“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.
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.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami is a unique narrative which offers insight into the interior and exterior personality traits of a medley of different characters, all drawn together during the “witching hours” between midnight and early morning. The variances between characters was the most intriguing aspect of the work. Rather between the two main characters, sisters Eri and Mari, the contrast drawn is striking and though-provoking. By utilizing the “we” pluralistic form of narrative, Murakami invokes a collective ideal, reminiscent of a camera recording minute details in these many characters’ lives.
By engaging this omniscient, pluralistic narrative, Murakami adds a sense of detachment while simultaneously remaining permeatingly intimate. In this style, it is difficult to determine if there is a central protagonist. By administering this narration technique, each of the many characters is given due service for the events that they are currently experiencing. Additionally, by invoking this style, the plenitude of characters are similarly united despite their differences. By encompassing this style, Murakami is suggesting that although people are inherently different, there is a bond which connects them all; the bond of humanity. I think that this is a main thematic element of the text which is only strengthened by the choice to narrate the text in a pluralistic format. The relationship between Mari and Eri exemplifies this thematic element. The importance of attachment and human-to-human connection is vital to this narrative and is shown both implicitly and explicitly. “The important thing is that during that whole time in the dark, Eri was holding me. And it wasn’t just some ordinary hug. She squeezed me so hard our two bodies felt as if they were melting into one. She never loosened her grip for a second. It felt as though if we separated the slightest bit, we would never see each other in this world again” (Murakami 180).
The decision to write on this topic was greatly influenced by my fascination with The Handmaid’s Tale. In addition to thoroughly enjoying the experience of reading the novel itself, I also was enamored with the many issues a novel of this futuristic dystopian genre brought to my attention. In regards to my topic choice, I chose this topic because I found that as I was reading, there was much textual reference to education, not only in the past of Offred, but additionally in the many inter-textual references. For example, Gilead is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the site of Harvard University which is constantly alluded to throughout the text. Although there is a conscious effort in Gilead to quell education and the acquisition of knowledge, education itself is an ever-permeating force. In addition to the setting, I would investigate further references to education throughout the text including the “re-education center/ Red center”. This juxtaposition between instilled knowledge and the color red as a motif is one that I would further examine in my paper. I have also found that different characters react to education in different ways, for example, Offred’s mother becomes a radical thinker while Serena Joy firmly cements her conservative viewpoints after she is indoctrinated into the society of Gilead.
1. If so many of the characters of the novel were highly educated individuals, how is it possible that they so fully embraced the ideals of Gilead when Gilead is formed on sub-alternation by the withholding of knowledge?
2. At what point does education become a character itself in the novel rather than simply a motif?
3. Do other factors influence the emphasis on knowledge/education in the book? i.e. specific character traits, experiences, etc.
In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the final section of the novel, “Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale” at first glance appears to be merely an attachment with little relevance to the entirety of the work. However, through this discourse much is revealed not only about the fate of Offred, the protagonist, but additional explanation of the fate of Gilead is provided.
Most importantly perhaps with the ambiguous conclusion of the novel, the historical notes offer a glimmer of hope for the protagonist. “…it could not have been recorded during the period of time it recounts, since, if the author is telling the truth, no machine or tapes would have been available to her, nor would she have had a place of concealment for them” (Atwood 303). From this and with additional hints such as the location of the tapes, the Underground Femaleroad, the audience can deduce that Offred escaped Gilead and was free long enough to record her recollections- her ultimate fate, however, is unclear.
Additionally, the panel discusses the fall of Gilead. With the keynote speakers names being reflective of an intermixed culture such as James Darcy Pieixoto, it is obvious that the goal of the purely Caucasian society of Gilead failed. In relation to the names of the speakers of the conference, it is interesting that the Chair is not only a woman, but a woman named ” Maryann Crescent Moon”. Throughout the novel, there is an emphasis on night, monthly cycles, and fertility, all symbolized by the moon. These factors in Gilead were utilized to oppress women, however in this address, it can be seen that a woman bearing the namesake of the means of oppression is not only empowered, but superior. This further highlights the abysmal lack of success of Gilead.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the perversion of power over individuals is exemplified. One of the main aspects of the Republic of Gilead is its removal of personal liberties, both palpable and intangible, which is thus displayed in the prompt quote. The novel explores the idea of freedom from the past, from personal decisions, and from the impending pressure of the future.
