Commentary on the opening of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"

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Commentary on the opening of Margaret Atwood's “The Handmaid's Tale”

by Alexander von Ramm

The opening of Margaret Atwood's “The Handmaid's Tale” deals with a woman who lives in a gym which has been converted to a kind of camp. By describing the gym she has a lot of flashbacks. In the build up to the story Margaret Atwood uses a lot of literary devices in order to achieve specific goals. The setting, the narrative voice, the structure of the opening passage and her style raise a lot of questions and . Furthermore the opening passage expresses a lot of ideas which might be central to the  plot. Achieves a range of effects.

Using a detailed setting the author manages to highlight that a lot of things in today's society changed.  The first person narrator describes the gym where she lives by elaborating on the former use of the single objects. (“a balcony ran around the room, for the spectators,...). The description all takes place in a imaginative episode of the past. By describing the perfume, the jewellery and the clothing of the girls she highlights the personal freedom in the former society.  (... I could smell, faintly chewing gum from the watching girls, ...). Furthermore Margaret Atwood states that the blankets still say U.S. This is the last evidence for the big change in the society (and army-issue blankets, old ones that still said U.S.) The description of the former use of the object emphasizes the big change in the society very well. In the former US- society the gym was a place of fun. The games which have been played here express energy and the willingness to play. This play changed into a prison-like place. The reader is immediately pulled into the plot which takes place in a society which is totally different to the one we know. This makes the reader excited to read the complete book.

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Margaret Atwood employs a special narrative voice in order to express some central ideas of the plot. The whole opening passage is written in first person plural. This shows the shared perspective of the society group the first person narrator (“WE yearned for the future.”). Furthermore this expresses the sense of solidarity among the women. By describing the past in a sad voice the first person narrator is not happy with her actual life situation. In addition to that the fact that the whole opening section does not have any plot at all and that she concentrates her telling on ...

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