Handmaid's Tale, a Discontinuous Narrative

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  • Topic: Punctuation, Past, Time
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  • Published : September 15, 2008
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Sections V & VI comprise five chapters, 13 – 17. As is the case pretty much throughout the novel, the narrative is quite discontinuous (one could also say the narrative is non-linear), with present scenes interspersed with numerous flashbacks. Section V (which consists of only Chapter 13) is a very good example of discontinuity in narrative as is seen throughout much of the book, because it contains many different short scenes where Offred is either being quite reflective (e.g. the passage where she speaks about boredom being erotic), flashbacks (such as the one where she and her daughter are caught while escaping) as well as scenes in the present (when she is seeing her own perception of her body change) The main purpose of the flashbacks is to flesh out the story, that is to say, provide background information and show us past events, so that the whole story makes sense and means more to us. However, each flashback also shows that she is not afraid to tell the story of her pre-Revolution life – she refuses to forget her past, or to reconcile her present. The pace and style of narration changes constantly during this chapter, and it depends primarily on the subject of narration. For example, when she recounts her and her daughter’s capture (while they are trying to leave Gilead), the sentences are highly fragmented with heavy use of commas. This has the effect of making the paragraph seem to go faster. Thus, Atwood communicates to us the pace of the action occurring, as well as the speed at which thoughts and fears are running through Offred’s mind as she runs herself. A different tempo of narrative can be seen in the paragraph where she remembers looking paintings of fat nude women. Here, there is quite heavy use of punctuation such as commas and semicolons, but they are not used to increase the pace of the narrative. The effect here is to emphasise the rich detail and description – this is done by Atwood to give us the sense that Offred is trying so...
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