Memory - Handmaid's Tale

Topics: The Handmaid's Tale, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Utopian and dystopian fiction Pages: 5 (1824 words) Published: October 21, 2013
Discuss the importance of memory in the Handmaid’s Tale Memory and its loss is one of the main characteristics of dystopian literature. This concept is essential for writers to effectively portray the way in which a totalitarian state attempts to gain absolute control over society through the psychological manipulation of its citizens. In the dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood discusses the important issue of women’s rights, by offering a strong feminist vision in order to warn its readers, especially women, not to take their rights for granted and to appreciate them since they could be very easily lost. In fact, at that time certain religious fundamentalists were advocating a reversal of such rights since some believed that these were posing a threat to society’s traditional values. The importance of memory comes out very clearly in this post-modern novel, since the first-person narrative of Offred, a Handmaid in Gilead, gives the reader an insight of her stream of consciousness, which not only presents us with her current situation but which also presents us with several memories from the past. In fact, a major part of this novel seems to be based upon these memories which are often divided into two; her recent past, which deals with the time in which Gilead first came into being, and her distant past, which deals with the time in which Gilead still did not exist. As a result, the whole novel is presented to us in an achronological order, based on time-shifts in which the reader is being constantly thrown backwards and forwards in time. Gilead, a totalitarian and theocratic state which was brought into being because of alarming declining rates of reproduction, seems to represent the Far Right Movement, an organisation which wanted a “return to traditional values” in the 1980s. Its oppressive nature comes out very clearly in the absolute control it has gained over the citizens in all aspects of life. In fact, the lack of education and freedom of speech suggest Gilead’s attempt at controlling even the individual’s inner thoughts since by limiting their use of language, Gilead will also be limiting their rational ability. The importance of language is present in other dystopian novels, such as George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four”, in which the state of Oceania attempts to maintain its power by controlling the thoughts of its citizens through the use of Newspeak, a new way of speaking which limits their use of language. Offred introduces us to Gilead’s brainwashing techniques in the very first chapter of the novel, whereby she presents us with a memory of her recent past at the Rachel and Leah Re-education Centre, more commonly known as the Red Centre which is a training facility in which women are brainwashed into submission to their new role as Handmaids. As is suggested by its name, this centre attempts to undo their old education and replace it with a new education which perpetuates Gilead’s ideology. In this way, Gilead also tries to remove all memories of the past in order for the citizen’s to accept their situation more willingly. Memories of the past are very dangerous for Gilead, since through memories individuals would be able to compare their current, horrible and desperate situation with the better conditions of the past. By remembering times in which conditions were better, citizens are less likely to accept their situation and would be more willing to rebel and fight for a better life to which they were used to. The recurrent image of the “palimpsest” suggests that try as it might, Gilead would never be completely able to change or remove the past since it will inevitably remain in the memories of the individuals and would keep on reappearing in the present. The achronological, fragmented way in which Offred’s memories are presented in the novel, seems to reveal the complex way in which memory works since the present moment is never self-contained but is pervaded by traces of other...
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