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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ clearly demonstrates elements of Atwood’s ideas such as gender politics and concerns with the environment. How far Atwood manipulates the characters in order to express her ideas will be explored and whether this makes Offred an implausible character.
The narrative style used in the novel, a discontinuous and short-scened structure with time shifts, echoes the concept of a memory. The narration often delves into the past as Offred remembers her life before the oppressive theocracy was set up.
These elements enable the reader to relate to Offred and her monotonous life as a handmaid. As the narration is a voice it becomes plausible that this is a real person retelling her story and not just a mouthpiece for Atwood’s ideas.
The intricate, feminine details included in the narrative such as smells and how things feel demonstrate a valid existence as the emotional elements of the character Offred are revealed;
“Soft and dry, like papier poudre,
Pink and powdery, from the time before.
These images create emotion and a real person of Offred as Atwood establishes an emotional quality in her and thus makes the reader believe her to be real. This is also due to the past that Atwood establishes for Offred which gives her an identity and recognisable individuality. It can be seen by the way in which Offred talks about her daughter that she is extremely important and she is a great emotional significance in her life;
“My treasure…A shadow of a shadow,
as dead mothers become.
You can see
it in her eyes: I am not there.”
This illustrates Offred’s emotional quality and demonstrates how she is not just a mouthpiece for Atwood’s ideas.
Offred’s narrative may be described as didactic. The historical notes provide an insight into the opposing view. Professor Piexoto is interested in establishing the authenticity of her tale and its value as historical evidence and not Offred’s depiction of the society through feminist imagery. Piexoto states that;
“Our job is not to censure,
but to understand.”
He reinforces the sexist view Offred believes the future will have as she states earlier in the novel;
“From the point of view of future
History, we’ll be invisible.”
Atwood uses this satirical tone to subtly persuade the reader to agree with her and not Professor Piexoto. She was suggesting that sexism is endemic and possibly incapable in any society and uses Piexoto to illustrate this.
There are times throughout the novel when Offred questions her reliability as a narrator;
“I can’t remember exactly because
I had no way of writing it down.”
It could be said that this suggests that Offred is not a real character as there is an uncertainty in her narration. However it may not make Offred any less a credible character. A real person requires a believable past and an establishment of emotions and Offred attains both of these. Her narration structure parallels the construction of a memory and thus explains the fragmented style and Offred’s minor memory lapses.
Atwood has many ideas and views about society which are conveyed in her novels. She has many concerns with the environment and pollution and other green issues. She has strong views on gender politics and a range of political perspectives. These ideas are clearly addressed in the novel but not in such an extreme way.
Throughout the novel there are many references to these ideas. Offred hints to us that the Handmaids are kept away from any potential danger or harm to their health such as pollution;
“It’s quiet in this area,
There isn’t a lot of traffic.”
Offred is aware of these issues and recognises their importance, but doesn’t develop her viewpoint and take such an extreme attitude. This is the opinion of Atwood. She is a credible feminist, but her views are not the extreme and thus Offred bear a resemblance to Atwood’s views and is used as a mouthpiece.
The final statement in the historical notes causes the reader to become active and to engage and think about different ideologies through the characters. She wants us to consider both Offred’s and Piexoto’s point of view.
Atwood has feminist views and these are portrayed throughout the novel. Offred and Moira are both examples of feminists but in different extremes. Moira is a strong individual, a spirited feminist rebel who ends up as a prostitute in Jezebels. It seems Atwood is using Moira and Offred’s relationship with her to demonstrate her own attitudes. Although Offred displays characteristics of a feminist, she is not so extreme. This is demonstrated by her relationship with Nick and resistance to rebel. Read about the language of oppression in The Handmaid’s Tale
Another prominent feminist in the novel is Offred’s mother. We discover she joined the Woman’s Liberation movement and campaigned for women’s sexual and social freedom. Offred’s mother possesses the same type of energy as Moira and like Moira she remains in Offred’s memory as Offred begins to understand her mother and reveal her character to the reader in fragments. It is clear from the way that Offred talks of Moira that she admires her for her free spirit and ability to rebel, but does not always agree with her views;
“But I still pretended to myself then,
that we should try to preserve
something resembling dignity.”
Offred and her mother are very different and do not share the same view on men. Offred’s mother states;
“A man is just a women’s strategy for making other
Women…just do the job, then you can bugger off.”
Offred doesn’t feel the same and this is obvious due to her memories of Luke and her relationship with Nick;
“His fingers move, feeling my arm
Under the nightgown sleeve…it’s so
Good to be touched by someone.”
It is ironic that both Moira and Offred’s mother end up in unfortunate circumstances. Offred’s mother as an Unwoman in the colonies and Moira as a prostitute in Jezebels. Both of these lose their individuality and their existence as women who don’t conform;
“She has a black bow tie round
her neck and is wearing black high
heels. She always hated high heels.”
This illustrates how the path of extremism led Moira to become just another dominated woman in society and lose her identity as a free woman.
Offred in contrast manages to escape her monotonous life. Atwood uses these characters to emphasise her view that she distrusts extremism and that moderation is the best way for a society, especially a patriarchal one like Gilead. This demonstrates how Atwood can manipulate a character and use them as a mouthpiece to express her views.
The past Atwood establishes for Offred and the narration Offred uses, provides her with a recognisable individuality. Although it is clear that there is a portrayal of Atwood’s ideas throughout the novel, Offred’s sole purpose is not for voicing these concerns. The emotional language Offred uses throughout her fragmented narration, and her relationships with other characters demonstrate a believable existence and not just a mouthpiece for Atwood’s opinions.
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