‘The Handmaids Tale’ has a complex narrative structure due to the fact that the narrator tells stories from the present, past and distant past throughout the novel. There are many scene shifts and time shifts that make the novel a difficult read. The narrators present situation and past history are gradually revealed through these shifts between time. The first chapter of the novel is used to introduce more themes that occur throughout the novel. There are many techniques that are used in the first chapter that are used throughout the book, there are also many ideas and themes that are brought up in this chapter. Atwood hints at the major themes that occur in the story and so the novel is built upon this first chapter.
The time change is deliberately manipulated in the first chapter – everything in this first section, as in the rest of the book, is deliberately manipulated – and confuses the reader a little, there are changes between the distant past and the more recent past: “A balcony ran round the room, for the spectators, and I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent smell of sweat, shot through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls.” However, these changes in time mean that the reader can emphasise more easily with the characters, and perhaps feel some of the confusion that the girls in the Red Centre are feeling. Atwood never reveals anything straight away, she reveals the roles of the Handmaids little by little, and she does the same with the Gileadean society. “We had flannelette sheets, like children’s, and army-issue blankets, old ones that still said U. S.” As you read the chapter and register the familiar things, you have an uneasy feeling that it is a future society being described to us, a world moved beyond our present day, although there are references to things we know. The way the blankets are described as “old ones, that still said U. S.” , implies that the U.
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S. doesn’t exist anymore. The novel is about a dystopian society and yet the first few paragraphs of the first chapter go into detailed description of the past society. This emphasises the past as a context for the story. .”.. the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures, later in mini-skirts, then pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair.” By mentioning things from the past, things that are familiar to the reader, the reader feels less lost in this unfamiliar society.
“There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectation, of something without a shape or a name. I remember that yearning, for something that was about to happen and was never the same.” Offred looks back longingly. The first chapter establishes a pattern of Offred remembering her life from before the Gileadean society was conceived. She remembers past experiences and uses them to stay strong, as her own form of personal resistance throughout the novel. The mention of “old sex” suggests that there is now a new form of sex, and so the role of the Handmaids is very subtly hinted at. The idea of hope and expectation is also raised in the first chapter, this is an example of ho Atwood uses the first chapter to introduce themes and ideas that occur throughout the novel.
“We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?” Offred is looking back and remembering how she yearned for the future when she was younger. It’s as though she almost looks back with disappointment, as if the future hasn’t lived up to her expectations. In reminiscing for the distant past she is craving for it to come back. This links with the idea of hope and expectation, which becomes a main theme in the novel. There are many times when Offred looks back on her past with such longing, and in this quote we see that she wishes she hadn’t yearned for the future quite so strongly.
The Time is Night is a short novel by Liudmila Petrushevskaya. It is one of the few stories that I enjoy reading over and over again. The reason is that each time I re-read it, I perceive it in a slightly different way. The complicity of characters and the style of the novel is what I would like to emphasize most about the novel, as well as the fact that The Time is Night represents an outstanding ...
Out of the first chapter it is the things that we are not told that grabs us, and it’s the questions that we are left with after these first two pages that makes us read on. This technique is used throughout the novel. Along with the main story of Offred, there are also always smaller stories about her past that don’t get finished – that we want to know the endings to – and this makes us read to the end of the book. Throughout the novel Offred writes in a very personal style, which gives it a diary style.
She writes a record of her daily life, of the monotonous, intricate details that she must perform everyday – and so we get an inside look into the Handmaid’s role – but throughout the monotony there are big events described to us. For example the Birthday, and the Salvaging. These chapters generally start the same as the others, and then there is something that makes us aware that something different, something important is happening. For example in Birth Day: .”.. I hear the siren… A proclamation, this siren.
