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Handmaid's Tale Palimpsests

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SlotFive GroupFour

on 22 March 2011

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Transcript of Handmaid's Tale Palimpsests

Handmaid's Tale Palimpsests "A palimpsest is a medieval parchment that scribes attempted to scrape clean and use again, though unable to obliterate all traces of the original" (pg. 399) WOW In the Novel, we can see that the Republic of Gilead very much so resembles a palimpsest Why? Well... As we can see throughout the novel, Offred (our narrator if you didn't know), is constantly comparing the past with the present. JUST LIKE A PALIMPSEST! At the beginning of the novel, Offred describes the gymnasim in which she used to sleep along with the other handmaids. Althought this room is now designated for sleeping, it still contains old basketball hoops and the floors still have painted lines and circles for old games (pg.3) In fact Offred herself describes the gym as "a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail," (pg.3) This pattern continues throughout the novel as we can see with the following examples: Bells measure time as it used to in nunneries (pg.8)
The old Church in Offred's neighbourhood. - It's still there but now it's a museum. The old gravestones are untouched (pg. 39)
The Wall, which "is over a hundred (years), at least" is still standing (pg.40). What was a university wall (pg. 207) is now has "ugly new floodlights", sentries, barbed wrie, broken glass set in concrete and hanging bodies near the main gateway (pg.40) Many of the stores are also "layered" like other things in the town.

i.e. The store "Lilies of the Field" (as deemed so by a golden lily) was once a movie theatre (pg.31).

But why is this important? It is clear that though the past is for the most part "erased", It is important enough for Offred to mention. It is also clearly important to others because of the presence of the black market. Of course some things never change. Like "the way men caress good cars." (pg.21) Serena Joy gets cigarettes from the black market (pg.17)
The Commander gets old magazines from the black market (pg.194) and that skimpy outfit too (pg.288) All items obtained from the black market were banned for one reason or another, but they are still out there. Thus, the past plays a very important role in Gilead, even though at times it appears to be obliterated As Offred puts it, "There's always a black market," (pg.17) Knowing this we can see that the book itself is a palimpsest The novel is constantly switching between past, new past and present. (i.e. the time before Gilead, Offred's time in the centre, and the present) For example when Offred talks about her past with Luke (pg. 29-30, 216) Or when she talks about the Red Centre (pg.68) or about her mom (pg. 149) We can see that though the events she describes are in the past, they very much so impact her life. We see that although Offred usually mentions her past in the Red Centre with a certain distain, she often quotes Aunt Lydia. ("It's not the husband you have to watch out for" said Aunt Lydia (pg.57)) And we see that her past relationship with Luke influences her current relationship with Nick. Like when she kisses Nick, she does it with her eyes open so she can "save him up so she can live on th image" partly because she never really did that with Luke. (pg.336) Also Offreds relationship with Nick is, in part, influenced by Offreds longing for her daughter (well at least the start of it was) (pg. 286).
Offreds past with her daughter, who "comes back to her at different ages" (pg.78), thus also influences her present life. Just to clarify, the point I'm trying to make is palimpsests influence historians and what they deem to be accurate history. Although what is clearly visible is important in any historic document, the part that is erased often plays a bigger role.
It shows us what influenced the final document or gives us more insight into the past. So if we classify Offred's story ( The Handmaid's Tale ) as a palimpsest, we can see that it's layered elements give us more insight into Gilead and Offred herself. WOW This is also proved by the existance of Jezebels (pg.294) THE END
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