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Life Before Gilead: Flashbacks and Stories

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abby preuss

on 21 July 2014

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Transcript of Life Before Gilead: Flashbacks and Stories

As a reader, it is easy to believe everything that the narrator is saying, we believe them to be perfect. However, Offred makes it clear that her memories may not be exactly correct because she cannot explain everything perfectly, but we must take what she says and accept it.
What We Know
Offred's Family
Offred's friend in college
“…in her purple overalls, one dangly earring, the gold fingernail…” (35)
Always demanded attention
Controversial - did a paper on date rape
Crazy ideas - "underwhore" party
“I’m laughing. She always made me laugh.” (53)
Single mother who had Offred when she was 37
Very strong beliefs
young people did not appreciate what past generations have done for them
men are only necessary for pregnancy
Did not sugar coat the world
“she did not believe in mystification, I had a pop-up book of sexual organs by the time I was four” (137)
Watched historical and educational TV shows
“Wiry, spunky, the kind of old woman who wont let anyone butt in front of her in a supermarket line” (114)
Offred's Mother
By: Abby Preuss
Life Before Gilead: Flashbacks and Stories
The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood, Offred’s reflection on life before Gilead is the only source of power that she has. It provides juxtaposition to the complete lack of freedom that has now encompassed her life and acts as a coping mechanism to keep her sane and give her hope.

"This is a reconstruction. All of it is a reconstruction. [...] It's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out" (Atwood, 126)
Everything the Aunts want Handmaids not to be “typical of unwomen” (113)
Offred's Mother Analysis
Moira Analysis
Offred's Past Life
Overall Analysis
“She defied fasion as usual” (66)
“Theres nobody here I can love, all the people I could love are dead or elsewhere. Who knows where they are or what their names are now? They might as well be nowhere, as I am for them.” (97)
“We thought we had such problems. How were we to know that we were happy?” (48)
“I thought it was an isolated incident, at the time” (59)
What We Know
What We Know
Offred's Husband
Had a previous wife and Offred was his affair
Hotel rooms were their place to meet
Found humor in lots of situations
Offred's Mother
Serena Joy on TV
Wanted the best for his family
got fake passports
tried to get them out of Gilead
Unknown what has happened to him
Luke and Offred's child (no name given)
Was taken from Offred when she was 5 and is now 8 so 3 years have passed
Once almost kidnapped in a supermarket
Offred was drugged and her daughter taken away as she was "unfit" to care for her
“You’ve killed her, I said. She looked like an angel, solemn, compact, made of air.” (37)
Always comes back to Offred's memory at different ages
her birth
being bathed
running and hugging Offred
being taken away (the most painful memory)
Average life just like ours
Would watch cartoons as a child and recognized Serena Joy from channel flipping
Used to smoke
Dressed like the Japanese tourists
“I used to dress like that. That was freedom” (27)
Went to university and took courses like psychology and english
Liked happy movies with dancing and singing
“I liked watching these people when they were happy” (112)
Enjoys the arts and making things
likes music including Amazing Grace and Elvis
used to go to art museums and galleries
had a garden: “Time could pass more swiftly that way” (12)
“Just the brain going through its back files” (127)
What We Know

General Life Before Gilead
“We are a society dying of too much choice” (24)
“There is more than one kind of freedom…Don’t underrrate it” (24)
Life was how we know it now
Emphasizes the amount of choice and freedom
taking the subway
going to movies with women actresses who wore button-down shirts which could be undone
choice to get an abortion
Stories of women getting raped, murdered, etc. but they never thought of these stories as things that could happen to them
Women tanned with their clothes off
“no wonder those things used to happen” (52)
Looked to magazines such as Vogue to see how to live
Scrabble was a game for old people or for when there was nothing on TV
Passion, love, romance, sexual arousal, orgasms were important but now: “[these things are] no longer thought necessary…superfluous distractions for the light-minded. Outdated…. They are so obviously recreational” (89)
“Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money.” (103)
In the time before, Offred and her mother seemed to clash often. Even from early childhood, her mother was more interested in her feminist rallys than in her daughter: “…that’s what she was really there for. To see her friends; she’d lied to me, Saturdays were supposed to be my day” (36). That was when he mother was truly happy. It is ironic that her mother fought for female rights for such a long time and then they were removed almost completely after all the work she did. Offred's mother could be compared to Moira in the sense that she was also a rebel.

As Offred recollects stories of her mother, it becomes clear that her mother is a symbol of the loss of motherhood. Offred loses her mother just as everyone seems to be losing the ability to become a mother. Although she believed that her mother always expected too much of her, Offred now would do anything to get her back.

