[2015] Anna DeShong (AP Literature): The Handmaids' Tale

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[2015] Anna DeShong (AP Literature): The Handmaids' Tale

The Handmaid's TaleBy: Margret Atwood

Setting This story takes place in a city in that used to be in the United States, but is now called the Republic of Gilead

CharactersOffred is the narrator and protagonist and gives good descriptions about others but is unable to give much information about herself. The Commander is the married man who lives at the house where Offred works as a Handmaid. He seems to not really care much about anyone but then we find out that he is actually very lonely.Serena Joy is the Commander’s Wife and used to be a gospel singer that Offred listened to. She is clearly jealous of Offred and does not act kindly towards her. Rita and Cora are the Marthas assigned to the commander's household. Rita is the stricter one who is mainly in charge of the cooking. She doesn't care too much for Offred decisions or get involved in her business. Cora is the nicer one who takes care mostly of household chores. She treats Offred more like a person than property unlike most of the characters.Aunt Lydia is one of the leaders are the Red Center. She makes a very strong impression on Offred, as she oftten hears Aunt Lydia's voice in the back of her mind due to the constant manipulation and brainwashing done at the red center using misconstrued biblical verses.Janine who is also known as Ofwarren and met Offred at the red center, has a baby and is envied by the other Handmaids until the baby turns out to be an "unbaby" or in other words, deformed. Her troubled past led to her modified role in the time of Gilead as a goody-goody.Moira is Offred's lesbian best friend from college. She is a very rebellion feminist which is shown by her escape from the Red Center. Her unwavering strength is most of what pushes Offred foward until she sees her at Jezebel's acting uncharacterisitcally compliant after years of resistance.Ofglen is the handmaid partnered with Offred at the Commander's house to go shopping with. Ofglen seems very shy and submissive until she reveals that she is a member of the resistance who eventually gets taken away.Nick is Serena Joy's driver and from the beginning, Offred believes him to be a bit strange. After they have sex he becomes her companion. His character seems inconsistent, like he is a good guy one minute then a bad guy the next. Luke is Offred's husband from before Gilead. He is the father of her daughter but also seems to be just a figment of her memory as the new version of her life goes on. She struggles with choosing to let go or hold on to the idea that they will meet again and be happy.

SummaryThis story is about a Handmaid named Offred in the Republic of Gilead. Handmaids are women who live with couples that are no longer able to produce children due to incredibly low reproduction rates. Offred serves the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy by taking place in a monthly ceremony in attempt to conceive a child by the Commander. As Offred tells her story in the present tense, she frequently flashes back to her old life in which she had an affair with Luke before marrying him and baring a daughter. After Offred was caught trying to cross the border, her marriage was voided and she was sent to the Red Center where women learn to become Handmaids through education by the Aunts. Moira is Offred's old college friend who is able to escape the Red Center . At the Commander’s house, Offred develops a routine for her life. She goes shopping with another Handmaid, called Ofglen. All Handmaids are checked regularly by the doctor for health and fertility. The doctor offered to help Offred conceive which makes her uneasy. After one ceremony, the Commander sends Nick to ask Offred to come see him in his study where they play Scrabble and he asks her for a kiss, which is completely unorthodox. Serena promises Offred a picture of her daughter if she sleeps with Nick and passes the child off as the Commander's but the same night, the Commander secretly takes her out to a prostitution club called Jezebel’s where Moira works. Offred finds out that she too was capture right before crossing the border. When she gets home, Serena tells her to go have sex with Nick which becomes a regular thing. When Ofglen reveals that she is a member of “Mayday,” a resistance organization, so when all the Handmaids take part in a group execution, Ofglen strikes the criminal first to put him out of his misery because he was also a member of Mayday. This is the Climax. After this, Ofglen hangs herself to be saved from the Eyes (secret police). When Serena Joy finds out about the trip to Jezebel's she sends Offred to her room just as men in a black van come to either arrest or take her to freedom. This uncertainty does not provide much of a resolution.

MotifsThe Color Red: The dresses worn by the Handmaids symbolizes fertility, which is the Handmaid's primary purpose. Red represent the blood of the menstrual cycle and childbirth. Red is also traditionally a symbol for sexual sin.Sex: It is how babies are made and with low fertility rates, the Handmaid's are required to participate whether they want to or not. This lack of choice takes away yet another freedom in this new society. With so many restrictions on it, the pleasure is taken away from sex and it becomes primarily business.SymbolsEyes: The Eyes of God are the secret police in the Republic of Gilead. This entwines the constant watching and supervision of the police and the convoluted idea that this new society is fulfilling God's will.Flowers: Often represent beauty and ferility. Serena Joy and many of the older women keep gardens as an attempt to hold onto these parts of their youth.

Here, Aunt Lydia tries to convince the girls that the situation in which there are living is actually one that primarily benefits them

'They' is the authorities and they don't fear the women running away because security is so tight that she would not be able to escape physically, even if she tried. They don't want the women to be educated or think for themselves so what they really fear is the women finding ways to kill themselves because so few are able to reproduce and the ones that can are confined so tight that they loose their sanity and suicide becomes their only escape. The 'cutting edge' could refer to a sharp object like glass used to kill oneself.

ThemesIn a situation which a person with no identity encounters a brutally unforgiving society in a situation which anyone she can identify with has lost all freedom and power the result may be a stuggle to retain her sense of self.Harsh societal structures can be as dargerous as physical confinements, with the lack of freedom and identity loss there comes also a gradual loss of sanity.

Notable Text Features The Handmaid's Tale refudoes not one particular genre. It uses an effective combination of science fiction and feminist literature to create and develop the author's argument. Point of ViewTold from offred's point of view, the protagonist. It is told in the present tense flashing back occaisionally to the past tense.

“It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge” (8).

“When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that” (30).

"There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it" (24).

In difficult times, it helps to believe that things used to be better because believing that the past was beautiful gives hope to hopeless situations.


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