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Media Project: The Handmaid's Tale

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Lac Truong

on 25 November 2014

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Transcript of Media Project: The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

McClelland-Bantam, Inc.

Lac Truong

S. Popowich

Margaret Atwood

sit stiff-necked, straight-backed, feet regimented side by side on the floor, eyes at the salute. Instead my body's lax, cozy even. My red shoes are off, my legs tucked up underneath me on the chair, surrounded by a buttress of red skirt, true, but tucked nonetheless, as at a campfire, of earlier and more picnic days. If there were a fire in the fireplace, its light would be twinkling on the polished surfaces, glimmering warmly on flesh. I add the firelight in.
As for the Commander, he's casual to a fault tonight. Jacket off, elbows on the table. All he needs is a toothpick in the corner of his mouth to be an ad for rural democracy, as in an etching. Fly-specked, some old burned book.
The squares on the board in front of me are filling up: I'm making my penultimate play of the night. Zilch, I spell, a convenient one-vowel word with an expensive Z.
"Is that a word?" says the Commander.
"We could look it up," I say. "It's archaic."
"I'll give it to you," he says. He smiles. The Commander likes it when I distinguish myself, show precocity, like an attentive pet, prick-eared and eager to perform. His approbation laps me like a warm bath. I sense in him none of the animosity I used to sense in men, even in Luke sometimes. He's not saying bitch in his head. In fact he is positively daddyish. He likes to think I am being entertained; and I am, I am.
Deftly he adds up our final scores on his pocket computer. "You ran away with it," he says. I suspect him of cheating, to flatter me, to put me in a good mood. But why? It remains a question. What does he have to gain from this sort of pampering? There must be something.
He leans back, fingertips together, a gesture familiar to me now. We have built up a repertoire of such gestures, such familiarities, between us. He's looking at me, not unbenevolently, but with curiosity, as if I am a puzzle to be solved.
"What would you like to read tonight?" he says. This too has become routine. So far I've been through a Mademoiselle magazine, an old Esquire from the eighties, a Ms., a magazine I can remember vaguely as having been around my mother's various apartments while I was growing up, and a Reader's Digest. He even has novels. I've read a Raymond Chandler, and right now I'm halfway through Hard Times, by Charles Dickens. On these occasions I read quickly, voraciously, almost skimming, trying to get as much into my head
You know, like Tupperware, only with underwear. Tarts' stuff. Lace crotches, snap garters. Bras that push your ti**ts up. She finds my lighter, lights the cigarette she's extracted from my purse. Want one?
Tosses the package, with great generosity, considering they're mine.
Thanks piles, I say sourly. You're crazy. Where'd you get an idea like that?
Working my way through college, says Moira. I've got connections.
Friends of my mother's. It's big in the suburbs, once they start getting age spots they figure they've got to beat the competition. The Pornomarts and what have you.
I'm laughing. She always made me laugh.
But here? I say. Who'll come? Who needs it?
You're never too young to learn, she says. Come on, it'll be great.
We'll all pee in our pants laughing.
Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.
We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.
Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you'd be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men None of them were the men we knew. The news paper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.
We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.
The Handmaid's Tale
But then what happens, but then what happens?
I know I lost time.
There must have been needles, pills, something like that. I couldn't have lost that much time without help. You have had a shock, they said.
I would come up through a roaring and confusion, like surf boiling. I can remember feeling quite calm. I can remember screaming, it felt like screaming though it may have been only a whisper, Where is she? What have you done with her?
There was no night or day; only a flickering. After a while there were chairs again, and a bed, and after that a window.
She's in good hands, they said. With people who are fit. You are unfit, but you want the best for her. Don't you?
They showed me a picture of her, standing outside on a lawn, her face a closed oval. Her light hair was pulled back tight behind her head. Holding her hand was a woman I didn't know. She was only as tall as the woman's elbow.
You've killed her, I said. She looked like an angel, solemn, compact, made of air.
She was wearing a dress I'd never seen, white and down to the ground.

I would like to believe this is a story I'm telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance.

