How does Margaret Atwood create a sense of reality in her novel, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

Intro: Start with a relevant quote: ‘context is all’. We are encouraged to remember this throughout the novel. Atwood’s realism is strongly connected to the events within the novel which are based on real life events. Introduce reader to the novel, its form and basic contextual background: A dystopian novel about Offred, a handmaid who is victim to the totalitarian, theocratic, patriarchal state of Gilead. Written in 1984, during a period of conservative revival in the US (following the election of Ronald Reagan) which posed a very real threat to the developments of women’s rights. Described by Atwood herself as ‘speculative fiction’. But, while the novel is a work of fiction, Atwood tells us that there’s nothing in the book that hasn’t already happened. Thus, she creates a futuristic world which could happen in the 20stcentury. Atwood makes the novel as realistic as possible, and the effects are chilling. She does so through her utilisation of form, narrative framework, intertextuality and setting. Paragraph 1: narrative. Offred’s voice and the fragmented nature of her thoughts creates a direct connection between narrator and reader. Discourse brings the narrative to life. Offred’s inner thoughts are most sacred to her (‘thoughts, like most things now, must be rationed’) yet she shares them with us. A stream of consciousness which becomes jumbled when she is distressed and engages our emotions. Offred’s manipulation of language as an act of rebellion. Her colloquial language and puns (‘I compose myself. My self is a thing which I must compose, as one composes a speech’). We see how indoctrinated she has become when she uses Gileadean phrases such as ‘blessed be the fruit’ (biblical language. Context: televangelists, Jerry Falwell), which chills us. No one is safe. Gilead is, indeed, ‘within you’. Flashbacks and ‘faded’ memories of ‘the time before’ creates a juxtaposition between the past, from which Offred is a ‘refugee’, and the present. The present becomes Offred’s reality, one which she attempts to escape through memories, which she ‘clings’ to. Offred's is a ‘limping, mutilated story’ in part because it is a ‘partial transcript’ of Offred’s tape recordings, as revealed in The Historical Notes. This post-Gilead academic setting is a completely different and somewhat more realistic world than Gilead. There is no longer a totalitarian government. The academic nature of the notes makes them realistic and believable, and it is presented as a sort of utopia. Yet, Atwood subverts this. We are encouraged to ‘deny none of it’ – a pun spun from the name ‘Denay Nunavit’, and remember the horrors of Gilead’s regime. Instead of falling for this seemingly realistic utopian world, we are invited to question Piexioto’s sexist remarks and focus instead on Offred’s story.

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