Haunted by The Handmaid’s Tale



The Handmaid’s Tale: a study of power

Novels are not slogans. If I wanted to say just one thing I would hire a billboard. If I wanted to say just one thing to one person, I would write a letter. Novels are something else. They aren’t just political messages. I’m sure we all know this, but when it’s a book like this you have to keep on saying it. The book is an examination of character under certain circumstances, among other things. It’s not a matter of men against women. That happens to be in the book because I think if it were going to happen in the United States, that’s the form it would take. But it’s a study of power, and how it operates and how it deforms or shapes the people who are living within that kind of regime.

—Margaret Atwood

Read Atwood’s full interview in The New York Times for a way of understanding how she wanted her novel to be perceived.

Flirting with Feminism?

Women have been singing about inequalities between the sexes long before the Spice Girls so gloriously lost their’Girl Power’ message somewhere in the lyrical mess that is:  ‘So tell me what you want, what you really really want, /I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig ha.’  The Spice Girls are a make for a very complicated case study of feminism and pseudo-feminism.

Social mores about how men and women should behave have changed dramatically in Western culture in the last 100 years.  Key women’s rights such as the right to vote and the right to own property are outlined in legislation; women have access to birth control and family planning support; girls are brought up to believe that they can pursue a career and demand pay equal to their male counterparts.  We can point to a lot of empirical evidence of ‘progress’ but as you listen to some of these songs, you’ll notice how the issues they address about the inequalities expressed in relations between men and women are not so foreign to our ears.

Listen to some old tunes that the Huffington Post gathered together as they shine a light on inequalities between the sexes….

Read about Taylor Swift’s #problematic path to feminism

‘Once concept, many explanations’ – check out the range of ways women define themselves in regards to feminism…

Listen to Sarah Jones as she presents her version (Your Revolution) of Gil Scot Heron’s classic black empowerment tune ‘The Revolution Will Not be Televised’ and gives the hip hop generation a reason to dis and dismiss some gender assumptions.

The Crucible Consolidation Task


Complete your reading of the text (a couple of pages left).  To consolidate your understanding of The Crucible (and as preparation for the later assessment in which we compare Handmaid with this text) you need select four from this list (two from themes; two from characters) and write 300 words on each.  Each is a broad topic so you will need to define your terms.  These are long answer questions rather than full blown essays at this point – you’re testing your ideas out.  One detailed study of a single example may be enough to support one question.  Textual evidence (quotations) are essential in supporting your theories.

THEMES  (choose TWO of these topics)

1.  The individual versus society.

2.  The nature of love and sexual desire

3.  The nature of guilt and sin

3.  Freedom and repression.

4.  The power of authority and the power of the dissenter.

5.  Self interest and martyrdom

6  The nature of crime and punishment

7.  Women and their position in society.

8.  The role of morality and of making moral judgements.

CHARACTERS (Choose TWO of these topics)

1.  What makes John Proctor a tragic hero?
2.  Compare Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams.
3.  Compare Hale and John Proctor.
4.  Compare Parris and John Proctor.
4.  Sinners and saints.
5.  Morally weak characters versus morally strong characters.
6.  Children versus adults
7.  Outsiders versus insiders

DUE:Friday 12 August.  Electronic submission via Compass

A young healthy child…a most delicious food

a modest proposal image

Atwood’s novel is a nod to Jonathan Swift‘s famous satirical argument, ‘A Modest Proposal’.  She takes a quotation from the text to preface her book.  Read the proposal here: A Modest Proposal full text.

  1. What is satire?
  2. How is Swift’s proposal satirical?
  3. What kind of deficiencies does the speaker possess?
  4. What is Swift trying to show about society in his essay?
  5. What rhetorical devices does he use to achieve this?
  6. What connections are there between Swift’s writing and Atwood’s novel?