If it's a story I'm telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.
It isn't a story I'm telling.
It's also a story I'm telling, in my head, as i go along.
Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden. But if it's a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don't tell a story only to yourself. There's always someone else.
Even when there is no one.
A story is like a letter. Dear You, I'll say. Just you, without a name. Attaching a name attaches you to the world of fact, which is riskier, more hazardous: who knows what the chances are out there, of survival, yours? I will say you, you, like an old love song. You can mean more than one.
It may be an unreliable retelling, because Offred changes parts of the story
But this can be for either her own sanity or perhaps she is unable to even remember it
Margaret Atwood

I'm The one to break first. "Well, maybe you could tell me something I've Been wondering about."
He shows interest. "what might that be?"
I'm heading into danger, but I can't stop myself, "It;s a phrase I remember from somewhere." Best not to say where. "I think it's in Latin, and I thought maybe . . ." I know he has a Latin dictionary. He has dictionaries of several kinds, on the top shelf to the left of the fireplace.
"tell me," he says. Distanced, but more alert, or am I imagining it?
"Noliite te bastardes carborundorum," I say.
"What?" he says.
I haven't pronounced it properly. I don't know how. I haven't pronounced it properly. I don't know how. "I could spell it," I say. "Write it down."
He hesitates at this novel idea. Possibly he doesn't remember I can.
I've never held a pen or a pencil, in this room, not even to add up the scores. Women can't add, he once said, jokingly. When I asked him what he meant, he said, For them, one and one and one and one don't make four.
What do they make? I said, expecting five or three.
Just one and one and one and one, he said.
But now he says, "All right," and thrusts his roller-tip pen across the desk at me almost defiantly, as if taking a dare. I look around for something to write on and he hands me the score pad, a desktop notepad with a little smile-button face printed at the top of the page. They still make those things.
I print the phrase carefully, copying it down from inside my head, from inside my closet. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Here, in this context, it's neither prayer nor command, but a sad graffiti, scrawled once, abandoned. 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 Commander takes the smile-button page from me and looks at it. Then he begins to laugh, and is he blushing? "That's not real Latin," he says. "That's just a joke."
"A joke?" I say, bewildered now. It can't be only a joke. Have I risked this, made a grab at knowledge, for a mere joke? "What sort of a joke?"
"You know how schoolboys are," he says. His laughter is nostalgic, I see now,
I find the entrance to the women's washroom. It still says Ladies, in scrolly gold script. There's a corridor leading in to the door, and a woman seated at a table beside it, supervising the entrances and exits. She's an older woman, wearing a purple caftan and gold eyeshadow, but I can tell she is nevertheless an Aunt. The cattle prod's on the table, its thong around her wrist. No nonsense here.
"Fifteen minutes," she says to me. She gives me an oblong of purple cardboard from a stack of them on the table. It's like a fitting room, in the department stores of the time before. To the woman behind me I hear her say, "You were just here."
"I need to go again," the woman says.
"Rest break once an hour," says the Aunt. "You know the rules."
The woman begins to protest, in a whiny desperate voice. I push open the door.
I remember this. There's a rest area, gently lit in pinkish tones, with several easy chairs and a sofa, in a lime-green bamboo-shoot print, with a wall clock above it in a gold filigree frame. Here they haven't removed the mirror, there's a long one opposite the sofa. You need to know, here, what you look like. Through an archway beyondthere's the row of toilet cubicles, also pink, and washbasins and more mirrors.
Several women are sitting in the chairs and on the sofa, with their shoes off, smoking. They stare at me as I come in. There's perfume in the air and stale smoke, and the scent of working flesh.
"You new?" one of them says.
"Yes," I say, looking around for Moira, who is nowhere in sight.

Chapter Thirty-eight

The Handmaid's Tale
At the end of the hallway, above the front door, is a fanlight of colored glass: flowers, red and blue.
There remains a mirror, on the hall wall. If I turn my head so that the white wings framing my face direct my vision towards it, I can see it as I go down the stairs, round, convex, a pier glass, like the eye of a fish, and myself in it like a distorted shadow, a parody of something, some fairy-tale figure in a red cloak, descending towards a moment of carelessness that is the same as danger. A Sister, dipped in blood. At the bottom of the stairs there's a hat-and-umbrella stand, the bentwood kind, long rounded rungs of wood curving gently up into hooks shaped like the opening fronds of a fern. There are several umbrellas in it: black, for the Commander, blue, for the Commander's Wife, and the one as**signed to me, which is red. I leave the red umbrella where it is, because I know from the window that the day is sunny. I wonder whether or notthe Commander's Wile-is in the sitting room. She doesn't always sit. Sometimes 1 can hear her pacing back and forth, a heavy step and then a light one, anil the soft tap of her cane on the dusty-rose carpet.

