Close Reading Analysis: The Handmaid’s Tale
Often times when one reads a piece of literary work, the way that its’ themes and storyline are interpreted is truly dependant upon the reader’s individual beliefs and morals. The same passage from a novel or poem can be seen in completely opposite perspectives from two different readers, despite the fact that they contain the same literary text. By definition, this is what close reading is. It is taking a passage (or passages) from a work of literature and truly examining every single aspect of its content, from the literal word usage within the passage itself, to the underlying message(s) that that particular passage may be delivering to the reader. The purpose of this is so that one may gain a full and better understanding of the work as a whole and the many different ways that it can be translated.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the author Margaret Atwood uses literary language as one of her major tools within the novel to really captivate the reader and her usage of words really helps the reader connect with Offred and understand the issues that her story brings to the forefront. However, despite the many in depth passages from Offred’s account that one could closely analyze to fully understand these issues, it is my belief that Offred’s story isn’t really put into perspective until the end of the novel in the section entitled “The Historical Notes,” which includes the following passage: “But let me be serious. I wish, as the title of my little chat implies, to consider some of the problems associated with the soi-disant manuscript which is well known to all of you by now, and which goes by the title of The Handmaid’s Tale. I say soi-disant because what we have before us is not the item in its’ original form. […] The superscription of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was appended to it by Professor Wade, partly in homage to the great Geoffrey Chaucer; but those of you know Professor Wade informally, as I do, will understand when I say that I am sure all puns were intentional, particularly that having to do with the archaic vulgar signification of the word tail; that being, to some extent, the bone, as it were, of contention, in that phase of Gileadean society of which our saga treats.” (300-301) Although this passage may not be from Offred herself nor might it have taken place during her struggles, the inclusion of it within Atwood’s piece when closely analyzed truly paints the “bigger picture” of the themes behind the novel.
In order to fully dissect this passage and show how it amplifies the meaning behind Offred’s experience one must first look at the context in which this passage takes place within the novel. It is clear that this is a story about the inequalities of gender roles in society and the struggle for survival and prosperity of a single woman (Offred) in a male dominated world. But Atwood includes a section at the conclusion of the novel entitled “The Historical Notes,” where this passage is taken from that really puts a giant twist on this entire story and leaves the reader with many questions. Within this section, the reader is placed in a setting over one hundred years after the incidents in the novel occurred, at the University of Denay, where a research professor by the name of James Darcy Piexoto, gives his account on his studies of the Gilead Regime and reveals truths about the actual manuscript of the novel. In the professor’s speech, we as readers discover that the manuscript is not actually written by Offred herself, but rather a transcription written by Piexoto and his colleague, based on the order of the tapes they had discovered containing Offred’s account years ago. As he continues to speak throughout the Historical Notes, the professor’s words tend to follow the same pattern of this passage, very egotistical and almost misogynistic, showing how despite the ceasing of the Gilead Regime over a century prior, men still assume a superior attitude towards the...
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