Handmaids Tale – Basic Response

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 November 2016

Handmaids Tale – Basic Response

One of the ways in which The Handmaid’s Tale creates opportunities to respond is through its discussion and exploration of a dystopian society. A dystopian society is often characterised as a futuristic setting with oppressive societal control and elements of totalitarianism. The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead and a way in which Atwood has chosen to display a dystopian society is through creating a sense that the citizens of Gilead are under constant surveillance, a characteristic of dystopian literature.

This can be shown through the reoccurring motif of “the eye. ” The eye motif symbolises the eternal watchfulness of god and the totalitarian state with its recurrence creating a sense that citizens of Gilead are constantly being surveyed. This is shown as Offred states “to be seen-to be seen- is to be- her voice trembled-penetrated. ” The use of repetition and italicise of the word ‘seen’ is used to highlight the fact that individuals don’t want to be seen, creating an ominous presence of control and threat through the constant watching.

Another way The Handmaid’s Tale creates opportunities to respond in relation to its dystopian reading is in its discussion of citizens in fear of the outside world. This fear is shown through the presence of “The Wall. ” The wall serves as a symbolic barrier separating Gilead from the outside world and also emphasising the existence of the totalitarian state and its allusion of a perfect world. This meaning is shown as the wall is described to have “barbed wire along the bottom and broken glass set in concrete along the top.

Visual imagery here is used to create fear of the outside world through the literal and metaphorical barrier the wall represents. It is also important to note that the value of Atwood’s text is evident in the way it is a cautionary novel, designed to provide a reflection and thus provide commentary on the potential for 21st century society to adopt these extremes. Therefore the novels exploration of elements of dystopian society including the perceived surveillance of citizens and fear of the outside world creates opportunities to respond to The Handmaid’s Tale in relation to its comments about dystopian society, making it valuable.

Even though the totalitarian regime has been destroyed, Atwood warns us that governments can still exploit woman. In the Historical Notes, it is concerning how Professor Pieixoto states, “No new system can impose itself upon a previous one without incorporating many of the elements to be found in the latter. ” This implies that selected characteristics of the dystopian Gilead Republic will be adopted by a new government. Another way in which The Handmaid’s Tale creates opportunities to respond is through its complex interpretation from a feminist perspective.

This is shown within the novel as the Handmaid’s bodies are used for procreation, their sexual freedom has been denied. This is seen through the constant discussion of fertility with Offred often belittling herself and her body to be used, “we are like containers, it’s only the insides of our bodies that are important. The outside can become hard … like the shell of a nut. ” Here a simile is used to continue to degrade and dehumanise Offred through equating her to a simple “nut,” an empty being, only valued for her fertility.

Also the way in which women are used for procreation is shown through the motif of red, “a nondescript woman in red,” with women here further dehumanised to “nondescript” beings. The motif of red is used to represent fertility. The way females are often referred to as red throughout the text highlights how the Handmaids’ sole purpose within the society of Gilead is to procreate, demonstrating once again how females within the society are only valued for their bodies.

In regards to a feminist interpretation, male dominance is also presented throughout the novel through the discussion of sterile- this is again italicised to emphasise its effect relating to a feminist viewpoint as males don’t go to colonies yet females do highlighting gender inequality. The inclusion of these elements discusses a range of feminist concerns allowing it to be interpreted in a myriad of different ways, increasing its value. The Handmaid’s Tale furthermore creates opportunities to respond through its inclusion of post-modern elements thus making it valuable.

The novel can be read from a post-modern perspective as Atwood uses self- reflexivity as a means of questioning what is truth. This is shown when Offred admits, “This is a reconstruction, all of it is a reconstruction. It’s a reconstruction now, in my head. ” The use of repetition, “reconstruction” creates emphasis and awareness of how the story Offred tells is only fractured pieces of the story, taken apart and put back together. Atwood here is trying to make her reader’s question if what is being said is true; implying that not everything read is necessarily true.

This post-modern analysis which believes in the existence of multiple truths can be further seen through Offred’s narration shown as she questions “you want the best for her. Don’t you? ” Here metafiction is used as Offred directly communicates with the audience, presenting an element of post- modern literature. From a post-modern interpretation the truthfulness of Offred’s singular narration is questionable accentuated when she consciously reinstates, “I don’t want to be telling this story. ” This highlights how her narration could be subjected bias rather than truth.

Thus The Handmaid’s Tale can be interpreted from a post-modern perspective making it valuable as this is one of the many ways it can be responded to. In conclusion it is through the different ways to respond to Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale that the text possesses value. These responses are generated in relation to dystopian, feminist and post-modern interpretations that the novel discusses. Each of these comments on 21st century society and encourage audiences to respond to their own society in different ways making the text valuable.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 November 2016

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