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A Discussion Of Margerat Atwood's Use Of Shock In 'the Handmaid's Tale, And How It Relates To Current Issues.

2649 words - 11 pages

Atwood says Gilead is "a logical extension of current trends. There is nothing in the text that hasn't happened already." How does the novel work to shock readers into a recognition of the dangers of our contemporary world?2637 words with quotesShock in 'The Handmaid's Tale' is used to keep the reader from being complacent with the text, to avoid the comfort that reading a 'good story' allows, and is also used to heighten the message. There is the shock of abnormality and the alien nature of the society, especially when juxtaposed against Offred's reminiscences of the life we can recognise. There is the shock of brutality in the descriptions of the Wall, the Ceremony and Particution, which are heightened by Offred's detached narrative style, and this shock of her complicity in what is happening, if shown simply through her silence, is itself highlighted by Moira and Ofglen's bravado. Finally, there is the shock of possibility. To read a fantasy so grounded in reality is to read a possible future, which makes us question the circumstances of the present; and when the future posited is a dystopian we one are challenged to change the present so that this future becomes impossible.The structure of the book is such that it maximises the disparity between modern life and Gilead. If it were told in a linear manner we would accept the culture and stop seeing it as related to our everyday lives. It is through Offred's memories of a world we can recognise that we remain appalled by the events described for us. While shopping she remembers a sign from before Gilead: 'In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. That would be blasphemy now.' While undressing she compares her current modest clothing with the past: 'my nakedness is strange to me already. Did I really wear bathing suits, at beach?'Her longing for her daughter is made particularly painful by the fact that she is now employed in the 'manufacture' of children, and that a new child would set her free. The forced separation of 'unfit' parents from their offspring has precedents in Aboriginal children being forced into adoption with white families1 - but the mothers were not then held in captivity to produce more children. Similarly, her longing for Luke makes her relationship with the Commander seem all the more empty.The brutality in the book draws on many sources. The Women's Salvagings have parallels with early nineteenth century England when prisoners condemned to death were executed publicly, and people held parties and rented out rooms with good views of the gallows before hangings2. There are reports that North Korea still condemns those who criticise Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il to be shot or hanged in public, with wall bulletins informing local residents of the time and place3, and Rwanda held a similar event in the Kigali main stadium for the execution of twenty four people convicted of being involved in the 1994 genocide4.Offred's understated tone and concentration on detail makes an unpleasant...

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