The Handmaid's Tale
NY: Fawcett Crest Book, Ballantine 1985
Concerned with Canada's cultural identity; Feminist concerns; Survival
Duality "Tricks with Mirror" Two-Headed Poems (1978); Victim mentality
So far she's written 42 books; 10 novels;
Styles: Postmodern, self-reflexive mode; mixing poetry and fiction, mixing
a lot of genres (Gothic, detective story, fairy tales, family romance,
comedy, allegory, etc.)
Atwood on HA: '''I delayed writing it for
about three years after I got the idea because I felt it was too crazy,''
Miss Atwood says. ''Then two things happened. I started noticing
that a lot of the things I thought I was more or less making up were now
happening, and indeed more of them have happened since the publication
of the book. There is a sect now, a Catholic charismatic spinoff
sect, which calls the women handmaids. They don't go in for polygamy of
this kind but they do threaten the handmaids according to the biblical
verse I use in the book - sit down and shut up. "
The Handmaid's Tale not being science fiction but based on real
political, historical and contemporary events." (from BBC
Interviews Atwood (1996); this
Atwood's 1987 essay opposing the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement: "Canada
as a separate but dominated country has done about as well under the U.S.
as women, worldwide, have done under men; about the only position they've
ever adopted towards us, country to country, has been the missionary position,
and we were not on top."(82)
What does Atwood want
to satirize through the imaginary nation, Gilead?
How does the narrator,
Offred, re-construct her identity after she is reduced to just the role
of being a handmaid? What does she remember?
color & names:
Commander, Eye (24, 29; 38),
Angel, Guardian of the Faith (27-28),
Wife, 16, 18-19; 20-21-22, Serena Joy, and the previous wife
Aunt, pp. 4, 25; 33
Handmaids: their names, Janine p. 35, 36; Martha, p. 13-; 28; Econowives
p. 32, widow, p. 32, Unwoman
Gilead's color: black, blue, etc. pp. 12, 29
north of Maine;
the Historical notes: Maine p. 381
News broadcast: p. 107
The underground organization has sent resources
Five Quakers were arrested in a place which used
to be Detroit.
Montreal Satellite station is blocked.
-- Atwood's own interpretation: Boston.
"The Wall is the wall around Harvard yard.
All those little shops and stores mentioned are probably there at this
very minute. I lived in Boston for four years. It's also
the land of my ancestors. . . . They were Puritans of the 1630 - 1635 immigration.
. . ."“ (87).
Compound (Kitchen, lawn with flowers, handmaid's room); gate 18; p. 23;
Red Center, --punishments p. 118
the streets and the stores (Lilies, Milk and Honey, All Flesh)
the Wall, pp. 42-
Jezebel * pp. 105, 107
Spatial control: Offred's
room: p. 9-10 Archaic, Reduced to the basic facilities
Aunt pp. 25; 33;
No talking, no thinking
p. 10; total control of news broadcast 105-107
salutes and sayings:
e.g. p. 26
"Blessed be the
fruit"; "May the God open"--p. 25; "Praise be." p. 26; farewell =
"Under His Eye" p. 59. "Waste not, want not." p. 9; "Think of yourself
as seeds." p. 25; "The Republic of Gilead knows no bounds. Gilead
is within you." p. 31; two kinds of freedom p. 33; "Modesty is invisibility"
p. 38; "All Flesh is weak" p. 60. "Men are sex machines" 186
Control of women: fewer
widows p. 32
control of sexuality:
about romance, passion or desire; only a matter of duty. p. 122
The man can still enjoy it with two women.
Women turned into ailing mothers” p. 123.
Sexual intercourse ritualized; endorsed by the
Offred: like a furniture, arms being held by
Serena p. 121
Who gets killed at the wall? Why?
Why Gilead? background of 1980: authoritarian
moves in the 70's and 80's.
1) Feminist controversies over porn, abortion;
2) conversatism: Reagan era in the United States and Margaret Thatcher's
era in Britain. The 1980s brought a backlash against the feminist movement.
The tide had turned in favor of conservative values,
3) religious fundamentalism: --conservative movement in American
Protestantism; emphasizing as fundamental to Christianity the literal interpretation
and absolute inerrancy of the Scriptures, the imminent and physical Second
Coming of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, and Atonement.
In opposition to modernist tendencies in American religious and secular
Gilead's Spaces: Red center; Offred's
bedroom, bathroom chap 12. the sitting room; Birth Center 149 -
the commander's study 176;
The Handmaid's Tale: General Criticism:
How does the handmaid resist? Is she passive? e.g. Not actively
involved in May Day underground group, loves hand cream, Vogue, Sleeps
with both the Commander and Nick, the ending. -- from Margaret
Atwood Revisited by Karen F. Stein
HT as a national allegory using conservative feminism? -- "[The Handmaid's
Tale]'s understanding of female independence is determined by Atwood's
sexually coded understanding of Canada and America. In this, Atwood's full-scale
parody of American society, what concerns her is not a feminist politics
of emancipation, but the nationalist politics of self-protective autonomy,
an autonomy which, as I will argue, eventually translates into an advocacy
of traditional femininity." (Sandra Tomc 74 )
"[Atwood] seems to privilege the female existential will, the realm of
private consciousness, as an adequate recompense for. . . enslavement."
(Glenn Deer 85).
“. . . when [Offred] is finally contacted by the resistance, she is curiously
uninterested. She has sunk too far into the incestuous little household
she serves. . .(Barbara Ehrenriech.)
Atwood -bio and
Atwood -biography, Canadian & World Encyclo.
Margaret Atwood Information Web Site
MARGARET ATWOOD INFORMATION SITE
Atwood WWW Resources
Balm in Gilead for Margaret Atwood" New York Times Review of Books.
February 17, 1986.
Thesis on The Handmaid's Tale
Angela M. Gulick's master's thesis on the Atwood novel,
entitled "The Handmaid's Tale: More than 1984 with Chicks." The thesis
examines the utopian, dystopian, feminist, and postmodernist traditions
associated with the novel.
Margot Dame's Surrugacy:
The Handmaid's Tale -- Critical review.
American Fiction and Film's chapter on The Handmaid's Tale (Central
Queensland University -- Australia)
Witcomb's Essay on the Handmaid's Tale -- Describes it as an "analysis
of the oppression of women through institutionalized sexism and patriarchal
Politics of Language: A Device of Creativity and Power in Margaret Atwood's
Handmaid's Tale (Gabriele Twohig)
Introduction to Language Theory and Its Relevance to Margaret Atwood's
Novel, The Handmaid's Tale -- Course module which includes background
and references, centering around feminist language-centered criticism
of The Handmaid's Tale (F. Aull, New York University)
Daphne Riordan's Review
of the The Handmaid's Tale, including links to other reviews and
"A number of internet resources detail
the possible parallels between the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Atwood's
fictional "Republic of Gilead" in The Handmaid's Tale." (source)
International Report on Afghanistan
The "Real Story" Making History in Margaret
Atwood's The Robber