The Gothic Elements in the HandMaid's Tale.
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The Gothic Elements in the HandMaid's Tale Margaret Atwood's epic novel The Handmaid's Tale is on all counts a great read and a classic feministic work. But, by examining it more closely it is evident that the novel has deeper roots and shows characteristics of the gothic novel. Throughout this piece, I shall reveal and discuss the gothic elements in The Handmaid's Tale such as the relevance of the castle, women in distress, the mysterious inscription and others, by comparing it to two other gothic novels; Romance of the Forest and Dracula. In most gothic novels the heroine is threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male; Adeline's life is menaced by the Marquis de Montalt (Romance of the Forest) and both Lucy and Mina's lives are menaced by Count Dracula. The Handmaid's Tale is a bit different in that the main idea is women of the society being threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male dominated system. In their new society, the women rank importance with their fertility. If a woman is not fertile she is made to be a 'Martha' - a cook or a servant. If she is fertile - she becomes a handmaid - and she is sent from house to house to fornicate with the usually impotent Commanders. She has two years at each house, and if she does not bare any children she is sent to the 'colonies' with the 'Unwomen'. Those who do bare children are highly praised and greatly admired.
We wouldn't get that far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.'' (p.8) The 'castle' represents the ceasing of 'freedom', for once she enters it - both the Red Centre and the house - she is a slave to man. Another element of the gothic novel is the costuming throughout this story. Although it is set in the future, they make the women dress in garb from the past. They wear drapey clothing described as habits. The word habit refers to the dress in the gothic tale The Monk, by Matthew Lewis. "The skirt is ankle length, full, gathered to a flat yoke, that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are full." This style is also reminiscent of the nun. This is an ironic twist since nuns are chaste and married to God, while the handmaids are used for procreation/fornication purposes and are not permitted to have husbands. The parting of lovers is another gothic element. In The Romance of the Forest, Adeline and Theodore are separated for many months, but are eventually reunited. In Dracula, Jonathan and Mina are separated twice; him going to another continent, and her becoming a vampire. The Handmaid's Tale is no different. Before the narrator - Offred- was launched into the new regime, she was a normal woman, with a child and a husband, Luke. They were a happy couple, even though now as she remembers back to him, she can't remember loving him.
This practice demonstrates multiple men per woman on a common scale, but on a more personal scale, Ofred, our main character, has the classic three men in her life. Luke, her husband in her former life, before the regime; the Commander, who's obligation it is to fornicate with her and to procreate, and lastly Nick who is the object of her desire. All of these three men, represent different elements of her. Luke is her love and her past, the Commander is her duty and her thralldom and Nick is her lust and personal freedom. Gothic literature was originally written as a reaction to the age of reason, order, and the politics of eighteenth-century England. In the 1980s, Margaret Atwood wrote this novel as a dark satire and a social commentary. She shames our society today in her mock futuristic Gileadean society and rudely reveals where we may be headed if we continue on this route as a society. Although the events in this story are highly unlikely to take place, the attitudes and values it conveys are present in today's society such as the protection of women and the objectification of women. Although The Handmaid's Tale reads like a nightmare for most women, it is a great gothic and feministic book. It encompasses intricately complex themes and boggles one's mind that one author could write such amazingly intriguing literature. By revealing many gothic elements in this novel including: the castle, the inscription, the parting of lovers and the classic woman in distress; it is proved that The Handmaid's Tale is in fact of the gothic genre.
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