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- Texts that offer an insightful view of the world are worth the reader’s time.
The Handmaids Tale written by Margaret Atwood published in 1985 gives an insightful view into the world of the Handmaids (Offred in particular) but also into our world through similarities and differences. The Handmaids tale is a novel worth reading due to its unique and insightful first person narrative perspective of Offred who is a character which represents all of the Handmaids. The Handmaids Tale is set in futuristic America, the government has been over thrown by a group of religious extremists called the Sons of Jacob who have created the Republic of Gilead with an intention of producing children for a population with low fertility rates. The Republic of Gilead has a rigid and hierarchical societal structure with men at the top (commanders, eyes) and woman suppressed at the bottom (handmaids, unwoman). The Handmaids tale follows the life of Offred living in this society and the internal and external conflicts she experiences on the way which gives both insight into her world but also into our own.
The Handmaids tale is a novel worth the readers time due to the insight it offers into Offred’s world and in turn the world of our own. The unique first person narrative perspective enables the reader to relate and empathize to Offred from the beginning of the novel. ‘I have never looked good in red, it’s not my colour.’ This quote is very important in giving insight into Offred character, this quote helps us understand that Offred is human despite her unfortunate situation. Offred uses humour to connect with the audience showing that she has a personality and that she is fighting to not become a product of her society as she knows Gilead is not her society. This quote also provides insight and relates us to her world as we come to realise that we could be her living in Gilead. This enables the audience to begin developing an emotional investment and personal connection with Offred making the novel an even more insightful view into her world therefore making the novel worth the readers time. ‘The door of my room – not my room. I refuse to say mine – is not locked.’ Atwood uses personal pronouns to further connect the audience with the character of Offred enabling the audience to experience Offred’s feelings of being unsettled to a greater extent, this connection allows the reader to connect with Offred and through that connection enables the reader to see parallels between Gilead and their own society making the novel worth the readers time. Offred communicates that she is not accepting to settle into this new world as she is against the oppressive rules of Gilead. Offred’s mother is an unwoman due to protesting and being an activist of woman’s rights. At this point in the novel we understand that Offred has the similar and strong feelings and opinions on the society of Gilead and we can see her internal conflict. Offred knows that unlike her mother if she continues to fit in with society then she has a hope of escaping Gilead and seeing her husband and daughter again. This understanding and connection we have with Offred in understanding this relates to human nature, if there is light at the end of the tunnel we are much more likely to get to the end of the tunnel, although there will be struggle and internal conflict on the way. Atwood uses Offred as a symbol of what it is to have hope and the power of hope through a tough situation, this something that everyone can relate to and if the audience can’t relate they can learn, this message is a way that Atwood realtes Offreds world to our own offering insight and understanding in both our worlds, this insight is powerful and encourages the audience to keep persevering in tough times which is what makes the Handmaids tale worth reading.
