Essay, Pages 5 (1111 words)
In The Handmaid’s Tale, a state of paralysis results from the fear that consumes both the individual and society. How does Atwood explore this paralysis in her dystopia? Different states of paralysis are explored within Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Through the paralysis of emotions, time, knowledge and women’s identity the reader gains a broader understanding of dystopic fiction and the techniques employed to create the totalitarian society portrayed in Atwood’s eloquently written novel.
The empathy and connection with the protagonist evoked from Offred’s circumstances ironically derives from the use of her disconnected narration.
The paralysis of emotions that Offred experiences, comes from the culture of fear instigated within the oppressive society of Gilead. Atwood utilizes the style of a “stream of consciousness” avoiding the scrutinizing planned sentences of common novels. Offred’s first person narration creates a strong link with the reader through the visceral flow of thought. However this spontaneous narration and somewhat incoherent sequence of recitation also evokes the detached emotional response of Offred.
She is void of all feeling and passion which is seen through the indifferent descriptions of her surroundings “On the wall above the chair, a picture, framed but with no glass: a print of flowers, blue irises, watercolour”. The small apathetic commentaries from Offred give greater insight into her character but at the same time separate her circumstances from her emotions, paralysing the liveliness she once possessed. The novel, to an extent, is written from two perspectives; a typical characteristic of dystopic literature – dual narration.
Although Offred is the only narrator, her commentary varies in different sections of the novel. The non-linear style of writing Atwood employs ensures the passage of time to be unordered which consequently reacts with Offred’s unordered narration. Offred is paralyzed between two worlds, her past and her present. As a consequence of this paralysis of time her perspectives and even her personality differ through the course of the novel. For example Atwood switches between first person narration and second person narration as a means of representing the time difference of Offred’s journey.
“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium… I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat”. This yearning for the past Atwood exposes, shows Offred’s vulnerability and inability to escape “the time before”. The author also creates an image of frozen time through the moving metaphor “the amount of unfulfilled time the long parentheses of nothing. Time as white sound. ” This idea that time is the static from a television or “noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities” Webster’s Dictionary symbolizes the boredom of time and the frozen state of Offred’s circumstances.
She is stuck in a world of ennui and static where everything is uniform and meaningless. The totalitarian society of Gilead is a common convention of the dystopic genre. What makes Atwood’s novel so successful is the plausibility of this dystopia where the predominant themes in the book are congruent to present day society. The issue of the oppression of women is delved into and analyzed excessively in The Handmaid’s Tale using cognition to stimulate the reader’s impression and influence their understanding of this controversial theme. The uniformity and subjugation of women is explored in many different ways throughout the text.
The categorization of “handmaids, Wives, Marthas and Econowives” is a derogatory approach to paralyzing the identity of women. Another technique is the confiscation of ordinary names and the replacement with patriarchal identities. For example, the handmaids’ names are replaced with the suffix of their commanders Christian name and the prefix “Of” such as the handmaid of the commander; Glen, is referred to as “Ofglen”. This denial of such a simple right strips the women of their identity and leaves them vulnerable to the male-dominated society. Routine is another interesting concept that paralyses the identity of women.
Offred and the other handmaids encounter the constant routine and cycle of their position in society. Their sole purpose is to procreate as seen from the powerful metaphor “we are containers, it’s only the insides of our bodies that are important”. Their menstrual cycle paralyses their freedom and this cyclical form evokes desperation and entrapment through their mundane routine of breeding. Atwood often utilizes the technique of repetition to portray the uniformity of the women and how the patriarchal authority of Gilead has left them incapable of individuality.
“Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison”. The disturbing chanting of the handmaids evokes and air of monotony within the reader as they learn how similar the women have become. Through their loss of identity they have lost their freedom. Although Offred’s nature is rather curious and inquisitive there are moments in the text where we see her ignorance because of her entrapment. Part of the Gileadian regime was to banish all means of edification in order to prevent retribution from the citizens.
One of the biggest fears of authority is knowledge and as a way of keeping the totalitarian society under autocratic control this knowledge is paralyzed and immobilized from the populace of Gilead. “It isn’t the sort of thing you ask questions about, because the answers are not usually answers you want to know” p29. This quote shows how Offred has conformed to this strict component of the regime and would rather be kept ignorant than encounter the fear of knowledge. Atwood eloquently describes this fear of knowledge using the technique of repetition and imagery through the use of a metaphor “They’re filled with books.
Books and books and books… No wonder we can’t come in here. It’s an oasis of the forbidden. I try not to stare”. When Offred sees the other side of her imprisonment, one with such precious and forbidden things she is in awe. The use of the metaphor “it’s an oasis of the forbidden” contrasts the connotations of oasis and forbidden. An oasis suggests a paradise or haven but forbidden galvanizes the fear involved with such wonderment. By taking away such a simple “privilege” or daily activity, it leaves the handmaids feeling desperate and even more demoralized than the brutal physical and mental torture they customarily endure.
Throughout the novel the reader experiences the different states of paralysis within Gilead and gains insight into Offred’s situation. The plausibility of this paralysis as a result of excessive power and control arouses apprehension within the reader and encourages a reaction. The typical dystopic conventions Atwood employs coincide with the themes present in the text. As a result of Atwood’s satirical masterpiece the reader is warned of the consequences that could arise in the future if issues of current society are not dealt with.