The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood is a dystopian novel told by a handmaid called Offred. Deprived from her own name and legal rights her job along with other handmaids is to produce offspring for elite barren couples against her will. She continually lives in fear of being sent to the Colonies as an Unwoman if she does not produce a child. Offred is under constant surveillance from the commander’s wife and other female servants, so she cannot afford to disobey the rules. Throughout the novel we admire Offred for her courage in coping with the limping and mutilated situations.
Right from the start of the novel it prepares us for the events to come. When we read; “Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts” we are shocked because it makes the association between these women and breeding animals. There is an element of irony right from the start because normally we would associate “Aunts” to be close friends or family not with cattle prods. It is believed the dislocated opening emphasises the fear and confusion to come.
It is believed Offred’s description of her narrative can be associated with her relationship with the commander’s wife (Serena Joy). There is strong contrast between the two characters, one young and dressed in red and the other elderly and dressed in pale blue. Serena Joy is a more powerful character and opposes Offred because of her position in the Gilead society. Offred’s job is to produce Offspring (because Serena Joy is infertile) and in order to do this she must have sex with Serena Joys husband. “The commander and I have an arrangement ……….The difficulty is the wife as always” We get a clear image of how jealous and frustrated Serena Joy is of Offred’s fertility when Offred describes some of her actions in the garden that lead to damage. “The tulips are red, a darker crimson towards the stem, as if they had been cut and are beginning to heal there” Offred also gives us a clear image on how she portrays Serena Joy by describing parts of her garden in a very cynical way. “The tulips have had their moment and are done, shedding their petals one by one, like teeth” Atwood has very cleverly used the technique of juxtaposition to portray Offred’s cynical view on the garden, for example associating “tulip petals” with “teeth” This emphasises Offred’s view on her narrative “limping and mutilated”.
It is believed the most disturbing scenes in the novel are the sex scenes where we see how limping and mutilated Offred’s narrative is. Offred has sex with the commander while Serena Joy is holding on to Offred. It is believed this is a ritual to help Offred get pregnant but it seems to have the opposite affect on all the parties. The ceremony emphasises the tensions between Offred and Serena, for example “The rings on her left hand cut into my fingers. It may or may not be revenge” The images presented by Atwood are very disturbing and this emphasises Offred’s description of her narrative. We know Offred finds the once a month ceremony distressing by the language she uses. In contrast to her language throughout the rest of the novel it is very cold and there is no elaboration. It’s almost like she is trying to filter out her emotion. “Below the commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body” Atwood emphasises the affect the ceremony has on Offred by using sensual imagery when Offred is touching her body at night, for example “…I can stroke myself, under the dry white sheets, in the dark, but I am too dry and white; it’s like running my hand over a plateful of dried rice, it’s like snow” It is believed this is a very clever technique used by Atwood because we can all relate to touching dried rice and snow, and therefore we understand fully the image put across. It is believed this emphasises Offred’s description of her narrative.
We get a clear image on how “limping and mutilated” Offred’s narrative is when she meets up with her old collage friend called Moira at Jezebels. She is working as a prostitute serving the commanders needs. This is a shock to us because it goes against everything Moira stood for because she was a Lesbian. Moira used to have a great rebellious spirit but this seems to be destroyed. It is believed that this emphasises the power of men over women in the novel. We know Offred has doubts about Moira escaping from Jezebels and is starting to believe Moira will just except the job she has been given. “Surely her cockiness, her optimism and energy, her pizzazz, will get her out of this. She will think of something. But I know this isn’t true. It is just passing the buck as children do, to mothers.” “I’d like her to end with something daring and spectacular, some outrage, something that would benefit her. But as far as I know that didn’t happen” It is believed this emphasises Offred’s narrative because her female heroin has given up the fight against the Gilead society.
At the end of the novel we are left with an in-conclusive ending and we don’t know whether Offred escapes or gets caught. When she departs in the van it is a mystery of whether the van leads to happiness or sadness. “And so I step up, into the darkness within, or else the light” Judging by the dystopia in the novel it suggests the van leads to sadness but we hope the horrible story has a happy ending.