Are appropriated texts just as valuable as the texts upon which they were based such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, based on "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To appropriate a text is to adapt a text in a way that we make it our own. We change the original text in such a way that the new version adds further creativity and insight. If Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale was inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Victorian era short story "The Yellow Wallpaper," the adaptation is so loosely based that both texts maintain their own integrity and value. In reality, there are not many similarities between the stories, but they do share the common theme concerning the dangers of being oppressed by a patriarchal society.

In her article "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper," author Gilman explains she wrote her story to capture a real-life recurring Victorian nightmare called the "rest cure," a so-called cure she herself was subjected to. According to Gilman, in this era, when women showed symptoms of what we now call postpartum depression, physicians would prescribe a "rest cure" in which they were told to rest by remaining completely isolated from society, being completely forbidden to "touch pen, brush, or pencil again," just as Jane in the story was isolated and forbidden from thinking or writing. Jane was forbidden from doing anything but resting and taking in fresh air. Through the story, Gilman shows the destructiveness of such oppression since Jane's oppression sent her into a state of madness. Gilman clearly asserts her purpose in writing the story was to rescue people from such oppression by showing that such oppression could, quite literally, "drive people crazy" ("Why I Wrote").

In contrast, women in The Handmaid's Tale, such as the narrator and protagonist Offred, are treated as sex slaves. As sex slaves, they are imprisoned in the home of a man, and their sole duty is to have and raise children. If they fail to have children, they are arrested and sent to clean up nuclear waste until they die. Atwood's purpose in writing the story was to show what society would be like if we turned back the hands of time to when we imprisoned women in domestic roles as child-bearers, something Atwood thinks is a real possibility.

Though Gilman's and Atwood's purposes were very different, both relay the theme expressing the dangers of imprisoning women in subservient domestic roles. Plus, since their story lines are so very different, Atwood's novel does not lose any integrity in having been inspired by Gilman's story if it was so inspired.

Read the study guide:
The Handmaid's Tale

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