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Old 1st Jul 2008, 16:26   #21
Colyngbourne
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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She creates her own [freedom and joy] through relationship and even (hallelujah chorus refrain here) the occasional game of Scrabble. Plus all of the word games she plays when she's alone, and her continuous attempts to understand and process what is going on around her. In my thinking, this is feminism, the search for personal power as opposed to giving up.
To my mind, that isn't so much feminism as what we would hope any human would be doing. I don't see what makes it a feminist thing, except that Offred happens to be a woman (which has put her in that situation admittedly).

I was wondering as well about why there was no intervention from other states/countries, kirsty. I came to the conclusion that they were all too busy solving their own fall-out/procreation problems their own way and didn't have the resources to relate to what any other part of the world was doing.
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Old 1st Jul 2008, 20:00   #22
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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To my mind, that isn't so much feminism as what we would hope any human would be doing. I don't see what makes it a feminist thing, except that Offred happens to be a woman (which has put her in that situation admittedly).
I agree, almost. I see the Handmaid as representative of what we'd like to think anyone would be doing in a far-fetched situation like this, of course. What makes it a feminist thing, and as good a ''manifesto'' for me as any, is that most women still are called upon to do this doubly, to take some hits that wouldn't be headed their way if they weren't women. I'll cite only one instance as this is such a retread: I worked once with a man who told me he liked to come in to work evenings and to sniff my chair when I wasn't in it. Now, I've been very fortunate, ''made choices'' to avoid people such as this, went to school, took a pretty safe trajectory, etc., but this disrupted my equilibrium and took a lot of concentration and 'thinking- about-other-things' to manuever around. But other women aren't so lucky and there is still an imbalance, though work life has improved staggeringly for most of us. Feminism is about bringing a balance to power, and the only way, imho, to do that is to take an inside track, like the Handmaid, and maintain self when circumstances might lead to being knocked off kilter. Atwood does a good job in her novels of portraying women in difficult circumstances who show dignity and lots of snarky humor to ride out things they don't choose for themselves.

Moving on, Atwood in the interview I have at home makes a point about such a situation coming into being because of perks and cooperation from people who might not see themselves as being caught up in something vile. I'll find it later and get the quote right.
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Old 2nd Jul 2008, 1:21   #23
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Post Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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Originally Posted by kirsty
Beth, yes, I agree with your view of the feminism in the book.

Offred/June is never going to be the most reliable of narrators because she is still obviously processing what is going on herself, so if she can't fully make sense of what is going on around her, then neither can we. Also, with regards to the lack of detail about how the regime came to be, perhaps even she doesn't fully know?

Also, I agree with Becca about the future of Gilead being more horrifying when people still retain a memory of the old world. I think the other horrifying thing about Gilead is that there seem to be no chance of a resistance building. Those who hold power will protect it at all costs, the Eyes are everywhere, and there is no leniency for anyone who is caught doing something wrong.

In some ways we can compare the situation of women in ultra-fundamentalist Muslim states. I don't mean that to sound glib, but think about it: there are countries NOW where women are stoned to death for being raped, because *they* committed adultery (in Gilead only women can be infertile). Women can't drive in some countries, and where they are allowed to, they have to have a family male in the car with them. They lose rights to their children. They are killed for bringing dishonour to their family by being attracted to the wrong person. In that light, Gilead isn't so very far away from some things that are happening to women in the world now, let alone when THT was written in the 80s. So while I've read other people over the years saying that the feminist aspects are cack-handed or overly simplified, in many ways they're really not, and perhaps that's the warning we can take from it.

Obviously, the situations aren't exact - part of the horror of THT is that there was a "normal" society that has been destroyed. Just a feminist-y thought.
Really interesting to see how may of us have changed our views a bit since first reading this book - although I'm still on JS's side of the fence for most of it.

But I think Atwood was indeed thinking globally when she wrote this novel; societies repressive to women did and do exist, as kirsty notes; we just had less of it on the internet and fewer huge terrorists attacks to remind us and make it vivid.

