A discussion of Margerat Atwood's use of shock in 'The Handmaid's Tale, and how it relates to current issues.

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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?

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Shock 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:...