Topic: Entertainment & MediaEvents

Last updated: January 1, 2020

Heather Walker
Speculating your views with a dystopia – The Handmaid’s Tale

You may have heard the expressions utopia and dystopia before. These terms, are two forms of worlds that are favoured in speculative fiction or science fiction stories. If you haven’t heard the term speculative fiction, then you’ve come to the right place! It is just an extensive term that comprises of science fiction, fantasy, apocalyptic, horror, supernatural, alternative history, or other varieties of fiction that is not exactly realistic.
In other words, speculative fiction is a genre that powerfully considers worlds, unlike reality. As you’ve probably guessed, it involves a vision for the future or alternate world. Authors use this to effectively comment and combine ideas concerning their own society. Speculative fiction often asks:

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‘What if?’ -What if robots controlled the world? What if we were re-living the past? What if the world ends tomorrow? What if women were controlled by men?

In Margaret Atwood’s 1985 speculative novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Which powerfully explores a speculative world, in which we are challenged to comment and reflect on her context of the imagined world. Atwood is one of many writers who demonstrates a clear warning through the influence of social, cultural and historical context. In the text, Atwood’s intentions to confront her readers of the human tragedy, crafty imagines a society inferior to our own, warning readers of where our own society could end up if individuals and communities neglect to discourse similar dystopian tendencies.

A world gone mad:
Have you ever had the thought of living in a world under a totalitarian regime? Well, Atwood provokes Gilead as a regime which obliges obedience, amidst brutal punishments. Torture is seen in the public exposure of bodies on the wall, witnessed by Offred and Ofglen on their usual shopping walks, and what Offred imagines is happening to Luke,
“I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not.”.
This you can say is part of Atwood’s comment on the judicial punishments given out in certain societies. Her strong importance in endorsing human rights in her novel provides her readers to think about the concern. Being a satire, as readers, we are positioned to be aware that Atwood is making demands on them. She essentially asks to consider existing social attitudes and to reflect on the manner in which we observe and treat other people according to similarities and differences between their backgrounds and beliefs as well as our own. Atwood occasionally displays both sides of an issue: Gilead may be appallingly repressive in numerous ways, but Atwood suggests that such a regime could ultimately arise out of reaction to questionable areas of personal liberty. As Aunt Lydia says in chapter 5;
“There is more than one kind of freedom…Freedom to and freedom from.”

Reconstructing the feminist past:
You may be familiar with the phrase feminist views, as Atwood is widely known to have a feminist view, and The Handmaid’s Tale raises numerous questions about the role, status, and treatment of women in the modern world. Atwood immediately raises feminist issues by depicting Gilead as a regime in which men initially have all the power. Women are considered subservient in every way and are incapable to work or unvarying to obligate personal accounts. Atwood also extends to discuss additionally by constructing Offred’s mother as a feminist who acquires part in protests and demonstrations. In chapter 20, it is seen that Offred evokes seeing, at the Red Centre, a film about feminist demonstrations in which Offred’s mother had engaged a role in.

Perhaps Atwood is reflecting on her own historical events, as of the 1974 march in San Francisco by Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media.

1976 Women Against Pornography

1967 march in San Francisco

‘The Historic Notes’
Atwood nevertheless concedes the condition, or discussion, to respite there. When readers come to the final division, ‘the Historical Notes’, which we notably encounter, that women are able to grasp their own with men. The Chair of the conference is a female professor. Even then, however, Atwood plants us with the impression that,
‘the feminist battle still has some way to go’
as Professor Pieixoto clearly believes it appropriate to make ‘sexist jokes’ – jokes which arouse ‘Laughter, applause’ from the audience.

A concerning environment:
The destruction of the natural environment is a theme that Atwood profoundly brings into her dystopian novel. She illustrates the drastic effect that man-made pollution has on human life: I can recall in chapter 19 when I read the novel, the time when Offred remembers what she was spoken about at the Red Centre, ‘the possible causes of birth defects in children’:
‘The air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules.’

In the ‘Historical Notes’, it is reminded to the audience by Professor Pieixoto how:
“in the immediate pre-Gilead period … still-births, miscarriages, and genetic deformities were widespread and on the increase, and this trend has been linked to the various nuclear-plant accidents … as well as to leakages from chemical and biological warfare stockpiles.”

On one of Offred usual shopping days, she thinks about another effect on the environment. Atwood’s dystopian vision suggests that
‘the sea fisheries were defunct several years ago’ and that many kinds of fish may ‘all be extinct, like the whales.’

Resistance: female voices and memories:
A narration from a female perspective would give an extensive description, right, considering the situation? Our number one narrator Offred, allows us, as the reader to enter her process of thought, and to get a glimpse of her internal thoughts and feelings. Offred’s descriptions of her life as a Handmaid in Gilead are juxtaposed alongside previous life memories of her husband and daughter. Having been caught attempting to escape to Canada, and directed to be re-education at the ‘Handmaid Training Centre’, her memories are heavily dominated by mourning for her loss and to be, forgotten family.

Despite such memories threatening to plummet her into desolation, Offred recognizes the critical responsibility they play in preventing her from entirely surrendering to the control and strains of the ‘new social system’.

The male leaders of Gilead forcibly aspire women to neglect their past freedoms, but Offred’s memories remind her that there is another possible way of life and her loss and longing keeps thriving to resist the system that stripped her family and identity away from her. Her memories of her mother and feminist colleague Moira are additionally crucial, inspiring Offred to her own small doings of resistance.

This for me significantly makes The Handmaid’s Tale a critical dystopia example. As well as displaying to readers how complications in the present can indicate to a dark future, it furthermore, significantly, claims that a change is possible.

Also included in The Handmaid’s Tale is a resistance movement, which fights Gilead and
enables escaped Handmaids and other subversive people via an Underground road into Canada, ‘a nod to the Underground Railroad by which runaway black slaves escaped north in the early 19th century’. Nevertheless, Atwood demonstrates that Offred has her own form of resistance by pursuing equally both knowledge and a voice in a system that would forbid women either. Despite Gilead’s elite power to disempower women by segregating and silencing them, The Handmaid’s Tale allows for a potential female communication and community.

But with such communication comes lethal consequences. As for the women’s determination to be heard, even only in whispers, is a salutation of courage even in the riskiest circumstances. The powerful ability of female storytelling is a vital theme of the novel. Having been trapped in Gilead, prohibited from reading and writing, Offred nevertheless magnificently re-constructs her tale in her mind. Offred creates an empowering hope that is presented by imagining someone listening, where she clings to the hope and begins hope for a different world, a different life:
“By telling you anything at all I’m at least believing in you, I believe you’re there, I believe you into being.”
With the use of self-resistance, Atwood makes it clear that Offred’s resistance is one that can heal her pain, developing a strong emphasis on our own responsibility to hear her words and to pay attention to her warnings.

For those who haven’t read Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, does it give you a sense of urgency to pick it up? I think it’s something that really gets you thinking. Atwood’s writing in The Handmaid’s Tale presents readers with a series of challenges about our own society and also a ‘series of moral dilemmas’. For this, Atwood is a significant author who truly demonstrates her ability to communicate through an imagined speculate world, upon which she reflects her own context. The Handmaid’s Tale is an effective speculative narrative, in which Atwood draws readers’ attention to unpleasant, brutal and horrific events in the recent past and in contemporary society, as well as social trends. The twentieth-century world Atwood lived in when she wrote this novel had a massive impact on her writing. Atwood herself has said in an interview that,
‘there isn’t anything in the book not based on something that has already happened in history or in another country.’


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