Discuss Imagery In The 'handmaid's Tale' By Margharet Atwood

1830 words - 8 pages

There are two kinds of freedom: freedom to, and freedom from. Historically, women in the United States have fought philosophical battles in and out of the home to achieve "freedom to" and have been successful.But what if society suddenly took away these freedoms? What if American women were suddenly returned to their cloistered state of old in which their only freedom was the freedom from the dangers of the surrounding world? Then again, did women ever truly achieve "freedom to" at all?Such are the difficult-to-answer sociological questions raised in Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale. In this thought-provoking work, two societies with completely opposing ideologies and concepts of ...view middle of the document...

It is important to note, however, that the novel, written in first person, has a certain subjectivity that cannot be associated with a photograph. Each image, although it is photographic, detailed, and precise in its rendering, is also mingled with the narrator's own emotional reaction to it.The narrator herself is aware of her own capacity to err. She calls her own account a "reconstruction ... [because] it's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was ... you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances," inferring that her story is based on flawed memories of what truly passed.Imagery used to describe place setting uses the same photographic quality. Through Offred's perceptive eyes, we discover the institutions of Gilead, all based on a rigid caste system oppressive to women. On the very first page, we find ourselves with Offred in "what had once been a high school gymnasium." She goes on to vividly describe the floors painted with lines for now-antiquated games, and the faint smell of sweat and chewing gum which still lingers.Like Offred, we are thrown head first into a foreign world, experiencing, perhaps, the same sense of confusion. Also like Offred, the world of Gilead eventually becomes clearer to us as we are confronted with more and more descriptive pictures of her surroundings. Every detail of her shapeless red uniform with its blinders is recounted.We learn of the Red Center where handmaids are trained. Of the house of the 'Commander' where Offred must live to attempt to bear his children (as well as do the grocery shopping). Of her cell-like room in the Commander's house, with its thin white curtains and its pillow embroidered with the word FAITH (although Offred is not supposed to read under Gileadean law) and of the bare hole in the ceiling where the light fixture was taken out because the past Handmaid used it to hang herself.Slowly, the space through which Offred moves becomes clearer and clearer to the reader, and an entire city is built image by photographic image held together only with the mortar of imagination.It is during each of Offred's days that we come to understand surrounding Gilead, but when Offred lies awake reflecting each night, we learn through her remembered images about her past life as a librarian and married mother of one daughter living in the Boston area. We find that Offred is average in many ways. She has moderate views and an average lifestyle.These images of past life serve in many ways to contrast the institutions of Gilead. For example, Offred would attend women's rights rallies with her mother when still a child, and she still clearly remembers the flames rising from piles of pornographic magazines. She also used to smoke, an act prohibited in Gilead. (One day, however, as she attempts to buy cigarettes, all of her money has been transferred into her husband's care.)The sense of longing for the past which characterizes Offred's memories, contrasts...

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