Controlling Reader Response in the Handmaid's Tale

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LONG ESSAY
Conventions of a prose text may, to some extent, control reader response to themes within the text but the reader’s context may also influence the way the text is read. It is particularly evident in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale that by examining the experience of women within the world it is evident that women are more repressed. The characterisation of Offred may control reader response to theme because her own personal experiences are projected onto the reader. In Gilead, women are repressed by male power and dominance, shown when Offred goes to the doctor for her monthly “obligatory” tests. She says, “The knowledge of his power hangs in the air”. Offred’s experiences, and the experiences of the women around her, are presented as horrifying, confusing and unexpected, as women lose their power in society. The women are “let go” from their job because “it’s the law”. This compares with the male’s attitude to the event, saying that “if there’s trouble books might be lost, things will get broken.” His care focuses solely to the material objects of the store, rather than the women’s jobs he is terminating. The primary character is constructed as the narrator which manipulates the reader to respond to Offred’s story as the story of our own history and therefore as one of a repressed women’s society. The style of Offred’s narration establishes a sense of intimacy between her and the reader. She shares her thoughts, her feelings and her reactions with the reader. During the text, Offred says that things may never be told again as they were viewed (*).This draws the reader in closer to Offred and her present situation. Readers are inspired to fill the gaps with their own imaginations. Her story becomes their story, the story of every reader and of every human being. The epigrams in The Handmaid’s Tale set the foundation for the text’s themes thus controlling the reader’s responses to the text. The first epigram states the basis of the...
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