What is the Significance of the Scrabble Game to the Development of the Novel The Handmaids Tale?

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What is the Significance of the Scrabble Game to the Development of the Novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”?

The Handmaid’s Tale, on the surface, is a feminist text. However, it employs other themes and literary devices in driving forward the themes of patriarchy and gender suppression. One of such themes is the power of language. As seen in the novel, language can be used both as an instrument of suppression and as a tool for liberation. The scrabble game in Chapter 23 and the events surrounding it, when viewed in the context of the authoritarian state of Gilead foreshadow a notable shift in the development of the plot. In the following paragraphs I will attempt to explore the inherent symbolism it carries, I will also explore the words Offred spells out during the game and conclude by highlighting the significance of those events to the plot of the novel.

Atwood’s use of scrabble as imagery in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is by no means isolated. Her poem “Spelling” begins with a similar sort of symbolism. “My daughter plays on the floor with plastic letters” she writes, going further to state that “A word after a word
after a word is power
”. This bears a close semblance to Offred’s narrative in Chapter 23, I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it”. This shows that Atwood’s choice of scrabble was not for the want of an arbitrary game, it fits into a recurring theme of the power of language in Atwood’s work.

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The game of scrabble, though forbidden in Gilead, is available to high-ranking officers. Language has been seized by the authoritarian government, with religious terminology used as labels in the dystopian state. The patriarchal society has removed names of department stores, invented names for absurd ceremonies such as “birthing”, “the Salvaging” and “The Ceremony”. The game of scrabble itself represents a form of resistance to a society where all forms of reading by women had been banned. The ability to create words represented a core freedom which Offred was willing to exploit.

The words Offred chooses to spell are also symbolic ...

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