My coursework concentrates on the presentation of the power of women in the world. The aim is to show that women in fact have more power over men than the other way around which is the most widely held belief and also over each other. The pieces I have chosen for my coursework are “The Handmaids Tale” By Margaret Atwood, “The importance of being Ernest” by Oscar Wilde and a speech by Margaret Thatcher at Brighton at a Conservative party conference in 1969 on a motion to increase the equality of women in society.
To begin with I will describe and explain each piece separately and then bring forward links of similarities and differences in more detail. “The Handmaids Tale” is a novel set in the near future after what is implied to be some kind of nuclear disaster or war upon which the government collapses leaving the way clear for religious fundamentalists to take control.
The main character is known as ‘Offred’ which is an interchangeable given name and not her original name which is never given throughout the book, also no women throughout the novel have their real names spoken, in their society they are known only as ‘Handmaids’ in Offred’s case and even the higher station of ‘Wives’ do not have names and are only known as their position in the social order, taking away any individuality and independence they may have had in the ‘Time before’.
The only people to have power are males, only high ranking males known as ‘Commanders’ but what they are commander of is never revealed but these are the only persons permitted to procreate, and if their ‘Wife’ is unable to produce offspring then a ‘Handmaid’ is allocated to the Commander as in Genesis, 30:1-3 in the bible where Rachel, the wife of Jacob is unable to reproduce so offers her handmaid to him so they may have children, this is where the Gilead society gain their ideas of handmaids for breeding, showing that it is an traditional and outdated society.
If Offred or any person deviates from the rules they are sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness or hanged at ‘The wall’. The section I have chosen is the first time Offred is introduced to the Commanders Wife in chapter three. “The importance of being Ernest” is a play and is the story of Jack, and through his friend Algernon meets the beautiful Miss Fairfax and he falls in love with her.
The extract I have chosen is the scene when Jack is trying to win Gwendolyn’s heart, which results in the objection of her Mother, Lady Bracknell. Finally I will be analysing most of Margaret Thatcher’s speech about women becoming equal with men, but I will be focusing mainly on the relevant sections about women in society.
In “The Handmaids Tale” Offred is at first glance, powerless in her position, the lowest on the hierarchy, below the cooks and cleaners, seen as unclean but necessary, which makes her feel as if she is merely being tolerated, even by the lower members of the household including the cook and the housekeeper, but she still retains some power as everyone is relying on her to bear a child by the Commander, her status is shown by her privilege of arriving at the front door rather than the back, and also the escort salutes her as he leaves, showing she has some importance.
Gwendolyn has the greatest control in the conversation with Jack because she has a very strong personality and is exaggerated against Jack’s nervous disposition around her so she has the greatest control over the topic which is shown when she steers the conversation to encourage him to propose, which breaks the normal rules of gender interaction.
In this play it is the women that have the greater control, it is the women who speak the most, keeping their supremacy over the relations, they are at the top of the hierarchy, but Lady Bracknell has the most authority that is shown through Gwendolyn going from assertive with Jack to submissive to Lady Bracknell.
Offred also acts rebellious in small ways to make herself feel that she has some control of her life which have little impact or significance other than on a personal level, such as stealing butter to use as face cream and refusing to call her room ‘my’ room, so The Commanders Wife loses some of her control over Offred especially when she begins to see the Commander behind her back making her the character with the power over Serena Joy and also the Commander as well as she is a sort of mistress and could tell Serena about her husband and his secret life in the underground clubs and his connections with the black market, she feels like she is laughing at her behind her back.
This is similar to when Offred is describing Serena when she first sees her; she describes her face having ‘a permanent look of surprise, or outrage or inquisitiveness, such as you might see on a startled child’ with blue eyes that shut you out and a once ‘cute nose but was now to small for her face, she is insulting her mistress’s looks; this shows that she still has some power, even if it is only in her own mind. “The Handmaids Tale” is a book about the past, in the ‘Time before’ women were equal to men, they could have jobs and bank accounts but once the shifting of the government started women were stopped from working and holding property, it was like society were taking a step backwards into the Victorian era instead of moving forwards as it should do. This is shown through the repeated mentioning of memories of places or practices such as the mentioning of lip cosmetics and face cream or what people were like before, such as the inclusion of Serena Joy who used to be a singer on a Biblical television program.