Margaret Atwood Novel the Handmaid's Tale Thesis

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English Literature

The Handmaid's Tale - by Margaret Atwood - Could This Really Happen?

Author Margaret Atwood has written a novel that is engaging and fascinating, but at the same time no one would disagree that it is darkly cynical, frightening, Orwellian and cryptic. But notwithstanding the bitterness and dystopian tone to this book, Atwood's themes embrace a shade of realism throughout the book. This paper will point out that even though this novel contains outrageously inhumane and immoral acts against humans - readers follow events and rules that fly in the face of civilized, democratic values - it's not too hard for an alert reader to imagine something close to this plot and these characters coming into play in the future.

Again, albeit the powers in control of the country in this book use unthinkably cruel and vicious strategies to suppress freedom and ride roughshod over human rights in order to stay in power, given what has transpired in the U.S., for example, in terms of the expansion and abuse of executive power since September 11, 2001, it is not beyond imagination that something akin to this book's plot could happen in the future - or already has happened. In that regard, Atwood's writing could be seen as a way to open society's eyes as to the real and present dangers that could be visited upon woman, and ultimately, the entire society of the world.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Thesis on Margaret Atwood Novel the Handmaid's Tale Assignment

This paper will build a critical theme based on those outrageous aspects of the novel that link characters, scenes, policies and events found in Atwood's novel with characters, events, policies and scenes in the real world of America today. Some of the comparisons and juxtapositions may seem to be a bit of a stretch, and there will be a degree of exaggeration and embellishment of ideas through this critical review; but literature itself is in many cases - including Atwood's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, based on the reader's imagination taking over and hard, cold realistic facts taking a back seat to fiction. The question asked here, between the lines and within the narrative is, "Could this happen here?" or, "Is this already happening to some degree?" Alert readers who are also well informed as to some of the ugly events that are happening, have happened (note the bloody, boldly brutal attacks on innocent citizens and visitors in Maubi, India, in November, 2008), and may happen around the world

Characters' Dilemmas vs. Real World Dilemmas:

The novel's protagonist and narrator, Offred, who belongs to Fred, is subject to routine monthly sexual encounters by the Commander. These attacks are not so much for the pleasure of the aggressor but rather they are designed to produce children so the elites within the totalitarian government can have more members. Handmaids are subjected to this awful ritual so long as they are fertile, and can conceive. For those who, following the third attempt by the Commander, cannot have children, are sent off to the "Colonies" where they become slaves. They join with other women who are past the age of childbearing, of no particular use to the regime, and their job now is to clear toxic waste, which is of course poison and makes them ill; they eventually die.

The Commander *****s, with a regular two-four marching stroke, on and on like a tap dripping. He is preoccupied, like a man humming to himself in the shower without knowing he's humming...as if he is somewhere else, waiting for himself to come..." (Atwood, 1986, p. 94).

This is great descriptive literature. "...On and on like a tap dripping." This image gives the reader more than just the mental recollection of the sound of an annoying drip in the kitchen or bathroom. It also brings to mind the waste of a precious resource as water runs down the drain to the sea, never to be properly used. Indeed, women, the most precious human resource on earth, are being wasted. The drip of the water from the tap is a perfect metaphor.

The women in Atwood's novel are obviously being wasted. They are all trying to be pregnant to stay alive. Obviously they would much rather go through the ritual of being raped (though that is not how they see it in the novel) as sexual slaves than be banished to a toxic waste dump cleanup project to die. Agree to let men have intercourse with you so you can produce children or die. There is not much choice in those alternatives. "I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure...or an implement for the accomplishment of my will," the protagonist explains on page 73. "Each month I watch for blood, fearfully, for when it comes it means failure" (e.g., if she is menstruating that means she has not fulfilled her obligation to produce babies) (Atwood, 73).

Meanwhile, on the subject of real world involuntary sexual contact with the opposite sex, there are statistics available through the United Nations that show there are an estimated 250,000 verified rapes annually (in 65 countries). There were, the UN reports, 95,136 reported rapes in the U.S. In 2002. In the UK, there were 13,395; in South Africa 52,425 and in Canada 24,350. These are only reported rapes, and experts believe far more rapes occur than are actually reported to authorities (www.unodc.org/pdf/crime/eighthsurvey/8sv.pdf).These are women who did not consent to allow a man to have sex with them, and likely many of those rapes were conducted with the threat of being injured, or killed, if they didn't cooperate in some way.

As to sexual slavery in the world, according to ABC News (Thomas, et al., 2007), there are over 800,000 people "bought, sold, and smuggled" throughout the world each year, many of them unfortunately become sexual slaves. In 2005, a smuggling cartel (Carreto) promised "scores of poor women from Mexico" a chance to get married and enjoy a better life in America. But unfortunately, instead of marriage and a good life they were forced into sexual slavery, forced to charge $25 to $35 per "date" and were beaten regularly to remind them not to try to escape.

DePaul University released data in 2001 that estimated two million women and children were held in positions of sexual servitude at that time. The report goes on to allege that 80% of those who are sold into sexual slavery are under 24, and some are as young as 6 years of age. Some 30,000 enslaved women (and some men) are killed each year due to abuse, torture, neglect and disease (UPI, 2001).

Once again turning to the thesis of This paper - i.e., "could this really happen?" - the novel's narrator, Offred explains how things got into the terrible shape they are in but scholarly critic Eric Domville (Domville, 2006) boils it down into simple terms. Domville paraphrases in his piece in the University of Toronto Quarterly: A series of terrible disasters have occurred, but these are not totally out of the question given the realities of 2008. In the novel, earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault in California create a terrible problem as nuke plants built too close to fault lines explode and release deadly radiation, wiping out people and animals.

The escape of toxic wastes and dioxins produces rapidly escalating levels of cancer and infertility," Domville writes. In reality, this could happen at any time along the San Andreas Fault - or other known fault lines in California, of which there are many. A report on Friday, November 21 from news media in San Luis Obispo County, California, indicates a new fault has been discovered less than a mile from the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. This fault, when added to the existing fears due to the known existence of the Hosgri Fault (three miles offshore from the nuclear plant) has given local citizens something more to worry about.

So exactly how many earthquake faults does it take to shut down a nuclear power plant," asked David Weisman, the outreach coordinator with watchdog organization Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (Daniel, 2008). No one can be sure if a 6.5 quake (which is estimated to be the power of the newly discovered fault line) would cause the Diablo plant to rupture and release deadly radioactivity, but the utility, PG&E, has downplayed this possible scenario.

In addition to the real possibility of an earthquake causing a catastrophic release of deadly radiation, there are ample other links to the real world and to the history of the real world to address the question of "could it happen here?" - or, perhaps, "has it happened before?" Domville points out that in the Old Testament (Genesis 30:1-3) there is evidence that handmaids were used to bear children for couples who could not have children. To wit:

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister;

and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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