Margaret Atwood

What do you find interesting about the ways in which Margaret Atwood presents relationships between men and women? In “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Atwood continually streeses the importance of intimacy, tenderness and love, in its many guises. Considering Atwood is a feminist writer who creates a patriarchal dystopia, one might expect the book to have a rather an aggressive attitude towards men, but In “The handmaid’s Tale” Margaret Atwood explores the interaction between men and women, paticularly within heterosexual relationships.

The most significant relationship within Offred’s life is undoubtedly that with Luke, the central protagonist’s lover, husband and father to her child. Through the use of flashback, Atwood creates a picture of domestic happiness and the reader is led to believe that the two were very happy together. As the novel progresses, Atwood juxtaposes the present of the novel, a dystopian vision of a modern tyranny and the past, Offred’s life in contemporary society. It is her role as mother and wife that offred remembers fondly, evoking mmories of her life with Luke and the loving memories they shared.

The contrast clearly emphasises both the loving domesticity in which Luke and offred lived and the loneliness of Life in Gilead where relationships are not permitted for handmaids. During the flashbacks to the past Offred evokes memories of incidents which suggest that Offred and Luke did not have an entirely equal relationship It is the relationship between offred and the commander which is explored in the most depth, as the reader is given access to lots of the dialogue between the two.

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It is ironic that considering the status of each of the two, we see that Offred is able o gain a lot of the power within the relationship, she even goes as far to reprimand him for trying to touch her during the ceremony and then says herself, “we were on quite different terms by now”. However, throughout the novel Offred’s attitude towards the commander fluctuates, she thinks of him as both a peron for whom she can have affectionate feelings and a figure of authority, of whom she must be wary.

The turbulent nature of their realtionship reflects the constant power battle which Atwood suggests is inherrent in heterosexual relationships within sexist cultures. This issue is explicitely raised by Moira when she tells Offred that sex is only an equal “even Stephen” act within homosexual relationships, this may well be a reference and avocation of the infamous feminist slogan, “the personal is political”. Offred’s relationship with the Commander is contrasted with her relationship with Nick, who is a less powerful figure.

Ofrfred develops very strong feelings for nick, at points in the novel it appears that their relationship only consists of sex. In the novel sex is equated with both freedom and power, ffred certainly derives a greater sense of self and strength and from her relationship with Nick. Even in Gilead, where life is regimented and circumscibed, Offred and Nick still find each other and risk their lives to see each other. One of thre sub themes of the novel is that no matter how hard one tries to control or restrict human relationships, people will reach out for each other, just as the women in the Red centre touched fingers.

Amongst the terror, brutality and oppression which constitutes the Gileadean regime, Offred’s moments of happiness, illustrated all the more poignantly by her haunting first person narrative are those with Nick. He is associated with domestic and homely situations, sitting in his bedroom or washing the car, he and Offred’s “hunger” for each other lies testimony to the power and importance of loving heterosexual relationships. Thus Atwood illustrtes the difficulties, but affirms the power and potential happiness of relationships beween men and women.

I think she suggests that political contexts permeate individual relationships, and thus there is hope for even better relations between men and women in a more equal relationship. What do you find interesting about Margaret Atwood’s presentation of Gilead – the society in which the novel is set? In Gilead, Margaret Atwood creates a futuristic dystopia, characterised by brutality, terror and repression. It is a hierarchical and patriarchal society based on the Old testament story of Jacob, and the quote from Genesis is the opening of the book.

Gilead is a fundamental Christian state, in which a ruling elite took power via a coup d’etat following a terrorist massacre of a democratic government. Gileadian life is supposedly biblically based, however the reader quickly becomes aware that the bible is misquoted and manipulated, “Blessed are the silent. ” Selective use is made of Christian values, “FAITH” as printed on the cushion is cherished, but “HOPE” and “CHARITY” are incongruent with Gileadian ethics and so are ignored. It is not only biblical quotes that are perverted, Gilead is full of familiar slogans, “From each according to her ability, to each according to his needs.

” This is particularly ironic, as Gilead advocates hierarchical, patriarchal structures and the phrase is originally a surmise of Marxism, the two being entirely theoretically opposed. Many societies have manipulated religion to influence people, and Gilead ensures success by prohibiting reading and controlling the media – an uneducated population being easier to control. The repetitive nature of the slogans, and the new vocabulary “prayvaganza” is reminiscent of modern marketing campaigns, the manipulation of profound sentiments as a use of rhetoric conveys a criticism of contemporary marketing and consumerism.

This can be seen as a specific critique of American marketing which is often viewed as paicularly ruthless, especially in contrast to Canada, which is where Atwood is from. The reader is told that the regime has not spread as far as Canada, which is significant considering that Canada is a more liberal country. This may be a wider critique of American life suggesting America is full of extremes, which as Gilead proves, can be a very dangerous thing, this provides the undertones of Canadian – American dialogue within the novel.

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Margaret Atwood. (2017, Oct 29). Retrieved from

Margaret Atwood
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