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Handmaid's Tale: Major Symbols
Transcript of Handmaid's Tale: Major Symbols
For Offred a cigarette was her stress reliver. In this novel, the only time you could get a cigarette was through the Black Market. "The cigarettes must have come from the black market, I thought, and this gave me hope. Even now that there is no real money anymore, there's still a black market. There's always a black matket, there's always something to be exchanged. She then was a woman who might bend the rules. What did I have to trade? [pg 17] Bible- forbidden, language, locked up, power of law, religion. In the novel, a bible was one of the things that was not allowed to be out in the open. It was locked up and hidden from all women, because of the law of no language, writing or reading. "The bible is kept locked up...so the servants wouldn't steal it. It is incendiary device: who knows what we make of it...but we cannot read."[ 108] Scrabble "The penalty for rape, as you know, is death. Deuteronomy 22:23-29. " Magazine- power, women, language, memory, forbidden, prulage, black market Offred knows that all magazines have been burned due to the language and pictures show in them. She then asks the commander for things while they are having there free time together and comes across a magazine. Which she thought were all burned...but being part of the black market helps. board game from time before
Offred plays with the Commander
forbidden, language, knowledge, power, perk "There were some men, too, amoung the women, and the books were magazines. They must have poured gasoline, becauze the flames shot huigh, and then they began dumping the magazines, from boxes, not too manhy at a time. Some of them were chanting; onlookers gathered. [pg 48] "He smiled a little. Then he pulled open the top drawer of his desk and took something out. He held it a moment, casually enough, between thumb and finger, as if deciding whether or not to give it to me. Alothough it was upside-down from where I was sitting, I recongnized it. They were once common enough. It was a magazine, a women's magazine, it looked like from the picture, a model on glossy paper..."  Lotion-youth, memory,
power, soft skin, against the law "I'd like you to play a game of Scrabble with me," he says... This was once the game of old women, old men, in the summers or in retirement villas, to be played when there was nothing good on television... Now of course it's something different. Now it's forbidden, for us. Now it's dangerous. Now it's indecent. Now it's something he can't do with his Wife. Now it's desirable. Now he's compromised himself. It's as if he's offered me drugs." (Atwood, 174) Offred is unable to use lotion in this novel
instead she uses butter from her dinner plate.
She hides it in her shoe. When she gets closer to the commander, she asks if he could get lotion. He does and she uses it every night they are playing scrabble. "Hand lotion, I said. Or face lotion. Our skin gets very dry. For some reason I said our instead of my. I would have liked to ask also for soem bath oil, in those little coloured globules you used to be able to get, that were so much like magic...Dry? the Commander said, as if he'd never thought about that before. What do you do about it? We use butter, I said. When we can get it. Or margarine. A lot of the time it's margarine."  Butter-youth, freedom, rebellion,
edible. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum "There's a pat of butter on the side of the plate. I tear off a corner of the paper napkin, wrap the butter in it, take it to the cupboard and slip it into the toe of my right shoe, from the extra pair, as I have done before. I crumpled up the rest of the napkin: no one, surely, will bother to smooth it out, to check if any is missing, I will use the butter later tonight. It would not do, this evening, to smell of butter.  Red- Handmaid's (himen), new born, blood Red is the colour of the handmaids. They are the women who can still bear children. This is also the colour of blood which is what is covering a new born baby. This also means youth, minority and maturity. "A shape, red with white wings around the face, a shape like mine, a nondescript woman in red carrying a basket, come along the brick sidewalk towards me."  Etched into closet
"Don't let the bastards grind you down."