At the turning point of the Handmaids tale Atwood continues to use first person narration through the character of Offred to offer insight into her world but also draw parallels with our own, through this connection the audience is left with big questions and more understanding of the nature of society but also the danger of extreme religion, this understanding and challenge is what makes the novel worth the readers time. ‘I would hear the kitchen door click shut behind me and I would almost turn back’ this quote provides insight into the danger of her actions in visiting Nick. Offred visits Nick because Serena Joy and her suspect that the Commander is infertile and in order for Offred to survive in the republic she has to have a baby and Serena Joy encourages her because she wants a baby although it is still very dangerous to be sneaking around after hours. This quote communicates the danger she feels, the personal pronouns invite the audience to feel how she feels and we can imagine the speed of her heartbeat and the sensitivity of her ears to noise. This quote reminds the audience that Offred is human as this alertness in dangerous situations is human nature, it also reminds us that we could be living the way Offred is and that there are many people in this world living in extreme danger and experiencing emotions like Offred and that it is only the luck of the draw if we are or if we are not. Followed by this quote is ‘it sounded so metallic, like a mousetrap or a weapon.’ This further communicates the extent of danger she is in but also the danger she is feeling and the response she would get if she got caught, the punishment would be cold and soul less like metal. Although it mentions danger and potential injury it does not explicitly mention death as the punishment for fertile woman is almost never death as they want to keep them alive as being fertile is rare in Gilead so they are valuable. ‘It was like being on the operating table, in full glare; like being on stage.’ This is a simile that communicates the intimacy of the Ceremony which is the ritualised act of non-consented sex with the Commander with an aim of producing a baby. The first person narration offers the audience deeper insight. The simile mentions an operating table this communicates that she does not have any control and she is also inferior. When someone is on an operating table, they are often put to sleep to then preform surgery which the doctor has complete control over until the patient wakes up again, this could also communicate the mental and physical pain Offred experiences after the ceremony. ‘Full glare’ communicates that all the attention is on her and that she is expected to preform as does ‘being on stage’ where there is an act to preform but also the feeling of being on stage, ‘stage fright’, this enables the audience to understand that Offred is uncomfortable during and leading up to the ceremony but also frightened if the outcome is unsuccessful. Atwood uses a simile to relate Offred emotions and feeling about the ceremony to feelings most members of the audience will understand enabling the audience to gain insight into Offred world whilst reflecting on their own making the Handmaid’s Tale a novel worth the readers time.
Nearing the end of the novel Atwood continues to use first person narrative perspective to provide insight into Offred’s world whilst relating it to our own world making the novel worth the readers time. By this point in the novel the audience has learnt to trust Offred enabling us to connect with her on a deeper and more visceral reaction meaning that we can learn from her. ‘My own clothes, my own soap, my own money I had earned myself, I think about having such control.’ At this point in the novel Offred is struggling on a much greater level with internal conflict and the need for control. She is growing tired of being in a rigid hierarchy where she is suppressed and ill-treated. Although everything she needs to survive is provided for her she wanted ownership and with ownership is freedom. This need for control can be understood by a wide range of audiences in terms of being an employee, being a student at school and living in a society with strong views and in built misogyny. This need for control over your own life is an aspect of human nature and Offred ability to overcome this internal conflict enables the audience to see Offred as a hero. Offred is a hero because she has endurance in an impossible situation, the audience admires this and this insight and understanding enables the insight into her world but also our world making the novel worth the readers time. ‘As if were are something inherited, like a Victorian pump organ, and he hasn’t figured out what to do with us. What we are worth.’ This quote provides insight into Offred’s personal worth and purpose in society, objectifying her as a fertile woman. The audience is able to understand through the use of first person narrative perspective that Offred is struggling with the internal conflict of her self-worth due to being suppressed in the society for so long. Offred is objectified and then compared to an inherited antique. This shows that Offred thinks that she is not something that the Commander wants but something that the Commander needs, it also shows that she does not think that she fits into society, which at this point we are unsure of what she wants. These quotes offer insight into human nature and normal human emotions and feeling of highs and lows that are experienced throughout life. Atwood provides this insight to communicate to the audience that it is okay and normal to struggle sometimes and question many things including self-worth, relationships with others and societal value and that through these times we learn the most about ourselves which we can then use to grow as a person. These times are also very important as for some people it makes them grateful for what they have but also that they need to help others to ensure they aren’t feeling the same. This insight into Offred experiencing great amounts of internal conflict relates the audience to her world whilst relating her world to the audience, these parallels teach and challenge the audience making the novel worth the readers time.
The unique first person narrative perspective is what enable the audience to deeply connect with the protagonist making the audience care about Offred and her journey making us more invested in the story. This investment and understanding is what enables the audience to compare our world to hers which is what makes us understand her world and see the positive in our world whilst understand ourselves and human nature to a greater extent. The Handmaids tale is a novel which questions and challenges the audience whilst also warning the audience of extreme religion and criticizing our society from a feminist perspective, this insight is what makes the novel worth the readers time.