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Lang/Lit: 'The Handmaid's Tale' Post-reading Analysis

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Paul Hanson

on 17 November 2017

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Transcript of Lang/Lit: 'The Handmaid's Tale' Post-reading Analysis

Lang/Lit: 'The Handmaid's Tale' Post-reading
You have thirty seconds thinking time to list all the language methods Atwood uses in 'THT'.

Next, 'give one, get one' with others in the room.
Narrative Technique
Now, we need to understand the novel in detail in terms of:
narrative structure
narrative voice and viewpoint
presentation of time and space/place.

First, let's look at Atwood's use of language to achieve the above.
Atwood's Language
first person personal pronoun
present tense
asyndetic lists
prepositions/spatial relations
noun phrases
premodifying adjectives
postmodifying adjectives
lexical repetition
structural symmetry/parallel construction
non-specific temporal adverbs
verbs of perception
poor Latin
sentence forms and types for effect, including elliptical sentences
Structural Methods
Can we understand the structure of 'THT' using orientation, inciting incident, rising action, climax and denouement/resolution?

If so, map the story out using the A3 plan in front of you?
Barthes' Codes
Hermeneutic codes (enigmas)
Proairetic codes (actions)
Semic/semantic codes (signs/symbols)
Symbolic codes (antithesis and paradox)
Cultural codes
Viewpoint and Voice
Viewpoint, or point of view, refers to the character, including an omniscient narrator, whose 'eyes' we are seeing the story through.

Narrative voice refers to the characteristics of the character/narrator telling the story, their attitudes, values and trustworthiness, for example.
Physical appearance, including dress
Manner of speech
Attitudes and values
Interactions with others
What others say about them
Setting (where the reader encounters them)
As we've discussed previously, Atwood herself describes her writing as 'speculative' fiction and not science fiction. In what ways would you agree or disagree with this label?
first person viewpoint
sense impression/synaesthesia
direct speech
reported speech
allusion (biblical, literary, historical and cultural)
Orientation: from Ch. 1 up to the point the Commander invites Offred to his study.
Inciting incident: the Commander invites Offred to his study.
Rising action:
Offred and the Commander
Offred and Ofglen
Offred, Serena and Nick
Ofglen's suicide
Serena's confrontation of Offred after Jezebel's
the university symposium presenting Offred's audio tapes
Other structural methods include:
an epilogue
Presentation of Time and Space/Place (Setting)
How is the space/place described?
What events take place there?
What characters are present there?
What, if any, wider significance does the space/place have?
'Night I'
Considering all we've now recapped, in 'Night I', think about the following:
What impressions have you gained from this chapter of the narrator and her circumstances? By what means?
What do you not know that you would have expected to find out from the first chapter of a novel?
What might be the author’s purpose in keeping such knowledge from her readers?

'Shopping I'
Make a list of the ways, revealed in this chapter, by which the powers that be in Gilead control people’s lives, especially those of women.

Now, explore how Atwood uses narrative technique to present these.
Chapter Three
Explore the presentation of the Commander's wife, Serena Joy, in this chapter.
The Epigraphs
What is the significance of the three epigraphs at the start of the book?
Why does Atwood single out the Old Testament?
Let's read three extracts from The Bible, one from the Book of Genesis and two from the Book of Judges.

Consider what justification Atwood has for using the OT as the foundation for Gilead's mistreatment of women.
Shopping (Ch. 6)
Atwood said of her novel 'There's nothing in the book that hasn't already happened.’ The Wall, which Atwood describes as being ‘hundreds of years old’ has been used in Gilead for a sinister purpose. Below are some walls that may have inspired The Wall.
Look up the biblical quotations, and names based on biblical terms, used in this chapter:
‘The car is...a Whirlwind, better than the Chariot (or) the chunky, practical Behemoth’ - 2 Kings 2:11 / Job 40:15-24
‘perhaps he is an Eye’ - Proverbs 15:3
‘Some of you will fall on dry ground, or thorns’ - Luke 8:4-15
‘Blessed be the fruit’ - Genesis 1:28
‘Praise be… I receive with joy’ – 2 Corinthians 1:3 / Luke 8:13

In what ways has Gilead twisted them for its own purposes?

Chapter Eight: The Waiting Room
How many instances can you find in this chapter in which Offred compares and contrasts her past life and her present existence?
What is the effect of these constant comparisons?
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