Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

     In “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, Offred’s past life is unveiled throughout the novel. Atwood uses Offred’s memories to contrast the once-free America with the now dystopian theocracy it has become. While there is much to fear for the female inhabitants of the new “Republic of Gilead,” the females reading “Handmaid’s Tale” have even more to fear. Striking parallels are made between Offred’s memories of her former life and the lives of women living in America today. This use of parallelism leads us to wonder: could our country really become like this in the future? Offred’s recollections of her best friend Moira and World War II documentaries are used to imply what could happen to people if freedom and humanity are stripped away.

     When she is feeling especially unhappy about the way her life has changed, Offred remembers her rebellious friend Moira. Moira was an active feminist, and notably, lesbian. She typified everything that Gilead was trying to annihilate with her defiance of the norm. Whenever Offred felt opposed to something that was happening, she wished that she was as brave as her old friend. Yet, no matter how terrified she was by the public hangings, and the ever looming threat of Serena Joy and the women that kept her in line, she was still more terrified of the consequences that would befall her should she rebel. Despite the slogan “nolite de bastardes carborundorum,” (Atwood Ch 9) she could not find the courage to fight against her oppressors and continuously let the “bastards” grind her down. Towards the end of the novel, Offred discovers that Moira has become a prostitute for the commanders to maintain her life. Despite all of the sentimental memories of her friend’s nonconformity, Moira has also cracked under the pressure of the new regime. Atwood uses the broken spirit of a once strong woman to portray her themes: no matter how strong someone is, if there is no hope for free will, there is no hope for life. If fanatics are allowed to take over society, they will force their thoughts and ideas on everyone and freedom, happiness, and individuality will become obsolete and nonexistent.

     Once the Government of Gilead and select few who have power take over, women are confined to their homesteads for a majority of the day. Rather than brooding over the prospect of the future, Offred’s thoughts tend to turn to history and how it relates to how she currently lives. At one point, she reflects over a documentary that she had seen in the past; it featured a Nazi guard’s mistress talking about their relationship. Offred takes this memory and compares her own relationship with the commander to it: “He was not a monster, to her. Probably he had some endearing trait… How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation” (Atwood Ch 24). Throughout the novel, Offred justifies not only her own inaction, but the actions of others no matter how evil and wrong they are. Even though the commander selfishly manipulates her to break the government-imposed rules, she still allows herself to start having feelings for him. She justifies that he is really just as unsatisfied with his own life as she is with hers, even though the commander holds all the power and she has to endure the never ending presence of fear every day. Offred’s reflections lead us to ponder our own justifications in life: how long will we wait before we fight against the evils that others inflict on us?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Story of an Hour

     In the short narrative “The Story of an Hour,” author Kate Chopin depicts the life of Louise Mallard, a woman who has heart problems both literally and metaphorically. Upon learning of the death of her husband, Brently Mallard, she becomes unexpectedly exultant, relishing in the idea that she is free at last. However, Lousie’s long-awaited release from her husband’s expectations become very short-lived, and in turn, lead to her own death. Through the use of third-person-limited, Chopin is able to bolster the agenda of her satirical writing by portraying an hour filled with pointed adjectives, the recurring theme of freedom versus oppression, and the use of situational irony.

Shortly after hearing of her husband’s death in a tragic railroad worker incident, Louise retreats to her room alone. Although she weeps at first for Brently’s death, it is not long before Chopin reveals that her protagonist isn’t truly upset. As Louise slumps into her “comfortable” chair, it was as if her eyes were suddenly opened to the Earth’s beauty. Descriptive phraseology such as “the delicious breath of rain was in the air,” “…countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves,” and “there were patches of blue sky” (Chopin Paragraphs 4-5) paint an eerily happy scene after such a tragic accident. Traditionally, rain is used as a symbol of gloom and sadness, yet because of the cheerful diction that Chopin uses, the natural elements foreshadow the fact that Brentley’s death is considered a relief to his confined wife. Although death usually causes heartbreak, Louise is finally able to feel like her heart is as free as the birds’ that she hears chirping outside her window.

     Within the last few paragraphs of “The Story of an Hour,” Louise’s happiness turns into fantasying. Despite the fact that she supposedly loved her husband “sometimes,” the idea that she is now free to live her life without his scrutiny becomes too much for her to handle. The thought that “There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature,” (Chopin Paragraph 13) illuminates Louise’s opinion on her husband’s death and illustrates Chopin’s dysfunctional theme: no matter whether it is out of love or spite, marriage is just a restrictive punishment both physically and mentally. Because of her husband, Louise was burdened with unattainable expectations and limitations throughout her life. Ultimately the restrictiveness of her marriage led to her twisted satisfaction at the prospect of Brentley’s demise. Rather than being permanently confined to her gender role, Louise was briefly able to envision the beauty of her new life.

     In the end, Louise’s learns that her husband didn’t actually die in the railroad calamity. After all of her dreams of freedom, the prospects of being able to live out her own life are quickly shattered. She is so shocked when Brentley returned alive and well, that her heart gives out and died completely. Ironically, the doctors tell everyone that she died due to the joy that she felt at the sight of her perfectly-well husband. However, Louise truly died because of the overbearingly sad realization that she wasn’t actually free after all. The “heart trouble” that she had endured from the beginning was not as physical as the doctor’s had presumed. Because of the repression that she had faced during marriage, Louise ended up dying from the final fatality of her ambitions and dreams.