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Examining Language in The Handmaid's Tale

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Kiley O'Neil

on 26 March 2014

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Transcript of Examining Language in The Handmaid's Tale

The purpose of the neologisms is to "transport" us into Gilead. It helps create a new world and it forces readers to make connections between the readers' current world, and the Republic of Gilead.
Examining Language in The Handmaid's Tale
Names such as "Offred" show the readers the dehumanization in Gilead. The ladies with those names do not have their own identity. They are simply property.
"Of" names
The "un" shows how extremely alienated and excluded these women are from the other women in the society.
In one word, the author was able to show how these ladies were viewed in Gilead. It shows that the wives are economic (do not cost much)
Biblical references and terminology were used frequently in this novel. In this society, church and state are not seperated.
Biblical Language
Reference to the new testament
Martha focused on housework, while her sister Mary sat and listened to Jesus
Jesus praised Mary, but this society praises Martha
"1 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.
2 And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her, and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her."
Genesis 30: 1-3
Hill of testimony
Balm of Gilead
Language Musings
The language musings give us an insight to Offred's thoughts and they show us what words she pondered on.
pg. 51 Just
Why did we ever say 'just'..?
She was pondering why the word "just" was put in front of important things.
Why did society downplay important things?
pg.106 "in Hope"
She thinks about how "in hope" is written on a gravestone.
Why did Offred focus on language so much?
It was a way to escape
It was a coping mechanism
She was able to distract herself from the injustice of Gilead by hyperfocusing on language

The intelligent and powerful people of the society are able to know those words
It made her feel closer to equal
Since the Commander wanted to play Scrabble, she was set on an equal level to him. He looked at her as an equal to a certain extent

Most of our discussion involved the injustice of Gilead and the coping mechanisms used by the citizens to survive. We also discussed how the Commanders were looked at as the enemy, but the Commanders didn't necessarily know better. The Commanders were taught to look down on the women.
We also discussed the parallels between our lives and the lives of those in the Republic of Gilead. We discussed how there is still inequality between men and women in our current society.
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