What are the major themes of The Handmaid’s Tale? Choose one character and assess how they contribute to any of these themes. What does this character reveal about Atwood’s attitudes and values? How does the narrative voice of the novel affect the reader’s understanding of this character?
I feel that the major themes of The Handmaid’s Tale are fertility and birth. Emphasis is placed on the grief experienced by individuals in society who incapable of reproducing. The character which best displays this, in my opinion, is the Commander’s wife Serena Joy. The theme of fertility begins to present itself in chapter three where we first experience “the domain of the commander’s wife”, the garden. This place is described to us as being “tidy” with “a willow [and] weeping catkins”. Instantly the reader can observe sorrow and mourning within the imagery presented. Traditionally Willow trees are known as weeping willows, this coupled with the weeping catkins emphasises grief in the word “weeping”. These images are focused around a seemingly fertile garden; Atwood suggests here that Serena is mourning her lack of fertility. We also see that the tulips of the garden are described as being “red” and “a darker crimson” bearing similarities to being “cut” and starting to “heal”. The reader experiences imagery of bleeding and pain linked to the image of the fertile flower. Atwood suggests here that the sight of fertility in Serena’s garden is painful and that she is healing from the pain of her infertility. In chapter twenty – five the theme of resented fertility is presented again by Serena, when cutting at the seed pods of flowers in her garden. She does this “with a convulsive jerk” making the act seem violent. The reader can observe Serena’s direct resentment at the plant’s ability to reproduce. She exacts her vengeance with a “blitzkrieg … on the swelling genitalia of the flowers”. Further evidence to support the theme of lost fertility is expressed in the...
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