I walk along the hallway, past the sitting room door and the door that leads into the dining room, and open the door at the end of the hall and go through into the kitchen. Here the smell is no longer of furniture polish. 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 without the white wings and the veil. She puts on the veilto go outside, but nobody much cares who sees the face of a Martha. Her sleeves are rolled in the elbow, showing her brown arms.
She's making bread, thowing the loaves for the final brief kneading and then the shaping.
Rita sees me and nods, whether in greeting or in simple acknowl edgment of my presence it's hard to say, and wipes her floury hands on her apron and
The Handmaid's Tale

Two Guardians have moved forward and are coiling up the thick rope, getting it out of the way. Others move the cushions. We are milling around now, on the grass space in front of the stage, some jockeying for position at the front, next to the center, many pushing just as hard to work their way to the middle where they will be shielded. It's a mistake to hang back too obviously in any group like this; it stamps you as lukewarm, lacking in zeal. There's an energy building here, a murmur, a tremor of readiness and anger. The bodies tense, the eyes are brighter, as if aiming.
I don't want to be at the front, or at the back either. I'm not sure what's coming, though I sense it won't be anything I want to see up close. But Ofglen has hold of my arm, she tugs me with her, and now we're in the second line, with only a thin hedge of bodies in front of us. I don't want to see, yet I don't pull back either. I've heard rumors, which I only half believed. Despite everything I already know, I say to myself: they wouldn't go that far.
"You know the rules for a Particicution," Aunt Lydia says. "You will wait until I blow the whistle. After that, what you do is up to you, until I blow the whistle again. Understood?"
A noise comes from among us, a formless as**sent.
"Well then," says Aunt Lydia. She nods. Two Guardians, not the same ones that have taken away the rope, come forward now from behind the stage. Between them they half carry, half drag a third man. He too is in a Guardian's uniform, but he has no hat on and the uniform is dirty and torn. His face is cut and bruised, deep reddish-brown bruises; the flesh is swollen and knobby, stubbled with unshaven beard. This doesn't look like a face but like an unknown vegetable, a mangled bulb or tuber, something that's grown wrong. Even from where I'm standing I can smell him: he smells of shit and vomit. His hair is blond and falls over his face, spiky with what? Dried sweat?
I stare at him with revulsion. He looks drunk. He looks like a drunk that's been in a fight. Why have they brought a drunk in here?
"This man," says Aunt Lydia, "has been convicted of rape." Her voice trembles with rage, and a kind of triumph. "He was once a Guardian.
He has disgraced his uniform. He has abused his position of trust.
His partner in viciousness has already been shot. The penalty for rape, as you know, is death. Deuteronomy 22:23-29. I might add that this crime involved two of you and took place at gunpoint.
Controlling Mechanisms
Margaret Atwood

"What with?" I say.
He doesn't want to give me any ideas. "Does it matter?" he says. Torn bedsheet, I figure. I've considered the possibilities.
"I suppose it was Cora who found her," I say. That's why she screamed.
"Yes," he says. "Poor girl." He means Cora.
"Maybe I shouldn't come here anymore," I say.
"I thought you were enjoying it," he says lightly, watching me, however, with intent bright eyes. If I didn't know better I would think it was fear. "I wish you would."
"You want my life to be bearable to me," I say. It comes out not as a question but as a flat statement; flat and without dimension. If my life is bearable, maybe what they're doing is all right after all.
"Yes," he says. "I do. I would prefer it."
"Well then," I say. Things have changed. I have something on him, now. What I have on him is the possibility of my own death. What I have on him is his guilt. At last.
"What would you like?" he says, still with that lightness, as if it's a money transaction merely, and a minor one at that: candy, cigarettes.
"Besides hand lotion, you mean," I say.
"Besides hand lotion," he agrees.
"I would like? I say. "I would like to know." It sounds indecisive, stupid even, I say it without thinking.
"Know what?" he says.
"Whatever there is to know," I say; but that's too flippant. "What's going on."

