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Presentation and significance of settings in 'The Handmaid's Tale'

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Discuss the presentation and significance of the settings in 'The Handmaid's Tale'. How effectively does the setting of the narrative help to convey the dystopian world which Atwood has created? 'The Handmaid's Tale' is set in the near future in what was the United States but in Offred's time is known as Gilead. Gilead is in the hands of a power - hungry elite who have used their own brand of 'Bible - based' religion as an excuse for the suppression of the majority of the population. Atwood takes aspects of our society today such as the decline of the Caucasian birth rate in North America, infertility and sexually transmitted diseases and makes a society within Gilead that combats these issues. Atwood states 'there is nothing in the novel which has not been done already by somebody, somewhere.' 'The Handmaid's Tale' is Atwood's version of 'what if?' in the most powerful democracy in the world. Atwood takes a common setting which is the United States known to us as the most powerful democracy in the world and takes issues which affect the world today and uses these aspects of life to create a horrifying dystopian novel. Gilead is frightening because it presents a mirror image of what is happening in the world around us. The first sentence in Chapter one is "We slept in what had once been the gymnasium." ...read more.


She is careful not to say "my room" suggesting that she has no right to belongings. Even relationships are forbidden and so she does not belong to anyone else either. She is made to seem isolated and emotionless like a doll. Significantly, Offred describes the main street in Gilead as a museum or a model town suggesting the people within it are also models. This makes the reader realise that this is what humans have been reduced to; they have a body but no emotions. The description of the room like Offred is emotionless. Short sentences with abrupt punctuation are used removing emotion from the description; "A chair, a table, a lamp." The room is simple and plain with very little in it. Offred states "They've removed anything you could tie a rope to." In Chapter five the reader is told that Aunt Lydia said "There is more than one kind of freedom ... Freedom to and freedom from." In this life the Handmaid's do not have the freedom to take their lives. Their basic choice of whether to live or die has been removed from them. The human becomes a vessel for in this case producing babies. The setting portrays a society with no emotion. Gilead is a factory with the sole aim to produce babies. ...read more.


This novel demonstrates that this society could happen. At the time Atwood was writing her book the cold war was happening and there were problems with both technology and pollution in many countries. In some countries there was also a declining birth rate just as in Gilead. The novel shows the reader what can happen when the government go to extremes in order to stop these problems and makes the society ever more real. Therefore, the presentation and significance of the settings in the 'Handmaid's Tale' is crucial in conveying the dystopian world which Atwood has created. Although on the surface Gilead appears to be a pleasant place it is mainly artificial described as a 'museum' and is truly a totalitarian state. The setting demonstrates what has happened from a disaster made by human beings. Offred is provided with a plain and bare room in a house which she cannot even call her own. Her job is to produce a baby for a commander and so she is merely treated as a vessel as are all the women within this regime. Gilead is in fact the United States, Massachusetts. Using a country that the reader is familiar with and writing about aspects such as pollution and feminism which are key issues in society in our time effectively creates a sense of fear within the reader. The lack of choice, freedom and isolation demonstrated by the setting is most effective in conveying the dystopian world which Atwood has created. ...read more.

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