In order to depict the impact of the prompting quote and to impress its importance as a thematic element in the text, the first section of the novel entitled “Night” (the first “Night” section, as there are multiple) can be read as an ironic description of the quotation through close reading. The entire first chapter of the novel centers around the past and its liberties. Beginning with defamiliarization, Atwood applies personal knowledge of the reader such as the familiarity of the idea of a gymnasium and corrupts the image, morphing the gymnasium and all of the memories and sensory aspects into an army barracks. Additionally, the past of the gymnasium is juxtaposed with the future of the encampment. “There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectation” (Atwood 3). This quote, although pertaining to the environment of the gymnasium, foreshadows the Ceremony during which the Commander attempts to impregnate Offred. The loneliness depicted in the quote is applicable to the loneliness Offred feels in the oppressive and detached world she finds herself in, while the expectation of a child is ever-present. By alluding to the Ceremony, the opening passage depicts the removal of the freedom of one’s own body- Offred is seen as nothing more than a means to repopulate the Republic. Instead of having freedom to choose the one to be with, she is being granted freedom from making that, or any other, decision.
Every freedom taken away or “granted” throughout the novel can be explained by the prompting quote. Even suicide, the greatest and most final freedom to control oneself is taken away in the Republic and is instead morphed into the freedom from taking ones own life. Because of its relevance to the novel, this quote would justly fit into the opening.
In “The Hunger Artist” by Kafka, the willing starvation of a man is viewed by outside persons as a noble form of entertainment. Instead of voicing concern at the emaciation of a man making his livelihood by abusing his body, the crowds observe and even mock him, implying that his fasting is an acceptable behavior and even one to be rejoiced rather than condemned. Had the character of the hunger artist been a woman, the story would have read differently to a modern-day audience, particularly with the emphasis placed upon women and eating disorders in modern society.
On principle and as a reader, I would have displayed a greater internal outrage had the character been a woman. Not only because of the differing views the crowds would undoubtedly portray, but also because of the prevalence and publicized incidences of eating disorders amongst women. The control that the hunger artist attempts to inflict upon his life by restricting his food intake is one that would be much more disturbing had he been a woman due to my bias as a reader. Because female anorexia permeates the media, as a reader, I would have been more likely to view the hunger artist’s “craft” as a form of eating disorder rather than an art of self-control. As Kafka illustrates, one of the main drives of the hunger artist’s behavior is to prove to the spectators that what he is doing is right in every sense of the word; he becomes irritated when he assumes that they believe that he is sneaking food and later even apologizes for his emphasis upon his desire for the crowds to admire him for his masochistic actions, ” “I always wanted you to admire my fasting.” Additionally, the way his death was treated, although horrendous regardless of his sex, would have been much more profound had he been a women. The victimization of the hunger artist, significant as it was, would have been heightened had he been a woman.
H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau is a highly versatile novel which can easily be classified within numerous genres. However, the most applicable genre to the theme of the novel and the overall specifics is that of science fiction. Science fiction can be defined as the stylistic genre which incorporates elements of the unreal, specifically through use of technology or scientific discoveries, in order to create novelty. Because of the setting of the novel, the overall mystique surrounding the island, and additionally the experimentation which takes place in this work, The Island of Doctor Moreau is a novel which deftly adheres to the definition of what science fiction entails.