I put down my spoon, my heart speeds up.” The way that the paragraph is written gives us the impression that Offred is excited about something and in turn we get excited. We want to know what is about to happen. These major events are both public and personal; and we find out more about how the Gileadean society works through them. Throughout the novel there are several chapters called ‘Night’ and these are different in their content to the other chapters. They are a time of reflection for Offred, a time during which she can retreat from the world where the are rules and can allow her mind to wander. During these chapters she looks back to her memories and her desires are explored.
It is during these chapters that we see the individual that Offred is and learn about her past. “Night time I mine, my own time, I do with as I will, as long as I am quiet.” The first time that we visit ‘Night’ with Offred is in Chapter one and we are taken to the Red Centre, in the past. The second ‘Night’ Offred once again remembers past circumstances. .”.. step sideways out of my own time. Out of time.
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Though this is time, nor am I out of it. But the night is my time out. Where should I go? Somewhere good.” As Offred describes it, she uses the night to go “somewhere good.” In this chapter she visits three different moments from her past. One of them is simply Moira and herself in a room, and they are talking. The returning to this moment in time, that is so normal, so insignificant, shows that Offred misses the everyday conversation she used to be free to have. “or in a park somewhere, with my mother.
The second memory is of herself in a park with her mother, at a feminist rally, burning pornographic magazines. We don’t know why she chooses to remember this particular moment but it brings in the theme of feminism in the novel. The issue of pornography is one of the most significant in the Republic of Gilead. Pornography has become illegal and is used to highlight the social problems before the Gileadean society gained power. While receiving training at the hands of the Aunts the handmaids are repeatedly shown violent pornographic videos to demonstrate how much better off women are in this time as opposed to previously: “Sometimes the movies she showed would be an old porno film, from the seventies or eighties.” Offred’s experience of watching these videos is intertwined with her memories of her mother and her participation in anti-pornography riots and the burning of the magazines. Atwood seems to be saying that pornography is an issue that two extremes of society (here feminist and religious extremes) reach similar conclusions.
Both of the anti-pornography stances are related to the notion of protecting women from being viewed as sexual objects. Atwood could be trying to show us that although pornography is degrading to women, this is an issue that is far outweighed by the greater issue of freedom of speech or expression, which goes against the many opinions from both the religious right and some extreme feminists. The women in The Handmaid’s Tale are denied so many things, such as freedom of speech and these things are more important. At the end of this night section we see Offred explaining why she has to tell her story, she seems almost self-conscious. For Offred her story telling is an eye witness account and a substitute for dialogue – as she is unable to have conversations.
Storytelling has helped humankind evolve into a wiser species by allowing those with enough attentiveness and intelligence to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. The Chinese culture, like many others worldwide, base their beliefs largely on stories passed down from generation to generation. Because stories are told and retold, alterations and even new versions appear. Such is the case ...
It’s as if the story telling keeps her sane. It is also the only message that she can send to the outside world from her imprisonment. She has to struggle to tell it, trusting that on day her message will be delivered and there is a sense that she desperately wants the outside world to hear her. “I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it.
Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance.” In another section of ‘Night’ we learn about how Moira tries to escape and undermine the society they are stuck in. she succeeds. By Offred remembering Moira’s tale at night, it comforts Offred with a message of hope that she may yet find her ‘escape’ and find Luke again. The ‘Night’ chapters are significant for bringing hope to Offred by remembering stories of escape and her husband and that it may be possible to escape. Flashbacks are regularly used in the novel and Atwood deliberately jumps around in time and this means that you have to ‘actively read’. We are forced to try and piece the parts of the novel together with the present details and the fragments of remembered experience that are revealed to us in flashbacks.
There is a possibility that the constant time shifts could cause the reader to become confused, and perhaps miss important points and ideas. There are no comparisons being made, reasons why or connections between these flashbacks and Offred’s here and now. They provide small windows and bring richness to the story and suddenly Offred is someone we can relate to. “I am a refugee from the past, and like other refugees I go over the customs and habits of being I’ve left, or have been forced to leave behind me.” This section symbolizes Atwood’s attitudes and is used to show what kind of person Offred is. The flashbacks become more than jut narrative techniques – they tell us what Offred thinks and feels.