Margaret Atwood

the rest of your life, you focus only on that one instant. But now it comes back to me, and I know I'm not prepared.

The clock in the hall downstairs strikes nine. I press my hands against the sides of my thighs, breathe in, set out along the hall and softly down the stairs. Serena Joy may still be at the house where the Birth took place; that's lucky, he couldn't have foreseen it. On these days the Wives hang around for hours, helping to open the presents, gossiping, getting drunk. Something has to be done to dispel their envy. I follow the downstairs corridor back, past the door that leads into the kitchen, along to the next door, his. I stand outside it, feeling like a child who's been summoned, at school, to the principal's office.
What have I done wrong?
My presence here is illegal. It's forbidden for us to be alone with I he Commanders. We are for breeding purposes: we aren't concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is sup-posed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted lor the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.
So why does he want to see me, at night, alone?
If I'm caught, it's to Serena's tender mercies I'll be delivered. He isn't supposed to meddle in such household discipline, that's women's business. After that, reclassification. I could become an Un woman.
But to refuse to see him could be worse. There's no doubt about who holds the real power.
But there must be something he wants, from me. To want is to have a weakness. It's this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me. It's like a small crack in a wall, before now impenetrable. If I press my eye to it, this weakness of his, I may be able to see my way clear.
I want to know what he wants.
I raise my hand, knock, on the door of this forbidden room where I have never been, where women do not go. Not even Serena Joy
comes here, and the cleaning is done by Guardians. What secrets, what male totems
The Handmaid's Tale

the white gauze mask, regulation. Two brown eyes, a nose, a head i
with brown hair on it. His hand is between my legs. "Most of those old guys can't make it anymore," he says. "Or they're sterile."
I almost gasp: he's said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is 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.
"Lots of women do it," he goes on. "You want a baby, don't you?"
"Yes," I say. It's true, and I don't ask why, because I know. Give me children, or else I die. There's more than one meaning to it.
"You're soft," he says. "It's time. Today or tomorrow would do it, why waste it? It'd only take a minute, honey." What he called his wife, once; maybe still does, but really it's a generic term. We are all honey.
I hesitate. He's offering himself to me, his services, at some risk to himself.
"I hate to see what they put you through," he murmurs. It's genuine, genuine sympathy; and yet he's enjoying this, sympathy and all. His eyes are moist with compassion, his hand is moving on me, nervously and with impatience.
"It's too dangerous," I say. "No. I can't." The penalty is death. But they have to catch you in the act, with two witnesses. What are the odds, is the room bugged, who's waiting just outside the door?
His hand stops. "Think about it," he says. "I've seen your chart. You don't have a lot of time left. But it's your life."
"Thank you," I say. I must leave the impression dial I'm not offended, that I'm open to suggestion. He takes his hand away, lazily almost, lingeringly, this is not the last word as far as he's concerned. He could fake the tests, report me for cancer, or infertility, have me shipped off to the Colonies, with the Unwomen. None of this has been said, but the knowledge of his power hangs nevertheless in the air as he pats my thigh, withdrew himself behind the hanging sheet.
"Next month," he says.
I put on my clothes again, behind the screen, My hands are shaking.
Why am I frightened? I've crossed no boundaries, I've given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It's the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation.
The the highlighted quote, "I would like to believe this is a story..." (7, 37) talks about Offred reconstructing the fate of her daughter. It is unknown what happened to her after the kidnapping, so Offred creates a story for herself to believe because the reality of it may be to hard to bear.