The situation which surrounds Prendick’s salvation is one of mystery. The events seem fantastical and purely by chance. Floating in and out of consciousness, Prendick is unaware of how he is saved and who he is saved by. Unsure of who to owe his salvation to, the reflective period of the first few chapters aid to the mystery. As one that was unaware of his surroundings, the beginning of the novel has an air of uncertainty and the idea of Prendrick being an unreliable witness to his own salvation is established. The entire novel, in fact, is reliant upon Prendrick’s disbelief at the situation he has found himself in. This air of mystery of the island and its inhabitants reinforces the unreal aspect of science fiction genre.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the experimentation which takes place on the island is the integral aspect which stabilizes this novel’s science fiction classification. “These creatures you have seen are animals carven and wrought into new shapes. To that– to the study of the plasticity of living forms– my life has been devoted (53)”. As Doctor Moreau explains to Prendrick in this quotation, the “humans” which Prendrick has been encountering on the island were not born into their present state. The experimentation of Doctor Moreau molds and mutilates them into something supernatural, also reminiscent of science fiction. With the unnatural experimentation as the vehicle for advancement on the island, The Island of Dr. Moreau can further be cemented as a work of science fiction.
One of the main aims in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is to illustrate the great lengths an individual or a group will go to in order to preserve their public image or their finances. Although mentioned briefly in Act III, Petra’s refusal to translate the article is what lies at the center of this play. Devoid of outside forces, the intention of the article which revolved around a “higher power” inspiring the actions and goals of others is what is omnipresent in this play.
Throughout the play, Peter Stockman is intent upon nullifying Thomas Stockman’s facts, opinions, and ideals. Knowing that Thomas is a naive and idealistic individual, Peter caters to these personal characteristics in order to declare Thomas an “enemy of the people”. The mayor is able to hide behind the importance of the revenue that the baths would bring in in order to contradict Thomas’s findings. By eliciting the argument of commerce and the prosperity of the town, Peter is able to sway public opinion by denouncing Thomas’s findings as fantastical fallacies. Peter’s personal vendetta to remain in power and to make the town that he runs economically prosperous blinds him to the findings of Thomas. With the evidence of the contamination of the water not palpable and only present in Thomas’s data, it is easy for Peter to place his interests above what is morally “right”. By turning the numbers against Thomas, which were originally partisan to Thomas, Peter is able to declare Thomas’s argument to be insufficient proof and additionally bereft of common sense. As Thomas laments in Act IV, “The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom amongst us in the compact majority, yes, the damned compact Liberal majority– that is it!”.
Interestingly enough, it is not the compact majority which originated as the enemy, but rather the greed of Peter Stockman and the economical status of the town which orchestrated the demise of a man and the implied ultimate collapse of a town .
The classic telling of the traditional fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood” is one that has been examined cross-culturally prevalently throughout history. One of the not-so-traditional recounts of this classic fairytale is that of its incorporation into the musical stage adaptation of “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim. As a theatre connoisseur, “Into the Woods” has been a central force in my understanding of musical theatre, as it is a very well known play that is highly esteemed.
“Into the Woods” is made up of several fairy tales based upon the Grimm bothers’ retellings and includes the stories of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Cinderella”, “Rapunzel”, and of course, “Little Red Riding Hood”. Unlike the “Story of the Grandmother” mentioned in The Classic Fairytales, Little Red Riding Hood is not a “… more resourceful trickster than a naive young girl (18)”. For example, in “Into the Woods”, Little Red is coerced by the wolf into straying from the path to her grandmother’s house in order to pick flowers. Her naivety is so stressed in this musical, that the wolf sings of his plan to not only follow her but to later consume not only her but also her grandmother in the song, “Hello, Little Girl.” This song is sung by the character of the wolf while Little Red Riding hood is onstage. Additionally, there are lustful undertones to this particular score, highlighting the more racy tellings of this fairytale.
Like in the Grimm version, after Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are saved from the wolf, a moral is given in the song, “I Know Things Now” which Little Red Riding Hood herself sings. This moral is illustrated in the lyrics:
“And I know things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn’t known before:
Do not put your faith
In a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.”
As can be seen from this single stanza, many aspects of the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” are present in the musical “Into the Woods”.