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How do we get a sense of Dystopia from the opening chapters of the novel ' The Handmaid's Tale'

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How do we get a sense of Dystopia from the opening chapters of the novel 'The Handmaid's Tale' In this essay I am going to look at how readers get a sense of Dystopia from the first opening chapters of the novel 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood. We are thrown right into it and we readers are forced to think what is happening. Right at the start of Chapter one Atwood starts the novel with an interesting use of syntax; she uses a very short sentence which makes us think. 'We slept in what had once been the gymnasium'. This is a very powerful opening sentence and gives us a sense of Dystopia right from the word go because it makes us think why are they sleeping in the gymnasium. Also her use of the word 'once' is an interesting lexical choice because by saying once it shows that this is no longer the case, it makes us think what has happened to the gymnasium. Throughout this paragraph Atwood shows us that time has passed and things have changed, for example when our narrator tells us that games were 'formerly played there'. Also 'the nets were gone', from the basketball nets which again gives us the impression time has passed and things have changed. Also our narrator tells us how time has passed further by describing the people that had once been there, 'later in mini-skirts, then in pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair'. ...read more.


We see that their captors have 'removed anything you could tie a rope to.' This tells us that the captives want to hang themselves. This makes us think further because we want to know why they want to hang themselves. Throughout the first paragraph in chapter two our narrator plays on our senses by saying 'the air can come in and make the curtains move' and 'I can smell the polish.' Our narrator gives us a hint as to what the girls are used for in this story when she says 'I am not being wasted. They are being used as incubators to breed a new race of people and Atwood gives us a subtle hint that this is the case by saying this short, simple sentence. Throughout the first two paragraphs of chapter two Atwood uses the cohesive thread of whiteness to portray a positive place in complete contrast to the first chapter which was full of an evil semantic field. Atwood gives us a sense of our narrator's idiolect through the way she thinks about past memories. 'Think of it as being in the army, said Aunt Lydia.' Atwood doesn't put in any speech marks to indicate someone is speaking so I think that our narrator is remembering something that was said rather than actually speaking to someone. We get a further sense of her idiolect from the way she says '[s]o.' ...read more.


Also we wonder who the unwomen are. We also get a further sense of their idiolects through their paralinguistic features when they are communicating. 'We would nod our heads as punctuation to each others voices, signaling that yes, we know all about it.' They have very distinct paralinguistic features because their captors do not want them talking to each other because if they do, they can plot and plan to escape the establishment. We also learn that our narrator has a 'hunger to commit the act of touch.' The lexical choice of the word hunger really hits home to us how much she yearns for it. Also the way Atwood phrases it as the act of touch makes it sound to us like it is the biggest crime in this dystopian world. Another way in which Atwood builds the dystopia in this world is when our narrator has to get tokens to get food. 'I take the tokens from Rita's outstretched hand. They have pictures on them, of the things they can be exchanged for: twelve eggs, a piece of cheese, a brown thing that's supposed to be steak.' The tokens can be exchanged for very unusual things which build on dystopia. At the end of chapter two we are left with a very uncomfortable feeling, '[w]hy tempt her friendship?' We are left with the fact that our narrator doesn't want to try and make friends with her as if it would be a bad thing. Word count: 1,886 Sam Hennessy 811 English Literature and Language Julia Firmin ...read more.

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