Everything we do is influenced by our past and so it is vital that we know about Offred’s past, about Luke and her lost daughter. The motif of doubles is explored in The Handmaid’s Tale is when Offred discovers the note left by her predecessor in the cupboard. “It pleases me to ponder this message. It pleases to think that I am communing with her, this unknown woman.” The woman before Offred is her double. She would have been known as Offred, would have worn the same clothes and had to perform the same tasks. We do not know what happened to her predecessor, although as there is no child in the house it would appear that she might have been sent away – she could have been infertile- and perhaps this is foreshadowing the ending Offred will come to.
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The theme of doubles is also used when we are introduced to Ofglen: “Doubled, I walk the street.” The uniform of red means that Ofglen and Offred look identical, their hair and facial features cannot be seen and so they become each other’s double. They also have to perform the same tasks. However Ofglen is more Moira’s double than Offred’s because they are both seen as rebels. Ofglen is part of what becomes known as the underground female road, and commits suicide at the end of the book. .”.. Whispers, very quickly, her voice faint as dry leaves.
“She hanged herself,” she says. “After the salvaging. She saw the van coming for her. It was better.” Although the original Ofglen has hanged herself, another handmaid soon replaces her.
Offred is given another double straight away. Moira also acts against the Gileadean society, first in the Red Centre when she escapes: “Moira marched straight out the front door, with the bearing of a person who knew where they were going.” Moira’s escape awakens something in the other women in the Red Centre; it gives them hope. They have been stuck inside the Red Centre for too long and have been resigned to their fate, but when Moira escapes they remember their desires to be free. “Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy.
Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure.” .”.. Moira was our fantasy… We hugged her to us in a secret giggle; she was the lava beneath the crust of daily life.” The first time we actually meet Moira is in Jezebel’s. However Moira seems to have lots her verve in Jezebel’s.
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Offred seems disappointed and we are disappointed to meet this character, which Offred obviously thinks so much of, to discover that she seems to have given up hope. “She is frightening me now because what I hear in her voice is indifference, a lack of violation… I don’t want her to be like me… I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling, heroism, single-handed combat. Something I lack.” We see here that Offred realises that although she disagrees with the Gileadean society, she is not taking any action against it and this is why Ofglen is more Moira’s double then Offred’s.
The sad truth is that Moira has not managed to escape from Gilead any more than Offred’s unknown predecessor; the most that Offred can do if she survives is to tell their stories of resistance. Another narrative technique that Atwood uses is to use Offred to tell the story of many of the other women in the society, and so the novel becomes more than just a narrative of Offred but it becomes symbolic of all the women who have been silenced and oppressed. Offred talks about her feminist mother in chapter seven and again in chapter thirty-nine. I’ve already talked about the way ion which feminism is dealt with in the novel, and the flashbacks to memories of Offred’s mother helps with this. In Chapter twenty-one we see the birth day and Offred thinking back to her own mother, Offred realises how the feminist phrase ‘a women’s culture’ has been appropriated by conservative ideology in ways her mother’s generation would never have dreamed of: “Mother, I think. Wherever you may be.
Cam you hear me? You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now thee is one. It isn’t what you meant but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies.” We see a fairly complete description of a natural childbirth that would seem to be a feminist ideal, and yet the end result is far from what could be considered desirable. It could be said that Atwood was trying to say that to deny the medical treatments in childbirth could once again be seen as a step back from the advancements we have made as a society.
This could be seen as a judgement on some current feminist ideas that are neglecting to consider the fact that the right to a medical and anaesthetised birth required much effort to attain – many feminists fought for a natural birthing process to be allowed. We hear about Offred’s mother at the feminist rallies in Chapter seven and we also hear about what has become of her in chapter thirty-nine. Moira has seen her in a film that was shown to her – Offred’s mother ended up in the colonies: “Thank God, I said Why, thank God? Said Moira I thought she was dead. She might as well be, said Moira. You should wish it for here.” We see that although Offred’s mother is alive she would probably be better off if she wasn’t. Moira describes her as having “pizzazz” and as being “cute” and now she has to clear toxic waste and is thought of as useless.
