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Analysis of "the Handmaid's Tale"

Essay by   •  December 20, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,109 Words (5 Pages)  •  3,204 Views

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The Handmaid's Tale is a distopian novel of tightly wound truths and links to our society today. It is so tightly wound, like a thorn bush, that gaining any meaning from it at all proves to be a very arduous task indeed for those who are not predisposed to do so. Nevertheless, some meaning did present itself during the text, as follows.

The truth that is privileged in The Handmaid's Tale is that societies/regimes based on totalitarianism and extremism are not satisfactory for anyone involved. Even though they may in theory be an improvement, in practice they fall dismally short of the mark. This truth is apparent in every aspect of The Handmaid's tale. The commander, for instance one of those key men responsible for the creation of Gilead, found that he craved intimacy and interaction; two of the aspects of the previous society that he had decided were unnecessary and served only to complicate reproduction. So the commander himself found the regime he had helped to create lacking. Eventually the regime he had helped to create came back to haunt him as he found himself being tried for crimes against the guidelines he had set. Serena Joy, a traditionalist and anti-feminist, finds that she gets exactly what she has been campaigning for, and that this was not what she thought life should be like at all, as, in fact, she hadn't thought about it.

Offred, as with the other handmaids, the subjects around whom the society of Gilead, was constructed found although they had been given security from fear of things such as robbery and rape, they still lived in fear. But now the fear was a fear for their lives and that fear was constant. This doesn't seem to be much of a trade, along with losing freedoms such as literacy, passion, and communication. Even the aunts, the spokeswomen for the Gilead regime, lived in constant fear of being shipped off to colonies at any moment as they themselves did not meet the requirements posed on the women by the new regime.

The Genre of The Handmaids Tale assists responders in making meaning from the text. The Handmaid Tale falls into the genre of science-fiction (or speculative fiction). A science-fiction or speculative fiction novel is one though which a writer imagines a possible future and creates a story set in that possible future, exploring all the trials and tribulations that come with it. The Handmaids Tale takes issues and aspects of life as it is today, and exaggerates and blows them out of proportion to a point in the future, where these same aspects of life have become the most extreme mutants of their former selves imaginable, helping the responder to think about what they depend on and who/what is leading their life. Knowing that the Genre of The Handmaids Tale is science-fiction helps the responder to understand where the author is going with the text, and to identify which points of society the author is focusing on, thus assisting the responder to gain meaning from the text.

The intertexual links in The Handmaids Tale on the whole assist responders who have an understanding/knowledge of the linked texts. This understanding assists responders in the way that they are thus faced with less questions to answer when reading the text and trying to make a meaning of it than responders who have no knowledge of the linked texts, and thus have to do some extra reading to make an understanding of the text.

One example of this intertextual assistance is in the third quotation at the beginning of the text, it reads;

'In the desert there is no sign that says thou shalt not eat stones'

- Sufi proverb

A responder who has no knowledge of who the Sufi are, or what they are talking about might not understand the relevance of the quotation, and might not be able to apply it to the text. Whereas a responder who has some knowledge of the Sufi would be able to identify that it is an Arabian proverb and may be able to decipher what the quotation is trying to say

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