lllustration of six women wearing long, loose red dresses

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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Why might The Handmaid's Tale be less polished and disjointed? How did Offred communicate her story?

Quick answer:

The Handmaid's Tale is told only from Offred's point of view, and her knowledge of the totalitarian society she lives in is very limited. There is no journalism or media as we understand it and most of her knowledge comes from her walks to the market and interactions with Aunt Lydia. One of the ways the evangelical society controls her and women like her is by decreasing their knowledge.

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The Handmaid's Tale is told entirely from the point of view of Offred, the main character. Its disjointed and unpolished quality reflects the rigors and information gaps of Offred's situation.

We only see the world Offred lives in through her eyes. One of the key reasons Atwood does this is to show how very little Offred knows. She lives in an extremely narrow world, and her position cuts off from any communication that would give her more information. She has no context by which to evaluate what is going on in her life except what is immediately in front of her: her room, her commander's house, and her walks to the market with another handmaid. During walks, she primarily sees men patrolling with machine guns and the dead bodies of traitors hanging on a brick wall.

This fragmented perspective shows what it is like to be a person completely cut off from a larger context because Atwood wants to heighten the contrast between her world and ours. We take for granted the information we gain from television, the internet, print media, radios, and other technologies that help us understand and make sense of the world we live in. These also have the benefit of offering us a multitude of contrasting perspectives. Offred has none of that—she is not even allowed to read. She is not allowed to have a real conversation with anyone around her for fear of punishment. She only knows what she has learned through Aunt Lydia about what her role is in the new society. In her society female freedom has been redefined in evangelical terms, and she is expected to conform to their norms and expectations.

This shows how a fascist or totalitarian state can keep people down by denying them access to information. Offred has to try to remember her story in all its detail so she can share it later. At the moment, we as readers have privileged access to her thoughts and her memories of a more normal past.

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