

The first half of The Handmaid’s Tale is centered on a loss of freedom that has occurred as a result of a change in society.  But as Aunt Lydia points out, “There is more than one kind of freedom”. (Atwood 24) The idea of freedom and loss of freedom continues to be an important theme within the first half of the novel. Offred and the other women affected by the Republic of Gilead’s laws have lost many of the freedoms they previously knew. They are now enslaved for their uteruses, and with the sighting of a pregnant woman they are reminded “showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved”. (Atwood 26) The fact that the only thing that can save the woman is the same thing that is enslaving them is highly ironic.

The handmaids should take Aunt Lydia’s advice and not “underrate it”. (Atwood 24)  Most of the time Offred, does not keep this in mind, but rather reminisces about the ways things used to be. However she does realize the freedom she has within her own mind, as she partakes in plays on words and pleasure in the cross-stich pattern.

Chapter 5 serves as an appropriate place to do a close reading because it is a culmination of the many themes we have seen in the novel thus far as it accounts for Offred’s mere existence. Analyzing the passage on freedom allows the book to open up because it forces us to not only consider the loss of freedom that has occurred, but what freedoms do still exist for these women? Perhaps this could foreshadow what the handmaids plan to do utilize the freedoms they have now to gain back their freedoms of the past as well.  When discussing freedom it is important to take into consideration who is it defining freedom and what is freedom?

 

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A Victim of Circumstance: The Officer

In the Penal Colony, Officer, Victim of Circumstance

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The Island of Dr. Moreau, Science Fiction at its Finest

Although the genre of Dr. Moreau could be argued, it most clearly fits into the category of science fiction. The novel provides an attack on vivisection, as Dr. Moreau attempts to transform animals to humans. The story then pushes the limits of science, and in the process questions morality.

Vivisection has a long history in scientific research; however the scope of it within the novel is clearly stretched beyond the realm that it actually ever touched. Therefore the novel is not in the genre of fantasy, but rather science fiction as many people of the time were afraid of vivisection as it was believed to be a real scientific possibility. As people learned through Darwin’s theories, that we may share a common ancestor with animals, people soon began to feel a connection to animals. Thus, something such as vivisection would question to what extent scientific research, overshadow human morality?

An interesting technique Wells uses to help the reader understand this concept is placing the majority of the emotional weight in the story within the characters of the animals, not the men. This shows man as solely on the conquest for scientific progress, lacking compassion. The animals seem to be human in nature, “save for the grossness of the line, save for the grotesqueness of the forms, I had here before me the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate in its simplest form”. (Wells 73-74) This also makes the reader question what are the qualities of being human outside the physical body? The novel is truly science fiction as it examines the dangers of science and technology in relation to humanity. How far are we allowed to go with science and where does morality come into play?

The telling of this tale as a novel is able to get to the heart of the matter the quickest. Unlike previous plays we have read which were acted out upon stage, or fairy tales that would have been passed orally, the telling of the story as a novel, keeps it from being altered each time it is told. This is important as Wells is assured his story will reach and effect society, in just the manner he wants.

 

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Government:Its Function Within a Society

An Enemy of the People, Government, Majority
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