“I think of my mother, sweeping up deadly toxins… this dirt will kill her. I can’t quite believe it. Surely her cockiness, her optimism and energy, pizzazz, will get her out of this. She will think of something.” Through the story of Offred’s mother we find out what happens to the older women, who can not produce children anymore. It is more effective because it becomes personal, as it is Offred’s mother, as opposed to an unknown character who is not directly linked to the story.
We feel moved that this woman who appeared so fiery to us has been reduced to dying slowing. We feel empathy for Offred: “I’ve mourned for her already. But I will do it again, and again.” Offred also tells the story of Moira throughout the novel. We hear of her in the days before Gilead and her escape from the Red Centre and then we meet her in jezebels. We get to learn about the alternative route that Offred’s existence could have taken through Moira’s story.
However despite Moira’s heroics when she escaped the Red Centre, she is still trapped by Gilead. Moira’s story is left unfinished – after the night Jezebel’s we never meet her again and we don’t know what happens to her. Janine appears and re-appears throughout the novel and it is through her story that we see the stages of a handmaid’s career. Firstly we see her he Red Centre when she is seen as a willing victim. Janine was gang-raped at fourteen and had an abortion. .”..
Janine doesn’t wait for us to jeer at her. It was my fault, she says. It was my fault. I led them on. I deserved the pain.” Janine presents her self as the most abject female victim.
This section shows the conversion of a woman, to the Gileadean theology. The brain washing sessions at the Red Centre were used to try and make the women believe the Gileadean theology and in some case it worked. The next time we see her is when Offred and Ofglen are shopping and Janine comes into the shop, pregnant. She is parading her success in front of the other Handmaid’s, as “the daily walk is no longer prescribed.” And she need not go shopping. “I catch a glimpse of her face, as she raises it to look around… She’s come to display herself.
She’s glowing, rosy, she’s enjoying every minute of this.” Janine is arousing envy in the other Handmaid’s. Offred attends Janine’s birthing day and the baby appears healthy. Janine is at a high point of her career, and has achieved what every Handmaid is supposed to achieve. However, Janine’s baby does not survive and is described as “a shredder.” This is the low point in a Handmaid’s career, it is the worst thing that could happen: “My God,” I say.
To go through all that, for nothing. Worse that nothing.” Janine has lost something great, by having a healthy baby she would have been saved from ever having to go to the colonies, but now her fate is unknown. To have had that security taken away from her is too much and after the particicution we see her as a mad women. .”.. Janine. There’s a smear of blood across her cheek, and more of it on the white head-dress.
She’s smiling, a bright diminutive smile. Her eyes have become loose.” Janine’s story is used to tell us about the major events in a Handmaid’s career. She represents the things that could happen to any one of them. Janine’s story is left without an ending, as is Offred’s mother’s story and Moira’s story. The ending to Offred’s narrative is also left open and ambiguous, and it could be argued that it is a disappointing ending. We never find out what happens to Offred or to Nick, Luke or Offred’s daughter.
“Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing: I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.” As I was reading the last chapter I couldn’t believe that I was nearing the end, there was so much left unsaid! There were so many things that I still wanted to know and the ending seemed so abrupt, so unsatisfying. However this abrupt ending forces us to dream up our own conclusion. For the optimistic readers we can imagine that Offred is smuggle out of Gilead, that she goes on search for her lost past, and finds it. Or that Nick comes with her, and together they forge a new life. If we view the story as a tragedy then you can satisfy the ending by deciding that Offred is taken away to the colonies, becomes one of the un women.
Or perhaps she does escape, but lives a hollow, empty life in constant hiding. The point is that by leaving the ending so open the ending is limited only by the readers’ imagination. The historical notes are set further into the future and are a speech made by Professor Pieixoto. Pieixoto is in credibly frustrated with Offred’s account as he feels it lacks facts about the war and because she offers an alternative perception of he regime.
