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Powerful diction in the Handmaids Tale


Ella Lindholm-Uzzi

on 23 February 2012

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Transcript of Powerful diction in the Handmaids Tale

Powerful Diction
Margaret Atwood employs the use powerful diction in the Handmaid's Tale to highlight the importance of language in society
"My name is Offred, I have another name which nobody uses now because it's forbidden."
"In this way we exchanged names from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June."
The reader knows the most personal things about Offred, yet doesn't know the her real name. Because of this effect, the reader becomes a part of the society, where to know someone's real name is power over that person.
Many words are analyzed throughout the novel, yet the narrator's real name is never revealed
The handmaid's names are stolen from them; their identity is no longer their own. They become just another replaceable name
Some scholars have thought to glean Offred's real name from this line. All those other women named have been accounted for, except 'June'
Interpretation of Offred's name
... small
... small
Meaning of the handmaid's names
The handmaid's names are formed by taking their commander's first names and adding "Of" at the beginning.
The name shows possession, but also shows the dispensability of the handmaids
Atwood is also making a reference to "Mrs", where women take the last name of their husband.
"Mrs"shows marriage status, just as "of" shows handmaid status. In both cases, the women are bound to thier male counterpart by their name.
"I am Ofglen," the woman says. Word perfect. And of course she is, the new one, and Ofglen, wherever she is, is no longer Ofglen. I never did know her real name. That is how you can get lost, in a sea of names. It wouldn't be easy to find her, now."
June (supposed name of narrator)- goddes of childbirth and marriage, spring and rebirth
Serena Joy - peaceful happiness (ironic)
Moira - a version of May, uncertain, bitter
Luke - doctor (when Offred thinks of Luke she is healed emotionally)
Janine - God is gracious (ironic)
Nick - victory of the people
Defining Characters by their Names
On the Flip Side
Offred's mother and daughter, though they are a large part of the story, are never referred to by their names
Because they essentially have no names, they are "lost"
Feminists and deformed babies are also stolen from their names, they have become "unwomen" and "unbabies". Essentially nothing
Rachel and Leah Center
Republic of Gilead
Again, Atwood demonstrates how names define us
Hill of Testimony in Bible. Everyone in Gilead is judged and has a place
Jezebel was a wicked wife in the Bible. Means evil, wicked. Ironic because it is the commanders forcing these women to be "wicked"
The place where the Handmaids were trained. Also, in the Bible, they are the two wives of Jacob. Rachel has her handmaid bear Jacob children when she herself cannot.
Sexism in Language
Freudian Terminology
Double Meanings in Words
(cc) photo by medhead on Flickr
Lack of
in English language as female equivalent to
(to behave like a brother)
Offred and her fellow handmaids are dressed in red habits. She says "Habits are hard to break"
The secret underground word for handmaids in "Mayday". Offred thinks about the french language, and how "m'aidez" (pronounced the same) means help me
In the historical notes, the scholars joke about the name of Offred's story, interchanging the more appropriate "tale" with the sexualized word "tail".
Atwood changes the famous Freudian quote "Penis envy" to "Pen is envy" to demonstrate the changed society and to also highlight the fact that the handmaids are forbidden to read or write.
"The pen between my fingers is sensuous, alive almost, I can feel its power, the power of the words it contains. Pen Is Envy, Aunt Lydia would say, quoting another Center motto, warning us away from such objects. And they were right, it is envy. Just holding it is envy. I envy the Commander his pen. It's one more thing I would like to steal."
The Goverment controlling language to control its people
The pillow is Offred's room is embroidered with "faith". Offred thinks how there were probably two other pillows with "hope" and "charity", but only faith remains in this society
During her checkup, the doctor says a forbidden word in Gileadian society: sterile.
"I gasp: he's said a forbidden word. Sterile. There's no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that's the law."
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