I have always been in love with fairy tales, not simply the ones given to us by Disney, but the traditional ones as well. The Classic Fairy Tales was my favorite text to read. I loved the juxtaposition of the different versions of the stories. It made me think of adaptations I had seen in movies – Cinderella especially. One adaptation that has always stuck with me is Ever After, a movie made in 1998. It is so memorable to me because the characters are far more vibrant than the traditional ones (though they are by no means highly complex characters). One of the key differences in the movie is that there is no fairy godmother, no sort of fantastical outside assistance at all. The Cinderella character – Danielle de Barbarac, is in control of her own fate. She is also a very different girl than the Cinderellas of the Perrault or the Grimm tales: she is highly intelligent, stubborn, and though she is subservient to her stepfamily for the most part, she has spirited outbursts in which she rails against their domination. I would like to explore the nature of the characters in relation to the time the movie was made, comparing them with those of the traditional tale and examining in particular their gendering. Some questions I would like to consider are:
1. How does the removal of magic in the story change Cinderella’s character and the story itself?
2. Does Danielle display the traits of a classic hero rather than simply being the protagonist?
3. Danielle identifies very closely with her father, and creates a noble persona for herself using her mother’s name. Is there an Electra complex being carried out?
It was Jamaica Kincaid, in her essay A Small Place, who considered the problem of language and how it has the ability to control a society. She says the problem is that, “the language of the criminal can explain and express the deed only from the criminal’s point of view” (32). Changing one’s language can have the effect of removing one’s identity as a culture, giving false meaning to certain words, and ultimately leading to oppression. I plan on looking at Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and how the only language he knows is that of his oppressor, Prospero. Caliban is treated like a slave by Prospero and often uses foul language to express his unhappiness for his situation. He realizes that the only language he knows comes from Prospero; as a result Caliban becomes stubborn to improve his level of knowledge and does not progress intellectually. The main character in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, faces oppression in almost everything she does. She is taught to consider her situation as a “freedom.” Also, Offred loses her real name; this last connection to her previous life vanishes as she is referred to as “of Fred,” the man whom she is sexually associated with.
To further investigate:
- What is the reasoning behind oppressing people? In the case of The Tempest and The Handmaid’s Tale, why are Caliban and Offred controlled in such a way?
- What are the psychological implications of the word control Caliban and Offred face? How do they react?
- Are there any instances in the novels where there are positive outcomes of a controlled language?
I chose this topic because the idea that the society one lives on can influence or even have complete control over the language of the people interests me. I never really considered it as a problem until I read A Small Place.
In this story, Offred is a girl who is living in a world of safety. The life she leads is different from our lives in countless ways, however, it is all veiled in the idea of being safe and under protection. The individuals in this story are being protected, it would seem, against their own will and to such a degree that it is no longer just protection and has moved so far to the extreme it has become negative. Margaret Atwood’s story “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an intriguing discussion of the difference between being protected and being oppressed.
The women, and especially the handmaids, in this tale are confined to incredibly stringent rules that the concept of their safety has in many instances become a secondary concern to the need to reevaluate the freedoms that have been lost. The women in this story used to have “freedom to” act the way they pleased and dress in a manner they wanted, whereas now due to all the oppressive protective measures that have been taken, they are able to “walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles” (Atwood 24). Although these women have been given the “freedom from” men such as the ones who would yell at them on the street, they have lost much more than they have gained it appears. While there may be less crime and this may be a safe place for them to exist physically, oppression is never a good place for individuals to exist. The women of this novel will never really feel free because “freedom from” is being obedient and allowing someone else to make your decisions whereas “freedom to” is an individual making their own decisions and learning to be safe in the process.
The Republic of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale rules with words. The theocracy takes words and twists them to their own meanings so that it can justify the oppression that takes place. In the passage, the word “freedom” is mutated into a frightening, highly-structured ideal.
Aunt Lydia’s (as well as all the other Aunts’) constant insistences that the Handmaids are free and happy are sign enough that what they are saying is false. By constantly stating that Gilead is good, Gilead saved women from oppression, the Aunts themselves are oppressing the women (but especially the Handmaids) out of the freedom to feel unhappy. Aunt Lydia’s statement of “freedom to and freedom from” then takes on another meaning: Women now have the “freedom from” unhappiness. This is also illustrated at the end of the chapter when Offred and Ofglen encounter the Japanese tourists. When asked if the Handmaids are happy, Offred feels as if she has to answer yes because, “I have to say something. What else can I say?” (29.) For most modern readers, the word “freedom” connotes endless choices; however, Offred implies that the freedom offered by Gilead leaves no room for interpretation. No one in this society has a choice, not even the men. Everyone has their own place and their own function for the sake of Gileaden’s twisted freedom.
This idea that one word can be forcibly evolved to suit an agenda is chilling. The passage is the fast way for Atwood to show the terrifying power that Gilead holds – not over people’s bodies and places in society, but also their minds.