Tag Archives: The Handmaid’s Tale

Fight for Survival in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale”

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.

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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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Deprivation of Education in “The Handmaid’s Tale” & “A Small Place”

I chose to write about this topic because we (as college students) know how important an education is to have and by having one how far it can take you. Not having one, limits your abilities and intelligence level. Education is key to success and in both novels, the government takes it away from the people and they have no clue what to think, feel, or to do to even try to begin to gain it back. The government knows their power in both novels and feel by choosing not to allow their people to receive an education will keep them in their control. A key point in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the women only being able to decipher the meaning of pictures, not words. A key point in “A Small Place” would be the library senario–its destruction, government’s promise to repair, and it still being closed after 10+ years after the earthquake. Some things I may not know about my topic are the viewpoints of people who do not have access to education, their capabilities (which I may be doubting them of having), personally knowing what it is like not to have an education.

Some things I want to further investigate are:

1.) Even not being allowed an education and no sources being able to get one, do people still manage to become knowledgeable? How?

2.) Why did they (the women in The Handmaid’s Tale and the people of Antigua in A Small Place)  not try to teach one another how to read/write how blacks did during slavery? Do you think they were afraid of the government or simply did not think of this idea?

3.) How does having a powerless society work for the government? Work against the government?

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Isolation as Social Control in The Handmaid’s Tale and Other Dystopian Literature

While reading The Handmaid’s Tale it was very clear the Offred was existing in a dystopian world, as this is one of my favorite types of writing it immediately stood out to me.  As a sociology major I find interaction between individuals very interesting and I found the aspect of isolation in this story very intriguing.  Although there may be characters in other stories who are more isolated, such as Robinson Crusoe, I find the isolation while still surrounded by many individuals worth exploring further.  Similarly to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games also takes place in a dystopian culture and the leaders of this world utilize isolation as a means of control.  In The Handmaid’s Tale it is by placing women in very specific roles that are pitted against each other and not allowing the individuals to speak freely, and similarly in The Hunger Games the different Districts are pitted against each other and therefore not able to unite for their common purpose of freedom.  Additionally, the lack of access to reliable and accurate information about the world at large.  Through depriving the public of a true feeling of community the governments were able to keep their population in line and keep them from having a revolt at large.  Things I would like to explore are:

1)  Will The Hunger Games really work in a effective way to illuminate the isolation and deprivation of the women in The Handmaid’s Tale?

2)  Was there more than isolation contributing to the control over the public in The Handmaid’s Tale? If so, what else contributed to this lack of motivation to change their environment?

3)  Do other dystopian tales exhibit similar isolation tactics?  If not, what other environments produce similar issues?

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Language as a Tool to Oppress a Population

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:

  1. 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?
  2. What are the psychological implications of the word control Caliban and Offred face? How do they react?
  3. 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.

 

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History within Science Fiction

     At the end of The Handmaid Tale, the author “shifts gears” so to say and evaluates the story within the previous 300 pages as history. After reading the tale, I did not expect for the historical context of it to be explained at the end. Professor Piexoto places us in a different setting where he goes into explanation of the tapes found in the army locker that were said to be of recordings during Republic of Gilead.  By doing this, Piexoto somewhat “brings to life” Atwood’s story and causes the reader to believe it  was indeed non-fiction, instead of the specualtive fiction we believe it to be. Piexoto’s notion to explain why the Republic of Gilead worked the way it did  gives the tale somewhat of a reasoning. For example, when discussing polygamy, Piexoto correlates it with the Bible and how it occured during the Old Testament and even on our own territory (United States). This notion goes to give the Commander having a handmaid while being married some “just”. The historical  notes of this book contradict what we just read as spec fiction by insteaf giving it some authencity and a new genre– nonfiction. By providing this as the ending, Atwood leaves a hugw open-ended question, what happens to Offred? Did she die? Is she still free? Did she reconnect with Luke? Although providing historical context at the end of the book is a different ending to use, in this case, it was not a good idea. The historical context did help explain the tale, but at the same time, leaves us with an open imagination to wonder what happened to the main character in the book, Offred.