Also, re the queries below:

Quote:
Originally Posted by kirsty
The thing I would like to know is what countries outside the US think of Gilead... international political ramifications. Which it's not the place of the novel to shed light on, but just a thought I had. For example, if they'd fled to Canada then presumably life would have carried on as usual. Is the military might of Gilead so strong that Canada didn't try to intervene? Or is that what all the men are off fighting about? Trying to protect and expand Gilead's borders?
I think there's a potential hopelessness in THT that says "don't think that escaping to Canada will help." Atwood was very much present in Canada during a time in the 60s when it did; e.g., the great influx of American "draft-dodgers" into Canada to avoid being "drafted" into the Viet Nam War. Many ended up in Canadian universities. Many found other jobs. But they had no idea that the war would have no perceptible end. (Propaganda about the Korean conflict neglected to say that Western forces, esp. the U.S., didn't win that one either.)

So I think Kirsty's questions are good and definitely relevant to what Atwood wants us to ask after reading the novel. I think Atwood is taking repressive mentalities of all kinds, putting then in exotic (but not unrecognizable) costumes, and saying something like: This is the world now; hang on to the few remaining humane, liberal instincts we have, or we could easily not have them much longer. Not in "Canada", not anywhere.

Very spooky.
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Old 2nd Jul 2008, 5:42   #24
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

I haven't finished the book yet. I'm only on Ch. 5. I scanned the prior posts and ignored the ones where there appeared to be a spoiler. Sorry.

Ch. 1: After I read this chapter, I felt it was going to be like George Orwell's 1984 or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where I was going to have to learn all sorts of terminology to get myself acquainted with this futuristic society.

Ch. 2: I learn that I can't read this book too fast. There's too much information presented. I like her writing style. It reminds me a little bit of Annie Proulx's style in The Shipping News. The only difference is that, after awhile, Proulx's style got to be annoying, the way she wrote incomplete sentences all the time, as if she was writing poetry or something. But here in The Handmaid's Tale, I have yet to be annoyed at Atwood's writing.

More lingo to learn: Marthas, Aunts, Unwomen, different colors for different types of women (?), Guardians, Angels.

Ch. 3: There's a lot of walking so far in the book, like in most of Jane Austen's books. LOL! (What is it with the British writers and walking?) Not much in the way of dialogue quotes in this book. When the lead character stood by the Commander's Wife's doorstep, I felt the presence of female politics for the first time, the way the Wife stood at the doorway blocking the lead character's entry into the house. Great use of the word "toehold."

Ch. 4: Kinda stuck at "Blessed be the fruit" and "May the Lord open." Very bizarre and yet, I want a similar password phrase in my house. LOL!

Ch. 5: There's more talk of the war outside this society. Somehow, there's a roadblock between CAlifornia and Florida. It seems as if the war or some sort of rebellion is occurring on U.S. soil. It's funny how they got rid of the names of the shops because the names themselves were too much temptation for the women!

That's all I got so far.
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Old 2nd Jul 2008, 11:07   #25
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

I suspect I'm well out of my depth here! Anyway, here's a mishmash of thoughts that I've mainly come up with since I started typing. I finished THT in the middle of last month and I mostly enjoyed it while reading - until the many-years-later coda, that is. Someone here gave us that classic quote, "if you're not sure then lose the last chapter" - truer words will not be said of this book. I felt it really devalued the whole piece.

Ignoring it for a moment, at the point at which the real novel stops we do not know what form of "text" we are experiencing: it could be a true inner monologue, the swirling of thoughts in Offred's mind; or it could be a post-escape memoir, in whatever medium was available; or, it could be a confession - as she (or Ofglen) puts it, you don't know what you'll say, or you'll say anything, under torture, and the idea of this all being some dreamy, Sodium-Pentothal murmur prior to her hanging about by the wall would be just as satisfying an implication of her living in this world as an escape. So I found the glib, "time heals all wounds", "maybe it's all bullshit", "does it even really matter" finale extremely disappointing.

