Commentary on the opening of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"
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 the past before the big changes in the society expresses her feeling of being trapped. The employed narrative voice gives the reader a first view on the main ideas of the novel. In addition to that there a question raised. For example the first person voice raises the question: “ What lead to the shared perspective of the women in the gymnasium?”
Furthermore the author works with a well chosen structure again in order to highlight the changes in the society. By employing a binary structure she emphasizes the positive things of the past. She starts by describing the former use of the former use of the gymnasium in the whole first paragraph. The intensity and the positive voice in the first paragraph express her positive opinion about it. In addition to that her sentence in the first two paragraphs which deal with the past are good connected while her sentence in the other paragraphs where she deals with the present are not connected at all. These 3 paragraphs reflect her actual thoughts about her life and the society she lives in. Margaret Atwood expresses via her structure her first person narrators opinion about present and past. Furthermore she again highlights the changes in the society.
By using good stylistic elements the author manages to emphasize her points even more. The employed positive imagery is always from the past. That highlights again the positive facts of the past. In addition to that her long and complex sentence structure expresses the first person narrators intelligence- Even though she might be part of the lowest stand in the society she is not stupid. All her stylistic elements are employed in order to emphasize her two points, the change in the society and that the pasts society was so much better than the society of today. By emphasizing her first person narrators intelligence she adds reliability to her story.
Margaret Atwoods literary devices express a lot of ideas which might be part of the plot. Regarding her merging of tenses and the content of her opening passage it is quite apparent that the novel will be dealing with a patriarchal society. Furthermore, freedom and control will be part of the plot. In addition to that language and imagination as a tool for independence will be part of the plot as well. These topics were quite important in the realisatione of the book.