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It could happen…

Humanity’s stress of history derives from the ramifications it has on the present, as well as model of what to avoid for the future. By including the “historical notes”, Atwood anchors a grim sense of realism to her story. These professors have names that are unfamiliar to the present, such as Crescent Moon and Piexioto. Piexioto establishes that the Republic of Gilead was demolished, and by doing so, Atwood dismantles any preconceived notion that civilization can remain static, no matter how perfect it may seem. This was dabbled in the book by the insinuation of Offred being a part of contemporary United States of America, which by a series of realistically possible events, get overthrown. Nationalism and social esteem cannot keep a country from changing. There is an instance where Professor Pieixoto elicits how the polygamy practices of Gilead derived from “early Old Testament times and in the former state of Utah in the nineteenth century” (Atwood 305). Here, Atwood presents how tangible this aberrant behavior can be, because it was something actually practiced in humanity for ages, instead of just being a work of Atwood’s imagination. The professor goes to to say that Gilead acquired racist policies that were “firmly rooted in the pre-Gilead period, and racist fears provided some of the emotional fuel that allowed the Gilead takeover to succeed” (Atwood 305). This racist quality was common, and was what advanced such detestable events in history, such as slavery and the Holocaust. Even though this is a work of fiction, Atwood manages to relate the disquieting story to that of non-fictional events to arouses a discomfort for how conceivable these events could occur, deriving from events of the past.

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Historical Notes: Giving The Handmaid’s Tale Historical Context

The Historical Notes at the end of “The Handmaid’s Tale” give us  historical context of the story and give us clues of what could have possibly happened to Offred at the end of the story. Since they are part of an Anthropology department, they don’t necessarily focus on just the historical details, they also delve into why the Gilead period happened. They even go into observing similar trends in other nations such as Romania. There is also a focus on the pre-Gilead period that gives good insight into why the Gilead period and periods that followed it happened. Many Caucasians were becoming infertile and this created a fear. The legalization of birth control and abortion stirred this fear up even more. So even though the dystopia presented seems really extreme, the history gives it an explanation. They are not defending the Gilead period, but simply presenting explanations and historical context, thus making the story seem more real.

Also the historical notes give us a hint of what may have happened to Offred. When Professor Pieixoto speaks of Offred’s tone, he says this: “Also, there is a certain reflective quality about the narrative that would to my mind rule out synchronicity” (Atwood 277). Professor Pieixoto suggests that the tapes they find of Offred telling her story sound more like they are looking back than in the moment. Plus, he also notes she would have no place to record or keep these tapes if she had made them while she was at her Commander’s house. This suggests that Offred made it to the Underground Femaleroad and not with the Eyes. So in  a way, the historical notes give us an idea of Offred’s fate after the story ends.

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Historical Evaluation

The novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood creates a view of the world that is incredibly unique.  One of the many things that adds to this being a one of a kind story is the fact that Atwood concluded the story with a section entitled “Historical Notes”.  By making this little end section something different than just a small ending chapter or an epilogue Atwood creates a different feel that is difficult to find in other dystopian stories.

The biggest thing that the “Historical Notes” does is lend the story an air of authenticity.  For one thing, these notes help place Gilead in context with the rest of the world such as when the Doctor discusses the “various Save the Women societies, of which there were many in the British Isles at that time” (Atwood 304).  By making those opposed to the Gilead method more organized and placing them in a different country, Atwood creates just another layer of detail that adds strength to her story.  Additionally, I believe the “Historical Notes” lends a second and more important idea of realism.  Dr. Pieixoto discusses the fact that no one can judge the individuals who lived then because the times were different.  This is a notion employed today when learning about past abuses and makes the story of Gilead all the more real to the reader.  By changing the very end of the book to a look back on a previous dark time Atwood lends an authenticity to the novel that would otherwise be difficult to cling to.

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Breaking the Fourth Wall

The “Historical Notes” section at the end of The Handmaid’sTale helps set the novel apart from any other dystopian fiction I’ve read. Most other novels (as well as movies) of the same genre have very ambiguous, open-to-interpretation endings; here, however, Margaret Atwood makes the novel even more of a mystery by adding the notes at the end. We know the novel is fiction; the notes state that the narrative could be fiction, too. The notes essentially “break the fourth wall,” a theatre term that refers to a play directly addressing the fact that it is, indeed, only a play. The way Atwood presents the Historical Notes, she breaks the fourth wall with her readers in a way to make them really think about what they’ve just read.

The lecturer in the notes brings to attention many of the common tropes and topics discussed when analyzing a novel. The lecturer speaks at length about the reliability of Offred as a narrator, the conveniently ironically named females in the story, and the puzzling abrupt ending of Offred’s story . It seems as though this is Atwood’s way of winking and tipping her hat at the readers. By directly addressing the issue of narrator reliability within the novel itself, Atwood is forcing her readers to find something else to discuss about the novel; in other words, she is eliminating the easy way out of discussion. The brilliance of it all is, though, that we as readers can look at the novel as a whole under a different light – the light of the Historical Notes.

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