On the way I was made quite angry by the various injustices - I don't mean this as a criticism, I find myself increasingly affected by such things in the books I read, I catch my pulse racing and suddenly realise I'm pissed off at what these characters are being put through. But I was also annoyed by what seemed like unnecessary missteps on Atwood's part - I too, like those before me, found aspects of "the revolution" as presented hard to accept, or rather, hard to believe. Overall I think it is an excellent idea for a novel, but sometimes less is more and leaving the origins of the situation completely clouded would have avoided the problem of coming up with a less than convincing pre-history.

I also found the hit-parade of lost friends and family towards the end a bit annoying - contrasted to the eternal, unanswered question of the husband's fate, far more impactful for remaining so. A photo of the beloved daughter, fully indoctrinated; the return of Moira, complete with the "and I saw your mom" revelation - but they were almost thrown in merely to answer the key questions of Offred's dreams or worries, providing neatly tied-off ends rather than making good sense in themselves.

I particularly didn't get Serena Joy's pseudo-blackmail bit, getting Offred to screw around "to get her a baby" - it seemed more likely to me that, dissatisfied with her lot in the new world order, she would relish the Commander's failure to impregnate, look forward to Offred's departure and the arrival of the next Handmaiden to help demonstrate his inadequacy. Yes, she feels the humiliation deeply, but suffering brings you closer to God...

Some of the woman-stuff, as I shall call it, I found very interesting, descriptions of female motivations as perceived by another female, or maybe just revealing far more about Offred than anyone else. Like about Cora's dreams for a baby:
Quote:
"Maybe we have one, soon," she says, shyly. By we she means me. It's up to me to repay the team, justify my food and keep, like a queen ant with eggs. Rita may disapprove of me, but Cora does not. Instead she depends on me. She hopes, and I am the vehicle for her hope.
....Her hope is of the simplest kind. She wants a Birth Day, here, with guests and food and presents, she wants a little child to spoil in the kitchen, to iron clothes for, to slip cookies into when no-one's watching. I am to provide these joys for her. I would rather have the disapproval, I feel more worthy of it.
My favourite word in that quote being into, slip cookies into, turning a child into an object that you get something out of, like an electricity meter waiting for coins. Or, after reviling the Wives clucking over the soon-to-be-mother and criticising their own Handmaidens, her bitchiness regarding the "lucky" one:
Quote:
And Janine, up in her room, what does she do? Sits with the taste of sugar still in her mouth, licking her lips. Stares out the window. Breathes in and out. Caresses her swollen breasts. Thinks of nothing.
Chattel and cattle. It's not just about women, actually - what she says about Nick regarding the erosion of female rights and privilages, how "he doesn't mind" what has happened, likes it even because it rewards his innate masculine possessiveness - veeeery eeeenteresting. I don't know why. Or maybe I'm just looking the other way for a moment.
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Old 2nd Jul 2008, 11:37   #26
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

Can someone go into more detail, with spoiler tags if necessary, on the widely-disappointing coda? Frankly I think I'm unlikely to revisit this one anytime soon and I'd like to know why it was so dissatisfying.
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Old 2nd Jul 2008, 11:44   #27
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

Besides anything else, it came across like a snide look at poncey up-themselves academic conferences. And it clunkingly laboured to explain any of the plot points we hadn't worked out already, thank you very much.
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Old 2nd Jul 2008, 11:48   #28
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

What we have is the opening transcript of a popular lecture, conducted some 150 years after the events depicted in the tale, in which a specialist in recovered material from the Gilead period preambles a talk which we don't actually hear. He details the original nature of The Handmaiden's Tale, so named after the fact as a nod to Chaucer: a collection of recordings made over a random selection of seemingly authentic audio tapes, in no particular order, erasing most of the pre-Gilead "secular music" which they originally contained. He speculates on how trustworthy a source they can be considered, and aside from that, see Col above. Just glancing over it again, I see we actually do hear the whole thing. The words "highly patronising" leap to mind - which would no doubt please the Commander and his buddies from a gendery point of view - just because, like Col says, we'd pretty much got there ourselves, cheers for checking.
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Old 3rd Jul 2008, 4:59   #29
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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I don't really think that this is a novel about the dangers of fundamentalism, for example, but about the pernicious nature of some of the things that we hold to be simply matters of common sense.
Reading through the thread tonight, I think what you're saying just about sums it up for me.

