Post-Modernism - Eszter Simon

In this passage, Offred relives the day when she and countless other women lost their bank accounts and jobs, all planned for the rise of the new Gilead society. When looked at through a Post-Modernist lens, this text reveals messages planted by Margaret Atwood that comment on humanity and the direction it is headed in. By contrasting traditional with unorthodox, the reader is forced to question the novel itself along with the world the reader lives in.

Disorganization (Flashback)
Traditional novels follow a simple, linear fashion from the beginning of a story to the end. However, throughout The Handmaid’s Tale Offred switches between her memories of before Gilead’s rise, the time she spent being trained with the Aunts, and her explanation of present-day events. This passage is an example of switching time periods once again. This new system of organization gives a deeper understanding of Offred’s emotions. She feels scattered, as represented by her scattered story-telling, and she is too emotionally distraught to follow with any one story for too long.

Lack of Quotation Marks
Exact spoken words are traditionally taught as to be enclosed with quotation marks, and are conventionally seen in all novels. However, not all conversations in The Handmaid’s Tale use quotation marks, such as when the new cashier spoke to Offred: “Who? he said, aggressively I thought.”. This is because Offred is retrieving memories of what those words were, and therefore she is not entirely sure those things have been said. This leads to the next point...

Trustworthy Narrator?
Since Offred is only stating what she remembers, the reader is forced to take a moment to think about whether Offred says is true, and whether she is a trustworthy narrator. Traditional narrators are seen are truthful characters who never lie, and are completely trustworthy. The reader does not know whether Offred’s conversations really happened that way, and if they have changed, the rest of her story may have changed as well. Offred may not be telling the truth, so she is not the traditional narrator. Characters like Offred may appear in real life, so Atwood is warning to reader to be wary of potential liars.

Questioning Government
Post-Modern literature also challenges traditional views, such as the government. The government was previously taken for granted, but this passage forces the reader to rethink their ways. Several references are made to real life, such as when “Newspapers were censored and some were closed down, for security reasons they said. The roadblocks began to appear, and Identipasses.” These events parallel the safety restrictions enacted after the September 11 attacks. In the novel, rights were taken away “for safety” until almost no rights were left. This makes the reader rethink and question the government. Are these safety measures really necessary? Will society take after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale? This passage comments on how restrictions, even for safety, are not completely desirable.

Lack of Daughter’s Name
Characters in a novel are conventionally given names. However, Offred never gives a name to her daughter. Throughout the entire story, this child is simply referred to as “she”. This unorthodox method of referring to a character gives the reader a look into Offred’s mind. She refuses to name her daughter because the pain of retrieving that name is too great, so this allows the reader to understand her character better and develop pathos for Offred.

Reaction to Losing Jobs
Post-Modernists also comment on how events take place differently than what would have expected. In a traditional, heroic story, one would expect characters facing an injustice to stand up for what is right. Therefore, the reader would have expected the women working in the library to refuse to walk out quietly. However, Atwood employs a Post-Modernist technique and the characters accept their fates immediately. Offred states that “we were getting our things together, filing out.” This unconventional view causes the reader to think about what they would do in that situation. Are humans that easily put down? This passage comments on how weak humans can be in difficult situations.

Losing Rights on the Same Day
One would conventionally expect characters to make connections between events taking place in their story, and use these to win their battle in their quest to become a hero. Offred does no such thing. When her bank account becomes invalid, she telephones to see if she can fix the problem. However, “The lines stayed overloaded all morning, as far as I could tell,” and she makes no connection between all these people having their accounts frozen. Later, her boss fires Offred and the rest of the female workers: “I have to let you go, he said. It’s the law, I have to. I have to let you all go.” Still, Offred does not make a connection between them. She is blind to others around her. This suggests that real humans, not fairy-tale heroes, are selfish and blind to others. They only care about what is happening to them, and their inability to connect to others may lead to their downfall.

Power Lying in Money
This passage also challenges society’s values. Specifically, it challenges the traditional view on money being the source of power. The first step the Gilead society took to taking away women’s rights was freezing their bank accounts. This means that money is a source of power, as taking money away from women also means taking away their power. Therefore, Atwood is really trying to convince to reader to rethink this. Money should not equal power, and humans place too much importance on material wealth.

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