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Atwood, Margaret - The Handmaid's Tale - Reading Log

Referat / Aufsatz (Schule) 2005 6 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literatur, Werke




I Plot development

II Characters

III Message and target group

IV Linguistic and artistic features


I. Plot development

At first I’ve been informed about a slice of the plot before I bought the book and that way I hat an idea about the concern. The tile “Handmaid’s Tale” said at once, that it must contain some kind of socage, a relation between some kinds of a servant and master like in this case the handmaid and the Commander including the aunts and guardians. I had no doubt, that there must deal with a dystopian state in that novel due to that I informed me at the learn-line homepage, spoiling the topics of all English performance courses in North Rhine-Westphalia.

When I read the book I first had to get used to the writing style, the quite high level, but I could soon condescend without looking up any vocabulary or to become confused about the embedded review, narrating about the antecedent with Luke and Offred’s infant. The arcane mood imparted by the narrator, had the potential to fetter me to the plot, but in deed the boring and stretched way writing and phrasing, the overwhelming extended descriptions of every action avoided that I read “Handmaid’s Tale” in less than six weeks.

The high amount of usage euphemisms and paraphrases like “salvaging” or the titles of the categories in the society of Gilead like “Econowife” might be a stylistic medium and a satiristic phrase as well to describe the cruelty of the system but nevertheless no suitable for an average student. It required plenty of sumptuary time many cannot effort but the reward is just to low, I could not increase my language skills and performance, it did not evoke any delight to read more.

In the first third of “Handmaid’s Tale” I simply was shocked to read about that tangible and precise way of describing the sexual act between the Commander and Offred, the unbiased way of talking about film footage dealing with rapes and “the old sex” the handmaids had to regard or the checkup at the doctor. Atwood could energize tension to me as reader in the section with the flight from the Red Center and the telling about the switchback, the salvaging. The description of the political system and the society at all was, in my view, not as impressing and striking like in “Nineteen-Eighty-four” by Orwell, some further information about diplomatic relations between the Republic of Gilead and other states, the reason for the toxicity in the colonies et cetera were just too scanty, making me wonder if it follows – in this part my expectations were not fulfilled at all, rather disappointed. Besides I was fond of the base of a theocratic state like Gilead, the idea of a dystopia in that direction might have provided a less sapid basis than a political occasion for an empire but nevertheless it was able to satisfy my ideas of proper substructure of a novel of that amount.

At least it was untraceable why the Commander unleashed Offred from the Red Center, just due to his infertility or any reason else; how it was possible to meet up with Moira again, and it should have a very tight feasibility that it happened to be the same brothel. Later on, when I read page nine, I found out that the story was quite close the bible story in Genesis 29 of Rachel and Bilhah. Their relation was close to that one of the handmaid Offred and the wife Serena Joy including the aspects of jealousy and cruelty between them (Serena Joy suppresses Offred along the tale) and the duty of Bilhah/Offred, being a womb to the Commander/Jacob and Serena Joy/Rachel, to give birth to them. All this might base on a wrong kind of exegesis of this story, like it had to be a constraint.

The ending was anyway unexpected. At the begin I hoped for Offred to accomplish her task to conceive and to deliver a baby, then while the colloquy in the cubicle with Moira I supposed that Offred could get pregnant by Nick or the doctor. When she had to visit the Commander in his office it was at first clear that she had been denunciated and summoned to the Commander to become executed or punished anyway else. Later on I presumed the scrabbling and the closer contact to the Commander might have been her chance to ascend in the hierarchy of the system, not to be sent to the colonies. At least I have not expected that the Commander would pass her through into the brothel, where she was able to work as harlot. Offred’s less satisfaction with this was predictable by her behavior, so that it was no wonder that she decided to return to the Red Center. For me the ending was simply regardless – whether she goes anywhere with anybody or not, I read it ultimately only because it was my assignment. The ending was not satisfying at all, if I had to deem of it – there is, anyway, missing a sequel. And cause of integrity: the title still fits.

II. Characters

Offred, the main character of “Handmaid’s Tale” is 33 years old and tells as narrator the about her third period in a Commander’s household. Offred is not her civil name, the name she was bearing before the revolution was not revealed, like the name of her daughter. But the composition “Offred” consists of the the prefix “of” indicating the genitive and “Fred”, the name of the Commander. The issue that Offred belongs to the class of handmaids is a central point. She is just categorized and subjugated by the aunts, Serena Joy, the wife of the Commander, and by all men. Offred is amenable and acclimatizes to the new system, but she is also seeking and desiring for the old USA, like before. She crosses her limits when going out for stealing at night or being curious about the semi Latin slogan “nolite te bastardes caborundorum”. Offred is under a high pressure – she did not manage to become pregnant and to deliver a child so she could be sent to the colonies. Offred’s precursor committed suicide because she failed.

The Commander was once called Fred, but from respect purposes he is termed as “the Commander” by inferior persons in the hierarchy of the society in Gilead.

