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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: English
  • Essay length: 3615 words

What do you find interesting about the ways in which Margaret Atwood presents relationships between men and women?

Extracts from this essay...


What do you find interesting about the ways in which Margaret Atwood presents relationships between men and women? In "The Handmaid's Tale", Atwood continually streeses the importance of intimacy, tenderness and love, in its many guises. Considering Atwood is a feminist writer who creates a patriarchal dystopia, one might expect the book to have a rather an aggressive attitude towards men, but In "The handmaid's Tale" Margaret Atwood explores the interaction between men and women, paticularly within heterosexual relationships. The most significant relationship within Offred's life is undoubtedly that with Luke, the central protagonist's lover, husband and father to her child. Through the use of flashback, Atwood creates a picture of domestic happiness and the reader is led to believe that the two were very happy together. As the novel progresses, Atwood juxtaposes the present of the novel, a dystopian vision of a modern tyranny and the past, Offred's life in contemporary society. It is her role as mother and wife that offred remembers fondly, evoking mmories of her life with Luke and the loving memories they shared. The contrast clearly emphasises both the loving domesticity in which Luke and offred lived and the loneliness of Life in Gilead where relationships are not permitted for handmaids. During the flashbacks to the past Offred evokes memories of incidents which suggest that Offred and Luke did not have an entirely equal relationship It is the relationship between offred and the commander which is explored in the most depth, as the reader is given access to lots of the dialogue between the two. It is ironic that considering the status of each of the two, we see that Offred is able o gain a lot of the power within the relationship, she even goes as far to reprimand him for trying to touch her during the ceremony and then says herself, "we were on quite different terms by now".


One of the greatest paradoxes of the novel is that whilst Gilead is a futuristic state where "computalk" exists, many aspects of Gileadean life are reminiscent of Puritanical societies of the past. In fact, Gilead encourages study of puritanical history, which they believe justifies its claim that it is " a return to nature's norm". Gilead's ideology is a backlash to all the civil rights movements that had been fighting for greater equality, it is a regimented and oppressive society in which back people and women find themselves pushed to the bottom of the social ladder. Atwood explicitly refers to totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, asking the reader to question why such repressive societies are created. By drawing on other historical backlashes she emphasises the circularity of history and the importance of civil rights movements. The references to history remind the reader that whilst Gilead is an imaginary stare, it is not completely unrealistic, "Gilead's genius was synthesis". Gilead in a very amplified way also mirrors the backlash in the 80s against the feminist movement. Gilead is a frightening example of a modern tyrannical regime. What is most interesting is that it exploits tensions present within our society, such as racial conflicts, to gain and maintain power. This is a warning to all of us about the dangers of all extreme ideologies, and the threat of complacency that allows repressive backlashes to occur. As Gilead reduces people to mere functions it is also a very impersonal society in which relationships are dictated and controlled. Atwood paints the deprivation of love as a cold and lonely picture, and so Gilead is also a reminder that the intimate and the domestic, the aspects of Offred's' old life which she keeps returning to, and which are infinitely valuable. "There is more than one type of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from.


Her declining physical health is a constnat reminder of her physical inabilities and her fading femininity. This is a stark contrast to the young blond girl, and her bitterness and loneliness creates pathos for her trapped situation. Despite her declining physical healtg, serena mentally tough, illustrated at the end of the novel when the commander hides behind her as offred leaves, and on Offred's arrival when Aserena is defiant, her chin "is clenched like a fist". Her metal strength and deire to rebel parallels many of the other strong female characters in the novel; Moira, Ofgken and Offred's mother. She is contrasted wit themselves as well, as whilst slogans used by offred's mother may gave been pervertred to suit the regime, sSerena fundamentall desired the regime until she got it. Serena is also doubled with Offred, both are desperate for a child and attentions rest on the Commander. Tjough these two women both srive for "common aim" concerning children, they are always in conflict because of their differing status. Serena is higher up the hierarchical ladder than Offred and thus has a lot of power over her life, Atwood makes a mockery of the feminist notion of Sisterhood conveyed most clearly n the Birth Day, and is perhaps also commenting on the notion of sisterhood witin our own society when women oppress other women. Some pathos is created through Serena's situation in a a love triangle with offred and the Commander. Serena is portrayed as very lonely, and the commander tells offred that "she doesn't understand me" which suggests Serens is not in love with her husband, however she is very hurt to find out about his illicit affair, "You could have left me something." Her character can also be seen as a parody of the Virtuous Woman, which is what she had presented herself as being. She is estranged from her husband, jealous of her handmaid and has nothing to do other than knit and gossip.

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