4 Setting & Time Period Republic of Gilead Totalitarian, patriarchal regimeWomen have no rightsWomen divided into classes w/ unique roles/responsibilities: Wives, Marthas (housekeepers), Handmaids (childbearing)Future
5 Characterization Protagonist: Offred Handmaid Intelligent Passive Antagonist: The government/societyTakes away the rights of women depending on their positionRelationshipsOffred + LukeOffred + Commander
6 Characterization (cont.) Offred + MoiraOffred + NickCommander + Serena JoyKey TraitsOffredConfused, obedient, frustrated, wanting loveMoiraDisobedient, brave, angry, resistantCommanderSympathetic, but also selfish, longs for companionshipNote: Most of the character’s actions are over determined by the oppressive regime…Offred’s perceptions of their personalities may not be accurate
7 Major Conflicts Women vs. Society Oppression Loss of love/real relationshipsSeparated from husband/family, forced to have sexual relations with CommanderLoss of freedomsReading, writing, speech
8 Themes Loss of identity Women are assigned new identities: Handmaid, Wife, Martha, Econowife“My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like a telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter” (page 84).Protagonist has lived in both worldsA free, educated, independent woman, forced to abandon all this to an oppressive governmentAware of what she has lostThere is a void/emptinessRecognizes what is happening, yet allows it to happen“We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it” (page 56).
9 Themes (cont.) Oppression of Women The Handmaids are just being used for their bodies, reproductionHandmaids are ovaries, not individuals“We are containers, it’s only the insides of our bodies that are important. The outside can become hard and wrinkled, for all they care, like the shell of a nut” (page 96).“I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair. I stand five seven without shoes. I have trouble remembering what I used to look like. I have viable ovaries. I have one more chance” (page 143).
10 Themes (cont.)Handmaids are forced to wear long robes/headdress wigs for modesty“My nakedness is strange to me already...Did I really wear bathing suits, at the beach? I did, without thought, among men...Shameful, immodest...I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely” (page 63).Offred has lost the feeling of being loved and meaningful“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; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw” (page 97).
11 Key ScenesScrabble with the Commander, Chapters 23 and 24 (turning point)Breaking the rules“But something has changed, now, tonight” (page 143).“I intend to get out of here” (page 134).Commander now seen as humanEnd of the novelUnsure if she was arrested or rescuedHistorical notesTranscript of a university conference held in 2195Gilead is gone, they discuss Offred’s story, which has been published
13 Characteristics of the Narrator First-person POV, ProtagonistCreates an automatic bias against the societyIndirect characterizationEx. Moira likes to have fun, won’t take no for an answer (page 37):“Moira, sitting on the edge of my bed, legs crossed, ankle on knee, in her purple overalls, one dangly earring, the gold fingernail she wore to be eccentric, a cigarette between her stubby yellow-ended fingers. Let’s go for a beer.You’re getting ashes in my bed, I said.If you’d make it you wouldn’t have this problem, said Moira.In half an hour, I said. I had a paper due the next day. What was it? Psychology, English economics. We studied things like that, then. On the floor of the room there were books, open face down, this way and that, extravagantly.Now, said Moira. You don’t need to paint your face, it’s only me. What’s your paper on? I just did one on date rape.Date rape, I said. You’re so trendy. It sounds like some kind of dessert. Date rape.Hah-ha, said Moira. Get your coat.She got it herself and tossed it at me. I’m borrowing five bucks off you, okay?”9
14 Characteristics of the Narrator (Cont.) Narrator draws conclusionsEx. page 56:Ex. page 87:“Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew. The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of the print. It gave us more freedom.We lived in the gaps between the stories.”“To be a man, watched by women. It must be entirely strange. To have them watching him all the time. To have them wondering, What’s he going to do next? To have them flinch when he moves, even if it’s a harmless enough move, to reach for an ashtray perhaps. To have them sizing him up. To have them thinking, He can’t do it, he won’t do, he’ll have to do, this last as if he were a garment, out of style or shoddy, which must nevertheless be put on because there’s nothing else available.To have them putting him on, trying him on, trying him out, while he himself puts them on, like a sock over a foot, onto the stub of himself, his extra, sensitive thumb, his tentacle, his delicate, stalked slug’s eye, which extrudes, expands, winces, and shrivels back into himself...Still, it must be hell, to be a man, like that.”10
15 Characteristics of the Narrator (Cont.) Narrator admits to unreliability and storytellingEx. Pg. 134: “It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out.”Ex. Pg. 260: Tells story about encounter with Nick…“I made that up. It didn’t happen that way. Here is what happened.” Tells second story about encounter with Nick…“It didn’t happen that way either. I’m not sure how it happened; not exactly. All I can hope for is a reconstruction…”11
16 Syntax Simple syntax Longer sentences are often just a series Nouns, adjectives, independent clauses, dependent clauses, prepositional phrases, etc. strung togetherEx. Pg. 64: “Behind my closed eyes I can see myself as I am now, sitting beside an open drawer, or a trunk, in the cellar, where the baby clothes are folded away, a lock of hair, cut when she was two, in an envelope, white-blond.”Ex. Pg. 173: “Pieces of paper, thickish, greasy to the touch, green-colored, with pictures on each side, some old man in a wig and on the other side a pyramid with an eye above it.”13
17 Syntax (Continued) Florid prose Ex. Pg. 84: “Luke drove, I sat beside him, the sun shone, the sky was blue, the houses as we passed them looked comforting and ordinary, each house as it was left behind vanishing into past time, crumbling in an instant as if it had never been, because I would never see it again, or so I thought then.”Florid proseDescriptive depthOften uses a full paragraph or two to describe a single object, event, ideaSee above examplesLists + Florid prose = Drawn out narrative14
18 DictionComplexExamples: bereaved, ethereal, perfidy, indecorous, lanolined, platitudeIrony of Offred’s DictionHer vocabulary is impressiveUses her vocabulary well to create eloquent + insightful description/analysisBut she is lower class, not even allowed to read, considered a non-thinker
19 MoodOppressed: especially created by the amount of time we spend in Offred’s headSovereignty of the mind/consciousnessFearfulDarkNostalgic: Offred’s life straddles two realities, unlike many characters in dystopian fiction (i.e. Winston Smith)
20 Structure of the Narrative Chronological, with frequent flashbacksTo college, to the Red Center, to her time w/ Luke, etc.Distinction between present and flashback is very fluid/seamlessEx. Page 88: Commander is reading from Bible…“And so on and so forth. We had it read to us every breakfast, as we sat…” page and a half of flashback to Red Center, page break, Commander resumes reading
21 IMPACT OF STRUCTURE ON READER’S EXPERIENCE Puts the reader “inside her head”, makes us feel like we are listening to her thoughtsDistorts reader’s sense of time“There’s time to spare. This is one of the things I wasn’t prepared for-the amount of unfilled time, the long parentheses of nothing. Time as white sound.” (pg. 69)White noise: noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities16
22 Theme StatementWhen an educated, independent woman comes in conflict with a totalitarian, extreme, and theocratic government, in a situation in which she is forced into submission, stripped of her past identity and valued only for her body, the results may be that she is constantly tormented by her past life, rebels internally and succumbs outwardly, yet always sustains the hope that things will get better. Furthermore, the sovereignty of men over women deems itself unsuccessful for a society, as evidenced by the ultimate failure of the government that supported unequal rights.