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The Handmaid's Tale

Uploaded by azurefyre on Jul 09, 2001

The role of a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead is ultimately to breed, and nothing more. Cooped up in a nondescript room with nothing but her own thoughts and painful memories for company, the narrator, Offred, shows many signs of retreating further and further into her own world, and becoming slowly more unstable throughout the course of the novel as her terrible new life continues.

The most common and by far the most disturbing example of this is the use of imagery and symbolism in the book. Many everyday items and observations are likened to some kind of sickening or violent image, which indicate that Offred isn’t really all that stable; for example a removed light fixture is described as being “like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out.”

Other examples of this are describing a Guardian of the Faith’s face as “unwholesomely tender, like the skin under a scab” and likening “half-dead, flexible and pink” worms to lips. A tourist’s stiletto heels are “delicate instruments of torture”; fluffy clouds are thought of as “headless sheep” and urinals “look oddly like babies’ coffins”. The Commander’s Wife herself is described as having a chin “clenched like a fist”. Further on in the book, when Moira has been violently punished for faking an illness;

“... she could not walk for a week... They looked like drowned feet, swollen and boneless, except for the colour. They looked like lungs.”

All these violent, disgusting images are evidence for Offred’s deteriorating state of health. Other similes mentioned are not so much violent as they are strange; at one stage, Offred compares herself to a piece of toast.

The author also uses colour as a powerful symbolic device. The colour red is referred to many times in the novel, most notably when Offred describes herself as “a Sister, dipped in blood.” This image in particular refers to menstruation, a process the Handmaids have grown to dread as it proves they have ‘failed’ once again.

The reoccurring image of the tulips in the garden also relates to this – they are also red and compared to blood:

“... a darker crimson toward the stem, as if they had been cut and are beginning to heal there.”

and all of the references can be likened to “Tulips”, a poem by Sylvia Plath, written about her time in a mental illness ward.

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Uploaded by:   azurefyre

Date:   07/09/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   6 pages (1,287 words)

Views:   1847

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