9th April 2018

3.4 Critical Review

The Handmaids Tale, 3.4 Critical Review

Thesis: Margaret Atwood presented incredibly how a language is a powerful tool in controlling not only people but society, in the novel ‘The Handmaids Tale’, by fabricating a dystopian society. 

“May the Lord open”

Margaret Atwood presented incredibly how a language is a powerful tool in controlling not only people but society, in the novel ‘The Handmaids Tale’, by fabricating a dystopian society. “I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.” Language along with the air we breathe daily is indispensable to human existence, yet it is so underestimated.Exhale, exhale, exhale. Breathe, breathe, breathe. And hold, hold, hold.” Take away oxygen from us and we are no longer a living race, take away language the very communication we rely on and we again are nothing.

The Handmaids Tale Novel is an outgrowth of the twentieth-century dystopian point of view. The novel does not follow a typical chronological sequence rather a jigsaw puzzle of flashbacks, terror, and control. Atwood forces the reader to follow along intently and complete the puzzle themselves. The puzzle leaves the reader in two states of mind, one being the favorable outcome of what could happen next. two, being the outcome inhibited by the vulgar events that happen early in the novel. Language in ‘The Handmaids Tale’ is used to strip away everything that is unwanted and deemed as incorrect and against the beliefs of Gilead. Males are named to their accordance of what would be a military rank, eg, commanders (the husbands) are the highest males in the hierarchy. Females are given names to whom they come second to, for example, wives are not seen as individuals even though they are the furthest up the female social hierarchy. It could be argued that the Handmaids although low in the social hierarchy have to their advantage their viable wombs they are almost invincible in that sense. The Handmaids are stripped of everything that makes them somewhat of an individual, as they are renamed by who they “belong” to. This novel is expressed through first-person narration by Offred (Pronounced Of-Fred) the protagonist of the novel. 

Margaret Atwood born in 1939 in Canada is one the most popular authors in recent history, it is noted that everything she described and incredibly pictured to the readers has all happened in history before. It was a rule of hers when writing the novel to “not actually put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t done before.” Atwood before writing the novel studied the American Puritans and their society that was founded in America. Atwood also notes that “history shows what we have been in the past, we could be again”.

Atwood portrayed how brutal language can be when used as a mechanism to control not only people but a society. The Handmaid’s tale as a novel overall allowed me as the reader to be intrigued and terrified all at the same time. Offred speaks about having the pre-ceremony biblical passage of Rachel and Jacob “drummed” into her breakfast and dinner during her stay at the red center. “Give me children or else I die.’ And she said, ‘Behold my maid, Bilhah. Go in unto her and she shall bear upon my knees so that I might also have children by her.’ And she gave him Bilhah, their Handmaid, to wife, and Jacob went unto her.” The handmaids through language have everything about them warped and changed to follow the “rules” of Gilead. Offred shares that she was given a choice to become a Handmaid, however, her only other choices were death or being sent to the Colonies of “Unwomen”. Gilead believes that the Handmaids have chosen their position when, in reality, they have only decided to survive. By Gilead claiming that becoming a Handmaid is a choice is an excuse for the society uses to force the Handmaids to participate in this dehumanizing ritual. 

Throughout the book, we are shown how peoples normal lives are destroyed and reinvented through fear, language and control into that of what Gilead “wants” and or “requires”. As put amazingly by Cathy Warren, an author for the Charlotte, North Carolina, Observer, who depicts Atwood’s work as “The cry of a female Jeremiah…The Handmaid’s Tale is not a feminist novel; it is a political one in the Orwell tradition. It is a savage and gripping book, the kind you wish you could put aside but can’t.” With the Orwell tradition being fear and control, through Big brother similarly compared to the “eyes” in the Handmaids Tale. The Handmaids tale is truly a book I found immensely hard to put down. With the puzzle piece storyline and the mix of fast-moving terror and the slow long-suffering reminders of control held over the state of Gilead. In an interview for The Progressive, Margaret Atwood explains how she came to write The Handmaid’s Tale, which is often labeled speculative fiction because it appears to predict or warn of a triumph of totalitarianism. She absorbed the New England Puritan tradition whilst studying at Harvard, she bore witness to the rise of the U.S. political right in the 1980s and compared it to the phenomenon of Hitler.

In an article written by the Guardian 2017 a Reporter wrote, “For all the novel’s power, it is 30 years old, written by Atwood as she travelled through West Germany and behind the Iron Curtain; and reading it today, it is easy to feel there is a missing piece, a disconnect between where we are now in 2018 and how we would get to our own Gilead. It is telling that The Handmaid’s Tale is sometimes miscategorized as science-fiction, we don’t like to consider it as a possibility.” The handmaid’s tale should be a broad awakening to all that if we do not start, looking at whats going on there could be a time where the “exaggerated republic of Gilead and its views” could become the very reality we could live in if we don’t change something in our near future. When before has America needed to take such a hard look at itself, and consider the hypocritical, misogynist prurience that seems to drive so many of its political figures? 

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.”The handmaid’s tale novel brutally expresses trauma, fear, and control over the very things we take for granted. As humans our rights, women our bodies, and society our political leaders. 

“Under his eye”


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