Her mother's dreams of having a society where women are "special" and there is no pornography or preying on women ironically comes true in The Republic of Gilead and provides us with a sense that getting what we wish is not always the best thing.
“Mother, I think. Wherever you may be. Can you hear me? You wanted a women’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies.” (120)
The memory of Luke is one that gives Offred hope and pushes her to keep living. When she is feeling sad or depressed late at night, she often brings up memories of Luke to comfort her. She longs for him to lie beside her, sleep with her and hold her, a feeling of intimacy is created for her through these memories. "Our happiness is part memory" (119).

Offred often uses Luke's potential fates as a coping mechanism. She thinks of three different situations that could be possible: Luke being dead, being captured in a Colony, or escaped to a safer place waiting to come rescue her. She convinces herself that by doing this, “whatever the truth is, I will be ready for it” (100). This helps to keep her sane and also gives her a reason to stay alive.

Offred dreams of simpler times and things she took for granted that contrast with her life today. He is a synbol of freedom, a reminder of a time where they were free (especially to have an affair).

Offred's daughter is a symbol of innocence. Not only does she now wear a white dress: “She was wearing a dress I’d never seen, white and down to the ground” (37) (white is a symbol of purity, innocence, naivity), but she is also the only source of true happiness for Offred. She is a reminder that Offred is able to bear children and reminds her of a better time in her life. This gives her hope.

Offred believes that her daughter is stll alive because "“If she were a ghost she would be the same age always.” (59). This is something that drives Offred to stay alive. The memories of her daughter are one of the only things that cause Offred to show real emotion, for example weeping after having the dream of her daughter being taken away.

Offred is very nostalgic about being a mother: “it smells of me, of former times, when I was a mother” (45) and this causes readers to sympathize with her.
Moira is the epitome of rebellion for Offred. She is Offred's idol, proof that escape from Gilead's politics is possible.

Ever since they were young, her friend was non-traditional, she would not conform to the system, and knew things other women did not. She did not care what others thought of her.

After she escapes from the red centre, she becomes the ultimate symbol of rebellion for many of the women. She is a hero. When Offred reads the latin phrase in the closet, she pictures the woman who wrote it as having Moira's face, personality: "quirky, jaunty, athletic, with a bicycle once, and a knapsack for hiking” (50). This is because Moira is really the only person Offred has known to go against the system. She has many characteristics that Offred wishes she had and perhaps gives Offred the encouragement she needs to rebel against the system a bit more.
"Moira was our fantasy" (125)
As Offred recounts her own past, the reader understands further how drastically different her life now is. In the past, she was free to be educated, wear what she wanted, and basically do what she wanted even as a child when she was allowed to use the TV alone. Now, with a complete lack of freedom she dreams of simple things such as just wearing earrings. This helps to further explain how difficult the transition must be for Offred.

In many of Offred's flashbacks to her prior life, we see the contrast between what women were treated like before : “I remember the rules,rules that were never spelled out but that every woman knew” (24), and how they are treated now and it really begs the question of which situation is better?

In Offred's flashback to watching a Holocaust documentary, she discovers that even the most horrible people can still not be monsters because they have human characteristics. This relates directly to the government of Gilead and how they cannot be explained as monsters for doing what they are doing because they believe it is right.
General Life Analysis
“Its only the more recent history that offends them” (30)
It is clear that Offred views her current life and judges it based on her past. Her memories are often triggered by situations that occur in the present and she decides on how to deal with them by going through past experiences or asking herself, "what would Moira, Luke, my mother do?"

In The Republic of Gilead, women have had almost every form of freedom removed. They cannot express themselves in anyway and cannot show emotion. Offred uses her ability to bring up past emotions and feelings to break out of this restriction and feel human and normal again, even if only for a second.
By telling these stories in her head, Offred is rebelling against society. Though she is unable to gain control over any other part of her life, she is still able to control her thoughts and tell her story even if there is no one listening. She will not be silenced by society, as Gilead wishes to do to women. In this totalitarian society, there is not much Offred still has power over but what she does have is her mind, which she uses to rebel as much as she can.
Works Cited
Atwood, Margaret.
The Handmaid's Tale.
1985. Reprint. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart-Bantam Limited, 1986. Print.
As Offred explains, "Context is all" (136). The life before is extrememly different and provides a huge contrast to what is now occuring. By placing comparisons of her past life and her life now right beside each other, it makes the difference even more obvious.

Offred compares her town to one of the home and garden magazines she used to look at: "There is the same absence of people, the same air of being asleep. The street is almost like a museum, or a street in a model town constructed to show the way people used to live. As in those pictures, those museums, those model towns, there are no children.” (23) In the past, these empty places were considered beautiful but now they are a reminder of infertility and a lack of new life. Similarly something as simple as initials carved into a school desk are considered "now lavish, decadent almost; immoral, like the orgies of barbarian regimes” (107) showing the huge change that has occured so quickly.

Thinking about her life before fills Offred with longing but also makes her question some of the decisions people used to make and how people used to live.
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