The Handmaid's Tale By Margaret Atwood: The Power Of Language In A Dystopian World
Imagine a world where you are everything but free. You are not allowed to read or be in any sort of personal relationship. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood tells the story of a dystopian society. Although several critics regard her novel as a ‘feminist dystopia’; Atwood denies by voice communication that is writing a dystopian work from a woman’s purpose of reading as compared to any or all earlier works during this genre written by men doesn’t build her work mechanically a ‘feminist dystopia.’ Atwood had not intentionally written a feminist work, and she was interested in a totalitarian system in which women as margins become the victim of their society. On the one hand, The Handmaid’s Tale deals with several female characters and their condition as the margins in society that seemed applicable for feminists; she was mainly interested in the destiny of humans in totalitarian terms not specifically for any gender.
Dystopian fiction aims to admonish the reader and make them think about all the catastrophes in their society. The Handmaid’s Tale works as a story where Atwood attempts to warn the reader of the discrimination in our world: the lack of freedom, constant monitoring, anti-human behavior and fundamental beliefs that are merely some of the misfortunes of today’s world. A dystopian novel creates a mood of control and freedom. Dystopian offers a world where freedom and control gain its definition from the totalitarian regime, and wise use or abuse of power are illustrated in different forms. There are various sources of energy in the novel such as language, religious authority, and control of information. Atwood composed The Handmaid’s Tale intending to expose the desperations of people in the modern era.
The story opens ups with a terrorist attack that kills the President and most of the members of Congress, a movement was calling itself the ‘Sons of Jacob’ that make a revolution to establish a new republic. A woman named Offred presents the story. The Commander is the high-ranking administrator in Gilead and Offred is his assigned Handmaid. The Handmaid’s Tale could be a smart model of a prosperous going society with the seemingly perfect body image. Atwood uses the female body as a method of the mind and body concept and analyses how her character responds to and resists its destructive effects. The authorities of women in Atwood’s novel such as the handmaids are severely scrutinized to show how an organization can be manageable. As Foucault proposes, how he sees the human bodies are those accustomed to being disciplined and regarded as easy ones, and social institutions become docile to reach the controlling power’s goal of order and regulation.
The females in Gilead like the men are disciplined and organized. The management in Gilead is an extreme associate type of what physicist calls a ‘carceral texture of society capture of the body and its continuous observation’. The Handmaid’s bodies, moreover, is turned to one body. In the Red Center, the Handmaids are educated again to reverse their view toward the female body as a body of the composition, body of ‘freedom to’ one body of ‘freedom from’ various things done with the body, in other words, from the liberated body back to the restrained body. Since Gilead’s new idea infuses new thought in society, the Aunts teach the Handmaids to understand their bodies as one united body that is the property of the nation and an organization that is to be given freedom from, rather than a being who is free to do anything.
The Handmaid’s Tale may be an assortment of diaries written by a private who is restricted in a fundamental regime. Offred uses the language of the past that she is used to it; however, the grammar of the past is an opposing conversation to the unique style of authority. The official language seeks to reject and deflect the previous speech and replace it with the biblical discussion. Gilead as a fundamental administration attempts to abuse the evangelical and religious values as their basic ideology to establish social norms. Offred’s diary performs to be exact deconstructive security of the social and standard rules that mock this society through language.
The manifest of the official language used in Gilead comes from Offred’s commentary and explanation of the new realm. The ruling regime can ignore the past, but it is never possible to erase the human memories which serve to threaten the right. Although actions and accomplishments can be controlled; minds and thoughts are not a system that can be easily controlled because people are not entirely connected with the views of the new domains. Aunt Lydia, who teaches and disciplines the hand9maids according to the official language, attempts to influence them the importance of normalizing the regime’s plan and belief as one thing normal and acceptable. ‘Ordinary, same aunty geographical area, is what you are used to. This may not appear normal to you currently, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary’ (Atwood 43). The official language must be accepted as usual, and ordinary discussions and females whether to be Handmaids, Marthas, Econowives or Jezebels are required to react according to the norms.
Then Offred expresses that writing is something prohibited in the management and the only way to communicate with the upcoming generation is narrating her terrible story: ‘Tell, rather than write because I even have nothing to jot down with and writing is in any case verboten.’ Hence, she uses the power of language and words by narrating her story. She has strict control over her language; however, she is known with the fact that she is powerless in the Gileadean’s authority. She considers that if she chooses certain words, she will be able to achieve the meaning that will connect her to the former self and reveal the situation of the new society. For example, Offred denies to say ‘my’ room when she is constrained to live in the Commander’s house; it is the way she refuses the social expectations and standards. The word ‘my’ relates to some personal happiness, and ‘my room’ means my privacy. She believes there is no privacy in the Commander’s house and she does not relate to this place. This is the way she chooses to hold on her former views. In this approach, she shows the difference between her new society and former life. In distinction, Offred takes official words, such as ‘household’ rather than ‘family,’ she finds the word ‘family’ an informal relationship between its members, which does not make sense in the new society: ‘Household: that’s what we tend to ar. The Commander is the controller of the household. The house is what he holds. To have and to carry, till death do us part. The hold of a ship. Hollow.”
Offred alters the meanings of these words so that the words lose their authority; during this approach, she has control on words and uses the power of language to go against the social standards. However, Offred, the protagonist deconstructs the word because she is not bounded to the struggle for command of language and has control over the social reality. Offred narrates her diary in an expression of the past and in this way, she explores the opposing discourse to resist opposite to the social authority. Therefore, regardless of what level of power the society achieves by the end of the new energy is undermined through the words and discourses of the language used by the narrator. The reader also sees the reality of Gileadean society through the learning experiences of the narrator. The Handmaid’s Tale as a dystopian novel depicts an organization that intends to achieve an ideal system of belief by empowering its language and discourse and repressing other words. Within this society, Offred, the narrator open ups the role of power and the truth of the regime through writing and conversations.
Margaret Atwood claims: ‘There’s not a single detail in the book that does not have a corresponding reality, either in modern conditions or historical fact’. There are many entire societies in the world, communist or religious extremist societies which have constant control over their citizens’ mind and behavior through the power of language. Through dystopias, the author makes the readers think about the multiple unknown dangers in the society they live in.
The main concerns in The Handmaid’s Tale are relevant for the readers of today precisely because they draw links between democratic and totalitarian world orders and illustrate what may happen if particular trend, that may lead to totalitarianism remains neglected in a liberal society. For Atwood language in addition to being a mode of communication is also something one can use to execute power to pursue their interests and show competence and control in a specific field of life.
- Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986.
- Khoustani, Maryam. ‘Sexual Oppression and Religious Extremism in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.’ www.ipedr.com/vol56/026-ICOSH2012-F10041.pdf. Accessed 3 May 2019.
- Khoustani, Maryam. ‘Disciplining the Body: Power and Language in Margaret Atwood’s Dystopian Novel The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Home, www.mcser.org/journal/index.php/jesr/article/viewFile/1011/1042. Accessed 5 May 2019.
- Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986.
- Khoustani, Maryam. ‘Sexual Oppression and Religious Extremism in Margaret Atwood’s the Handmaid’s Tale.’ www.ipedr.com/vol56/026-ICOSH2012-F10041.pdf. Accessed 3 May 2019.
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