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Examine how Atwood presents Offred's sense of self in "The Handmaid's Tale"

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Examine how Atwood presents Offred's sense of self in "The Handmaid's Tale" Sense of self can be defined by the "roles, attributes, behaviours, and associations that we consider most important about our selves".1 Atwood wrote "The Handmaid's Tale" during the 80s; (1986 to be precise) an era of 'power-dressing'. A key icon of the 'power-dressing' was the wife of the American president, Nancy Reagan, who wore outfits with huge shoulder pads, making her look more masculine. Famous women like her encapsulated what the women of the time aspired to be: rich, beautiful, intelligent and powerful.2 In "The Handmaid's Tale", Offred constantly refers back to her old life and the way she used to style herself in comparison to the way she looks now. She remembers, "Makeup"3 and "bathing suits and platform shoes"4, "sheer pantyhose against the skin"5, and "the smell of nail paint"6. All these things relate to the image that she once aspired to obtain, and this constant regression shows how she longs to return to her life before the regime, when she was secure in her identity. The air of desirability Atwood gives these things reflects how Offred desires them. ...read more.


Offred used to view herself as Luke's lover, then eventually his wife, these were roles that were important to her and roles that she attributed to her identity, "Can I be blamed for wanting a real body to put my arms around? Without it I too am disembodied."17 The rhetorical question shows how confused and alone Offred feels and the word, "disembodied" highlights Offred's need to feel loved in a physical relationship because she defines herself through her interaction with others, but in the dystopian society in which she lives this social and emotional interaction has been removed. When Offred finally does sleep with Nick he becomes a substitute for Luke, "I went back to Nick. Time after time on my own, without Serena knowing".18 Atwood uses short sentences to give the reader a blunt and concise account of what happened; the fact that Offred slept with Nick is irrelevant in comparison to the implications it has. The small, insignificant rebellions Offred has executed throughout the novel come to a climax at this point in the story, where Offred shows that she is willing to sacrifice her life and social standing in an attempt to express her true self. ...read more.


11 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter 14, Page 94. 12 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter 41, Page 282. 13 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter 4, Page 27. 14 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter16, Page 106 15 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter16, Page 106 16 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter16, Page 104 17 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter18, Page 113. 18 The Handmaid's Tale. Chapter 41, Page 280. 19 The Laugh of the Medusa, (1976) Helene Cixous. 20 Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' and the Dystopian Tradition (1987) Mallik. Being a 'basic victim' is to, "acknowledge being a victim but refuse to accept the assumption that the role is inevitable". Like Offred, Winston (in 1984) also takes the 'basic victim position' by writing his story as a diary to a nameless reader. He knows that he is under the ever-present eye of 'Big Brother' and,"if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death" (Nineteen Eighty-Four. Chapter 1, page 8). Nevertheless, Winston is compelled to write his story and rebel against 'Newspeak' by writing, "the interminable restless monologue that had been running inside his head". 21 Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' and the Dystopian Tradition (1987) Mallik. ?? ?? ?? ?? Alicia Boulter Page | 1 ...read more.

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