How To Read “The Handmaid's Tale” Like A Professor

1226 words - 5 pages

How to Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” Like a Professor
To the inexperienced reader, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood appears to be simply a feminist novel about female subjugation and extremist views in a dystopian society. However, after reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, one would be able notice the patterns, themes and motifs that are found in the novel. By reading between the lines, it becomes more apparent that The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel that explores a society built upon biblical references and the interconnectivity between sex and politics.
The setting for The Handmaid’s Tale is the Republic of Gilead found within the borders of the former ...view middle of the document...

The story is also read by the Commander of every household once a month to justify “The Ceremony”, the event in which the Commander and the handmaid engage in sexual intercourse solely for the purpose of producing children. Foster reminds us that most often, authors use biblical references because the biblical dimension gives their novel a deeper meaning (pg 56). Atwood references the story of Rachel and Leah with hopes that the reader will notice the hypocrisy and misinterpretation. The founders of Gilead overlooked the fact that in the biblical story neither the wives nor the handmaids were forced into sexual and reproductive subjugation.
In How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster devotes two whole chapters to discussing sex in literature. His main point is that when authors are writing about other things, they are usually talking about sex, and when they are actually writing about sex, they really mean something else (pg. 144). One will come across several depictions of sexual acts when reading The Handmaid’s Tale, but they should not mistake these sexual acts for strictly sex. The protagonist of the novel, Offred, recounts her monthly sexual ceremony with the Commander and his Wife stating that, “It has nothing to do with passion or love or romance or any of those other notions” (pg. 94). Atwood neglects using romantic words in her description of this sexual act because she wants readers to view this sexual activity as a representation of the total male dominance and female submission in Gileadean society. Towards the end of the novel, at the push of the wife Serena Joy who desperately wants a baby, Offred begins an intimate relationship with Nick, the Commander’s chauffeur. However, after the first night, Offred repeatedly sneaks out to be with Nick without Serena knowing. Offred knows the consequences for being with a man and yet she says, “I did not do it for him, but for myself entirely” (pg 268). Atwood wants readers to view this relationship not just as a secret intimate relationship, but also as an act of defiance and rebellion. Foster tells us that more than often, sex scenes in a book mean something more (pg. 150). This is definitely true in The Handmaid’s Tale when sex can mean domination, submission, and rebellion.
Authors are people who are interested in the world around them and the society that they interact with. Therefore, since politics are no doubt a part of their world, politics usually find their way into literature. Foster tells us that knowing about the social and political milieu from which an author is writing is key to understanding their work (pg. 116)....

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