Essay On "The Handmaid's Tale"

Essay by jayanithaHigh School, 11th gradeA+, January 2006

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What if American women were suddenly returned to their cloistered state of old in which their only freedom was the freedom from the dangers of the surrounding world? Then again, did women ever truly achieve "freedom to" at all?

The first society is Modern America with its relatively liberal mores and customs, and the second is Gilead, a totalitarian Christian theocracy which takes control of America in the late 1980's in order to "save" it from its pollution and dwindling birthrate.

The novel's protagonist, Offred, uses two sets of images to document the history of these contrasting societies. She recounts to the reader with a startling poignancy and photographic clarity the images of her memories of her past life as an American woman, and those of her present life as a Handmaid, or uterine slave, to the Republic of Gilead.

The descriptive imagery used by Offred to describe her experience has a richness and directness which translates each scene so effectively that they take on an almost photographic quality to the reader.

In effect, imagery in this book is practically synonymous with photography.

It is important to note, however, that the novel, written in first person, has a certain subjectivity that cannot be associated with a photograph. Each image, although it is photographic, detailed, and precise in its rendering, is also mingled with the narrator's own emotional reaction to it.

The narrator herself is aware of her own capacity to err. She calls her own account a "reconstruction ... [because] it's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was ... you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances," inferring that her story is based on flawed memories of what truly passed.

Like Offred, we are thrown head first into a...