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More lingo to learn: Marthas, Aunts, Unwomen, different colors for different types of women (?), Guardians, Angels.
And Econowives!

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Originally Posted by SeoulMan View Post
When the lead character stood by the Commander's Wife's doorstep, I felt the presence of female politics for the first time, the way the Wife stood at the doorway blocking the lead character's entry into the house. Great use of the word "toehold."
I love that spot as well and find it very funny and true.

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Originally Posted by Noumenon View Post
I finished THT in the middle of last month and I mostly enjoyed it while reading - until the many-years-later coda, that is.
The coda doesn't faze me; I think she is dead on and hitting her comic stride with the preening condescension of the academic towards his audience and his subject. ''This item- I hesitate to use the word document...'', ''The Underground Frailroad'' pun, and especially the title of his talk, ''Problems of Authentication in Reference to The Handmaid's Tale.'' I think she is having more fun here than ought to be legal.

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Originally Posted by John Self View Post
Frankly I think I'm unlikely to revisit this one anytime soon and I'd like to know why it was so dissatisfying.
I think one thing about Atwood that I've noticed in almost all of what I've read, especially Good Bones and Simple Murders, Alias Grace, and The Handmaid's Tale is that it feels like she almost takes pains to goad her male readers in particular and everyone generally. Similar, imho, to Roth's signature playfulness when it comes to women. I think she's a perfect gadfly!

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Originally Posted by Colyngbourne View Post
Besides anything else, it came across like a snide look at poncey up-themselves academic conferences.
This is how I see it as well, and I love it!

Some more of the Atwood interview, ... all parentheses are MA's.

Q. How would the creation of your imagined republic of Gilead be possible?
MA: ...The society in THT is a throwback to the early Puritans whom I studied extensively at Harvard under Perry Miller, to whom the book is dedicated. The early Puritans came to America not for religious freedom, as we were taught in grade school, but to set up a society that would be a theocracy (like Iran) ruled by religious leaders, and monolithic, that is, a society that would not tolerate dissent within itself. They were being persecuted in England for being Puritans, but then they went to the United States and promptly began persecuting anyone who wasn't a Puritan. My book reflects the form and style of the early Puritan society and addresses the dynamics that bring about such a situation.

Q: It seems that within this frightening world, certain parts of the feminist revolution have survived. Is that true?
MA: No power structure can institute total serfdom (unless they kill off most of the people) without giving a few ''perks.'' If you were to go back and study what the Germans did during World War II, you would see that what they did was move into another country and find a group of people willing to help them out. They would develop a little army of Ukrainians in Ukraine, Poles in Poland, etc. Any imperial power does the same thing: the British in India developed terrific regiments made up of Indians. And so, in Gilead, we have troops of women.

In the US, we have Phyllis Schlafly and Ann Coulter.

Q: But wouldn't there be violent resistance against a system such as Gilead?
MA: Yes, of course we would have resistance. After all, this is the United States and it is North America and it is a pluralistic society and we have many people with differing points of view. A number of people would not take this lying down.

I think she's playing with that last response.
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Old 4th Jul 2008, 20:31   #30
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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MA: Yes, of course we would have resistance. After all, this is the United States and it is North America and it is a pluralistic society and we have many people with differing points of view. A number of people would not take this lying down.

I think she's playing with that last response.
bolding above mine.

I wonder. Given enough time and dedication, I am afraid that anything can be made palatable to people, especially if it is made to look as though it is "for the good of society". At least enough people to stuff it down the throats of the rest of us.

But I've only just started, so haven't read the thread yet, back when I finish.
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