Fake language, joke, red herring, hope, rebellion, message Green- Martha's, go GREEN, working, re useable, ripe. A martha is the maid of the household. She will do the cooking, cleaning and are not allowed to speak to the handmaids. "Rita is in here, standing at the kitchen table, which has a top of chipped white enamel. She's in her usual Martha's dress, which is dull green, like a surgeon's gown of the time before. The dress is much like mine in shape, long and concealing, but with a bib apron over it and wihtout hte white wintsand veil. She puts on the veil to go outside, but nobody much cares of who sees the face of a Martha.  Black- Commanders, powerful, solditude, old (usually), need to reproduce with the assistance of a handmaid. "I didn't know what it meant, or even what language it was in... Still, it was a message, and it was in writing, forbidden by that very fact, and it hadn't yet been discovered. Except by me, for whom it was intended." (Atwood, 65) "At last the Commander in charge of this service comes in. He's balding and squarely built and looks like an aging football coach. He's dressed in his uniform, sober black with teh rows of insignia and decorations."  Faith Pillow Blue- Wives, power, unfertile, old (usually) The Wives dress in blue, calming, strong, represents love. "The blue one is in the middle, the two red ones of either side, though the colours are no longer as bright, they seem to have faded, grown dingy, like dead butterflies or tropical fish drying on land."  "I've often seen her in it, her knees on a cushion, a light blue veil thrown over her wide gardening hat, a basket at her side with shears in it and pieces of string for tying the flowers into place." White- Daughter, innocent, purity, free,
youth, surrender. White is the colour of the daughter. It signifies the purity of the child and how he/she is free and innocent and are unable to do anything wrong. Sits by the windowsill
All Offred has to read
Silent prayer, reads it over and over again
Faith, forbidden, comfort, memorabilia "I go to the window and sit on the window seat, which is too narrow for comfort. There's a hard little cushion on it, with a petit point cover: FAITH, in square print, surrounded by a wreath of lilies... I can spend minutes, tens of minutes, running my eyes over the print: FAITH. It's the only thing they've given me to read. If I were caught doing it, would it count?" (Atwood, 71) "And now the twenty veiled daughters, in white, come shyly forward, their mothers holding their elbows." Grey- The eyes, moody, dull, plain. Grey is the colour of the eyes. It represents their dullness and that they are nothing important (but they actually are the meaning of death). They are always watching you. "Two eyes in gray suits, leap from the opening double doors at the back. They grab a man who is walking along, a man with a breiefcase, an ordinary-looking man, slam him back against the black side of the van."  Harvard University Educational institute turned Eyes headquarter
Bodies of traitors hung on the wall
Once a place of knowledge, inverted into place of secrecy, oppression
Multi-Coloured-independent, average, different, poor, Econowives. "Cars go by, black most of them, some gray adn brown. There are women with baskets, somein red, some in dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimpy, that mark the women of the poorer men. Evonowives, they're called. These women are not divided into functions."  "The hooks have been set into the brickwork of the Wall, for this purpose. not all of them are occupied...
It's the bags over the heads that are the worst, worse than the faces themselves would be. It makes the men like dolls on which the faces have not yet been painted; like scarecrows,"
(Atwood, 41) Ceremonies Public Executions Birth Day
- a day when a Handmaid gives birth
-the day a child is born
-a day of relaxation for all women
-a holiday The Eye
Signifies all seeing/ knowing
secret police, always watching
"In the semidark I stare up at the blind plaster eye in the middle of the ceiling, which stares back down at me, even though it can't see."(Atwood, 120) "Two of the Wives in their blue dresses and veils hold her by the arms, as if she needs it; she has a tight little smile on her face, like a hostess at a party she'd rahter not be giving. She must know what we think of her. She scrambles onto the Birthing Stool, sits on the seat behind and above Janine, so that Janine is framed by her: her skinny legs come down on either side, like the arms of an eccentric chair." [Atwood, 157] The Womb Salvaging
When one does something wrong (Ie. rape)
For women to watch only
A hanging Holding cell, vessel
Offred's sole use
New life, attention, importance "We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices."(Atwood, 171) "" I'm sure we are all aware of the unfortunate circumstances that bring us all here together on this beautiful morning, when I am certain we would all rather be doing something else, at least I speak for myself, but duty is a hard taskmaster, or may I say on this occasion taskmistress, and it is in the hame of duty we are here today."" [Atwood 343] ""This man, " say Aunt Lydia," has been convicted of rape." He voice trembles with rage, and a kind of triumph. "He was once a Guardian. He has disgraces his uniform. He has abused his position of trust. His partner in viciousness has already been shot. The penalty for rap, as you know; is death."" [Atwood 348] Palimpsest
a document that has been written over, leaving traces of the old information
entire novel is a palimpsest
what once was, familiarity "A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and i thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat, shot through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as i know from pictures, later in miniskirts, then pants, then in one earing, spikuy greeen-streaked hair. Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound," (Atwood, 3) Prayvaganzas Daughters of wives marry angels, arranged Public spectacle Prayer was once a private affair but now it's broadcasted live "This is a reconstruction. All of it is a reconstruction." (Atwood, 168) "Soothing to the eye, the eyes, the Eyes, for that's who this show is for. We're off to the Prayvaganza, to demonstrate how obedient and pious we are." (Atwood, 266)