As Pieixoto is an historian he takes a very objective view of the Gileadean Society and doesn’t like Offred’s subjective account. We discover that what we have read is a transcript that has been put together from a jumble of cassette recordings. Offred’s narrative is disjointed, with frequent time shifts and these are explained by the way the transcription was put together: “the tapes were arranged in no particular order, being loose in the bottom of the box; nor were they numbered.” Offred gives the view of the oppressed and the people who had their lives taken away from them. She tells of the hypocrisy and contrasts with Pieixoto’s previous views. Th historical notes fill in some of the gaps that Offred left but we still don’t know what happens to Offred and we need to once again question whether or not the ending is satisfactory. The historical notes is not part of Offred’s narrative, it is part of the novel but is it a necessary supplement to the story? They do help to put the story into a historical perspective and this reminds us that her view is subjective.
These Notes are a supplement to the story we have just finished reading and they provide a framework for looking back at Offred’s narrative from a distant point in the future when Gilead is in ruins and all the protagonists of the story are dead. “University of Delay, Nunavut, on June 25, 2195” The context is outline to us, we find out that Gilead was a social experiment that has died and doesn’t exist anymore. The historical notes introduce another futuristic scenario, which is different from the society of Gilead. The tone of the historical notes is very different to that of Offred’s narrative. Pieixoto uses a formal, academic tone and he’s trying to persuade people that he is right about his opinion of Gilead. “I say soi-distant because what we have before us is not the item in its original form.” His language and tone is factual, and unemotional – it is the exact opposite of everything that we have experienced with Offred…
He takes a masculine view in reconstructing the social theory of Gilead and he compares sits system with many other examples of tyranny. He uses language that establishes him as an expert or a figure of authority. “As I have said elsewhere… .” Professor Pieixoto jokes about “tails” and calls the “Underground Female road”, the “Underground F railroad”, which suggests that a sexist attitude still exists two hundred years on from Gilead. Pieixoto does not appear interested in finding out about Offred and makes a link to the commander. He’s much more interested in finding out about this male figure.
“If we could identify the elusive “Commander.”” Pieixoto does not regard Offred’s account as reliable (“the tapes might be a forgery”) and he tries to discredit her testimony by moving the focus and accusing her of not paying attention to the important things, which in his mind are the facts and figures. He does not take notice of what Offred has to say about the suffering and oppression of all women in Gilead and the effect on us, the readers, is that it forces us to take a moral stance, on what we have read. We become engaged and I think Atwood wants s to argue against what Pieixoto is saying. He chooses to ignore everything Offred says and by doing this he is saying that everything in her testimony isn’t valid.
There is a lot of irony in the Historical Notes. During her narrative Offred says: “From the point of view of the future history we will be invisible.” This is exactly what has happened. As far as Pieixoto’s speech is concerned Offred seems to be unimportant and he chooses to focus on the Commander. There’s also irony in the fact that Pieixoto doesn’t achieve understanding of the Gileadean society because he won’t compromise his own views. He ignores what Offred has said and focuses on the things she has not said.
“Are there any questions?” The ending of the Historical Notes invites the reader to enter into a debate having heard Offred’s and Pieixoto’s account of Gilead. It becomes a warning to us of a future to be avoided in real life. We are forced to recognise that there is a warning and that if we want to avoid a Gileadean society, we have to change things now. However we may be thankful for his scholarly endeavours, as through them, her tale has survived, so that now at last Offred can speak for herself. The final question invites us as readers to participate in interpreting the multiple and contradictory meanings of what we have just finished reading The narrative structure of the novel is complex, and Atwood uses a number of techniques to engage the reader. Her main aim is to make the reader think about what they are reading, to make us think whether we agree or disagree with what we are reading.
The realism and possibility makes it an amazing novel. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.