The story is a retelling from the narrator's (Offred) point of view
It is a reconstruction of her tale chronologically as she remembers it or chooses to remember it
It is a joke exploiting the possible different meanings to words or the fact there are words that sound alike but have different meaning
Offred is an intelligent person, and is capable of manipulating language as a way of entertainment
By using puns she can exercise her logical thinking skills and creative thinking skills
Offred says " Pen Is Envy" (29, 174), which sounds a lot like penis envy. This instance of a pun shows her logical thinking skills and serves as entertainment. Offred, and many women are envious of men due to their penis, for they are given many freedoms that were stripped away from the women. Another way to interpret it, is literally, she is envious of the Commanders ability to write and read; envious of the pen.
Here is an instance of Offred using her creative skills. "... blank white spaces at the edges of print..." (9, 53). The double meaning here is Offred is alluding to margins within print. She states that she along with many other women are now the marginalized in society, forgotten, mistreated, and uncared for. If taken literally, she claims, due to being in the blank spaces she can shape herself to be anything, and not what someone else choose to make of her.
Symbolism can be seen throughout the novel, mirrors being one good example.

Mirrors represent identity
This is because mirrors are able to reflect we who are; what we are seen as
So without mirrors there is a lost of identity
"There remains a mirror... a distorted shadow, a parody of something..." (2, 9). Offred mentions a mirror that is still within the household, but is unable to see herself within it. This is due to how usual it has become to Offred. She can no longer see her own identity, she only a product of Gilead - a women meant only for reproduction.
At Jezebels "...they haven't removed the mirror..." (38, 226). An illegal club known to the higher ups but is used by Commanders for enjoyment regardless of the rules. This place away from Gilead, does not obey its rules, and have no fear of those revolting. Thus, there is no need to remove a mirror for the women's identity are of little concern to the government.
Gilead requires several controlling mechanisms to maintain order. I will be focusing on particicutions. It is a combination of the words participation, and execution. Particicutions, in short, are killings carried out by mobs of the public.
it works by utilizing mob mentality
mob mentality is how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items
traitors, or rule breakers are set before the public, and then are executed by those members
once rallied up the mob beats these rule breakers and thus, particicutions are able to enforce their own set of laws through the public itself
The quote "You know the rules for a Particicution" (43, 261) shows how it s accepted in Gilead. The public has a complete understand of how a particicution functions, and what its used for. At this point in the novel, the Aunt does not go on to say much of the rule breaker, but instead lets mob mentality take over effective controlling the public.
I will be focusing on the Commander Fred. He is a high ranking man within the Gilead system, and the owner of the narrator, Offred.
The Commander desires intellectual stimulus. Seen in this quote " But there must be something he wants, from me" (23, 128) demonstrates Offred's understand that there is something she possesses that he wants. Strange as it is, the only conclusion is her intellect. Offred is a very intellectual individual and by playing scrabble with the Commander she gives him the intellectual stimulus he craves and desires - only something she can fulfill.
The previous quote "... Mademoiselle magazine, an old Esquire..." (29, 172) shows that the Commander himself is rebellious. He collects taboo items such as magazines and books. Despite his position in society, Fred chooses to ignore Gilead's rules.
Most importantly, the Commander wants to make Offred's life "... to be bearable..." (29, 176) this shows how naive he is. Fred does not fully understand the circumstances of Offred's life, and ignores Gilead's cruel rules. He states how he wants to improve Offred's life, but if he truly understood the situation within Gilead, Fred would know the only way to improve her life would be to free her from Gilead.
Commander Fred
Intellectual Stimulus
The Handmaid's Tale Study Guide for Grade 12
Look for the following points of interest while reading
I will be focusing on nuclear radiation and chemical toxins. Throughout the novel Offred mentions, the Coloines frequently. Later on it is apparent the Colonies is a radioactive area where the government sends minorities, like the Unwomen, to clean the radioactive waste. It is another form of punishment besides a direct sentence to death.
Offred fears this punishment of being "... shipped off to the Colonies..." (11, 57) often more than death. Where as death is a much faster process; being sent to the Colonies is being forced to work yourself to death.
Another major concern is the radiation. Offred lives in Gilead, a clean environment away from the Colonies. If she is sent there, the toxins will seep into her body and eventually be the cause of her inevitable death. Despite the change in location away from the Commanders this punishment is a death sentence in more than one way.
The highlighted quote, "I would like to believe this is a story..." (7, 37) talks about Offred reconstructing the fate of her daughter. It is unknown what happened to her after the kidnapping, so Offred creates a story for herself to believe because the reality of it may be to hard to bear.
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