Post-modernism - Avery Bechthold

Pages 173-176 (Black + Red edition)

1) Untrustworthy Narrator
When using a post-modernist lens to analyze A Handmaid’s Tale, various aspects of the text are notably non-traditional. A first non-traditional aspect is the unreliability of the narrator. Offred remembers and recounts her past experiences in the form of a reconstruction. What this implies is that Offred is telling her story based on what she remembers (or does not remember). This poses a few problems.
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Firstly, is it possible that Offred might not remember everything that happened or that was said. Words can be very powerful, so even slight changes in word choice can completely change the message that the audience receives, or the way that the audience perceives a character. In the text, Offred may have changed her own words - or the words of the Commander - based on how she wants the Commander and herself to be perceived. Let’s be honest, how many times has someone twisted someone else’s words to get their message across or to gain favour? This could be precisely what Offred has done.
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Whether Offred may have manipulated the situation knowingly or unknowingly is a topic open for interpretation since there is no clear proof or arguments against her account. This introduces a second problem, bias. Since the whole novel is told from Offred’s perspective, the audience has to place a certain trust in what she is saying. Theoretically speaking, this means that Offred could say anything she wants and nobody would know the difference since there are no other accounts to use against hers.
Proof of Offred as an untrustworthy narrator is revealed a couple of times in the passage. The first instance is when Offred describes wanting to kill the Commander with a lever from the toilet. After describing her thoughts, she says: “In fact I don’t think about anything of the kind. I put it in only afterwards. Maybe I should have thought about that, at the time, but I didn’t. As I said, this is a reconstruction” (p. 175). In this quote, Offred openly admits to changing part of her story. Knowing that Offred has done this makes the reader wonder how much of her story has been changed. What is fact? Fiction?
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A second instance where Offred may be seen as untrustworthy, is at the very end of the scene when Offred describes the Commander’s reaction to their kiss: “There is the smile again, the sheepish one. Such candor. “Not like that,” he says. “As if you meant it.” He was sad. That is a reconstruction too.” (p. 176). It is interesting to note that Offred wishes he were sad that she did show any attachment while kissing him. Earlier in the passage, Offred romanticizes their meeting describing his sheepish smile: “He’s old enough to remember how to look that way, and to remember also how appealing women once found it.” (p. 173). She also describes their secret meeting “like being on a date” (p. 175). Although in my opinion, it is not likely that Offred truly cares for the Commander (given her uncomfortable relationship with him), it is possible that Offred remembers (or has recreated) the meeting how she wishes it happened. Being alone for so long, it would be understandable for her to want a “real” relationship and not just a forced one revolving around her “duty” to bear children. Perhaps she wants a genuine relationship with someone who cares for her on a deeper level than her body? It is not so much she loves the Commander, but she is as they say: “in love with the idea of love”.
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Throughout the passage, Offred straight out reveals that some of her account is false and solely the product of her reconstruction. This raises the concern that it is possible that none of her account is true. The romance, the game or even the entire meeting could be made up. It is impossible to separate fact from fiction in the passage since Offred provides the only perspective in her reconstruction. Everything in the passage is open to interpretation.


2) Subverted Order
A second non-traditional aspect worth paying attention to is the idea of subverted order. In the dystopian Republic of Gilead, Handmaid’s are subject to various rules and constraints placed by the higher-ups of society. In the Scrabble scene; however, it is shown that control over the households and Handmaids is not one hundred percent.
There appears to be subverted order and a loss of centralized control.
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In the Scrabble scene, the Governor breaks the rules by interacting with Offred; allowing her to read (which is forbidden to the Handmaids). Since it is human nature to want to interact with others, it is natural that the Governor would become lonesome being unable to have normal interactions with those around him. Offred describes Scrabble: “Now of course it’s something different. Now it’s forbidden, for us, Now it’s dangerous. Now it’s indecent. Now it’s something he can’t do with his Wife. Now it’s desirable. […] It’s as if he’s offered me drugs.” (p. 174). This, along with Offred’s reoccurring thoughts against Gilead’s rules, demonstrates that there is an underlying resistance to the system.
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During the game, it is important to note some of Offred’s word choices and their symbolism: Larynx, Valence and Zygote. The larynx is the voice box. This word choice could reflect Offred’s desire to be able to speak to others as she was once able to in the past. Offred is continually associating things with her past, and having a voice and an opinion is something she currently lacks and wishes to have again. The second word, valence, refers to a curtain that partially covers a window. This could refer to how Offred is exposed and susceptible to having her body and privacy invaded. This is another aspect of her life which she hopes to once again have control over. The final word, zygote, is a fertilized egg. In a world where her only purpose is to bear children for the Governor and his wife, it is obvious why Offred cannot seemingly get sexual imagery out of her mind. All these words and Offred’s connotation to each one reveals her inner resistance to the system. Although Offred is fairly obedient, she still has the dream of things returning to how they once were.
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As seen above, it is evident that everyone, not only Handmaids are suffering because of the system's constraints. The law is constantly threatened to be broken throughout the novel as various classes of character’s fight against temptation.
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Unlike traditional literature where there is order and centralized control, the Gilead society seems to be in the early stages of disorder and it looks as though the system is failing.

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