Serena Joy is the “wife” of the Commander. “Wife” is the top category of women. She is supposed to be infertile due to the nuclear activity and requires this way to be given birth by Offred whom she oppresses. Serena Joy owes it to issue that she was not divorced anytime before and was that way a true Christian and her high position in the former society the she had the chance to become a wife. Whole the novel she roasts Offred and is quite nasty towards her. This could root on the fact that she has no real task, cannot fulfill her sense in life in the Gilead society which results some kind of jealousy to Offred who is valuable due to her fertility.

Moira, one of the handmaids, is the epitome of apostasy, she is renegade; an evidence for it could be her behavior on the flight from the Red Center. She does not consider any casualties, oversteps the borders/checkpoints self-confident; confides to a strange group of Quakers, just determined and ambitious to fly and to enter the brothel for working as whore. She quite familiar to Offred, talks to her clandestine in the toilet cubicles, they are even embracing each other in friendship. In the mid of the novel Moira flies from the Red Center to obtain some freedom. As resolved later on, she went to the Jezebels Brothel where she supposed to have an essential better life than before even though she is a lesbian and has to mate (maybe not the correct expression for her assignment) with others.

Luke was the second husband of Offred while the “old system” was valid. They both had a daughter in the age of five years, he was very loyal to Offred, willing to risk his life while the revolution to transverse the border. In many sections Offred reports about the past with Luke who never appears in the present plot, so her retelling is the only source for information about Luke.

Nick works in the household of Fred, the Commander, where he gets in contact with Offred. At first he has no big concern at all, but later he supports the Commander and Offred on the flight to the brothel and at the end of the story he tries to inseminate her lest she is declared as an unwomen. That way he takes part of a factotum, doing besides the tasks he has been employed for even the donkeywork. He accepts it, is paid for mating. At the end Nick is it who takes Offred from her room and consigns her to the men in the van.

Aunt Lydia is a revengeful person, who tries to have not justice as her dictum but rather an adjustment of her amends. In order that she has been tied and undressed by Moira she was seeking for revenge at the handmaids. This is the reason why she has been permitted to lead the salvaging. Lydia is fully integrated into the system, there is no hint that she ever threads against the ethic and moral doctrine of Gilead. She teaches abstemiousness, compliance and sobriety, as the Bible might read.

III. Message and target group

Well, I am not persuaded if Atwood targeted to warn anyone in such a system or regime. It might be clear that she does not agree to prefer such a reign because she used only discontented characters, in case of Offred even one who raves the past. The author also might be willing to link to the success of “1984” (which date could have been while the establishing of the novel) to gain a high avail or she could be any impulse for her to write about this. It was possible to speculate that Atwood sees herself in the role of Offred and wanted to turn this to an extreme position. However, whatever her intention was, who she wanted to target on if the liked to appreciate the value of life and liberty; there are remaining no further questions to me. I am a pessimistic misanthropist and do not care about this novel anymore after the written examination. Furthermore it did not change my mind and made me not thinking at all. Maybe anyone else, I cannot expel this, but I am fettered to my subjective view and cannot speak beyond this. I recommend everyone who picked English as performance course to read “Handmaid’s Tale” to read the book to gain most knowledge of the content and to increase his skills due to gain better results in the examinations. Whoever has time and money to waste and has no need to maintain himself or others can read it too for delight purposes.

IV. Linguistic and artistic features

In fact I dislike the point of view of a narrator being the main character in the novel. A supervising narrator, being able report about whole the story before is in my view more suitable, because I simply hate this subjectivity filled with emotions. The phrase “I don’t want to tell this story…” is keeping me in the position of the enquiring reader, lost in inquisitiveness. That is not satisfying at all, but maybe suitable for other readers, I cannot call this absolute inappropriately, a linguistic taboo. It all has some style. The diction used in the novel required some kind of addiction, but I got used to it after a few pages. It is quite contenting that Atwood did not write too much across the timeline, filled too many embedded prehistory between the lines and confused me not too keenly. Nevertheless I hat suggested another manner of informing the reader about the relevant past; maybe by a chronological order, which could alloy the tension in case of an incapable author. The so called euphemistic language is just one element of the new kind of speaking. To turn a word into the opposite, in order to ease and purge the thesaurus, is the prefix “un” added like in “unwoman” or “unbaby”. That is quite close to “New Speak” in “Nineteen-Eighty-Four” in which “vaporized” persons who do not exist any longer are described “unperson” for the purpose of deny their existence.

Finally the plot and its characters are believable under condition of such a culture. But not just this – it seems to be very presumable and probably, that people act like this under influence of their personal needs and desires when seeking for the possibilities in the society prevailing in their past. The ending of the story was an attempt to make the reader thinking ahead in stead of depredating him in his fantasy. But I rather liked a determined ending, closing every remaining question, not giving the obligation to create the cessation over to the paying customer.


Password to Skyline Plus; ISBN 3-12-510460-2; Klett Verlag

The Handmaid’s Tale; Margaret Atwood, ISBN 0-09-974091-5; Vintage


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Titel: Atwood, Margaret - The Handmaid's Tale - Reading Log