– Aunt Lydia in R;L Re-Ed Centre, on the benefits of Gilead, Page 34 This is illustrated by the fears and agonies that Offred endures in Gilead, when human beings are not free to aspire toward whatever they wish, when choices become so severely constrained that life turns into a painfully prolonged prison term. The only idea keeping Offred going is that of survival; this impulse to survive, together with the occasional flashes of warmth and concern among the handmaids, transmits reassuring signs of hope and humanity in an otherwise chilling and depressing tale.
What makes Atwood’s book such a timeless tale is its clever technique in presenting the heroine initially as a voice, almost like a sleepwalker conceiving disjointed perceptions of its surroundings, as well as flashing reminiscences about a bygone life. As the scenes gather more details, the heroine’s voice is steadily and unconsciously, yet convincingly, transfigured into a full-roundedness that parallels her maturing comprehension of what is happening around her. Thus the victim (and the reader), manipulated and coerced, is metamorphosed into a determined conniver who daringly violates the perverted canons of Gilead.
Moreover, Atwood skilfully manipulates the time sequence between the heroine’s past (pre-Gilead life) and the present; those shifting reminiscences offer glimpses of a life, though not ideal, still filled with energy, creativity, humaneness, and a sense of selfhood, a life that sharply contrasts with the alienation, slavery, and suffering under totalitarianism. Time plays an important role in retaining a sense of credibility within the novel; the discontinuous succession of images Offred presents us with is randomised with no true overall pattern.
The book is not portrayed in linear time; linear time is a major feature of our Western cultural world-view, apparently initiated by Newton some 300 years ago. It portrays time as an absolute physical reality, and says that the passage of time is independent of consciousness. So it doesn’t matter what you think, feel, or do, or how you look at time, time doesn’t change as a result. Offred would appear to exist in what can only be termed non linear time, in which she has in her own mind seemingly broken down the traditional barriers of past and present, and merged them into one continuous present.
She is able to leap from memory to memory without any disconcertion suffered; she can be at any point in her own personal history. She exists in the immediate pre-Gilead society in her own mind at points, yet can immediately extract herself from her memories and pull herself back into the linear present. Luke is the ever-present memory, the place where she emotionally resides. By the time the reader reaches the end of the novel, he has been effectively and conclusively shown how the misogynous regime functions on the basis of power, not choice; coercion, not decision; fear, not desire.
In other words, Atwood administers in doses the assaulting shocks to our sensibilities of a grim dystopian nightmare; initially, the narrative voice, distant and almost diffidently void of any emotions, emphasizes those aspects of abstinence and solemnity imposed by the state, then progressively tyranny and corruption begin to unfold piecemeal. As the novel concludes, as the horror reaches a climax, the narrative voice assumes a fully engaged emotional tone that cleverly keeps us in suspense about the heroine’s fate.
This method of measured, well-punctuated revelations about Gilead connects symbolically with the novel’s central meaning: misogynous dogmas, no matter how seemingly innocuous and trustworthy they may appear at their initial conception, are bound, when allowed access to power, to reveal their ruthlessly tyrannical nature. It is the sum of all these features, which can be expressed as Atwood’s determination to give a balanced and unwavering depiction of possibilities yet-to-come, that contribute to the readability of the novel as a whole.
Issues which were significant and relevant in the 80s have not lessened over 2 decades, and still hold appeal for readers now – the what if genre has always held an allure; what would have happened if the Civil Rights movement had failed, if the Allies had lost WW2, ad infinitum. Atwood pulls all these strands together into one final masterpiece, in which she is free to explore the attitudes – and possible attitudes – towards women and how an entire society can be manipulated by the minority. Bibliography:
Peter Mudie, “No Balm in Gilead,” in Newsweek, Vol. CVH, No. 7, March 27, 1986, p. 72. Vanya Boateng, “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: Resistance through Narrating,” in English Studies, Vol. 63, No. 3, November 1989, pp. 344-346. Tom Gilchrist Handmaid’s Tale – Classic Modern Fiction October 5th 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Margaret Atwood section.