What are specific topics for a comparative essay on the portrayal of women in 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'The Scarlet Letter'?

Quick answer:

-Both authors are showing women how limited their lives are in a patriarchal society. -Offred and Hester both suffer because of the double standards that exist for them, one can escape and the other cannot. -Hester's daughter is taken away by authority figures because they believe she is being influenced by her mother, while Offred's child is taken away because Offred cannot care for him. -The Red A on Hester's chest signifies her sinfulness, while the red dresses signify fertility. The scarlet letter itself is a symbol of Hester’s infidelity as well as an advertisement to others that she has sinned.

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Your teacher is correct. I tell my students that the most important step they can take to ensure a good essay is to refine their topic to a manageable size. With comparative essays, this is particularly important, as you are working with a larger amount of source material.

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to focus on the portrayal of women in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel,The Handmaid’s Tale, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is wise. These novels are strikingly similar thematically and symbolically in their presentation of women. Here are some options to help you narrow your focus:

Symbolism: One of the striking similarities between these novels is that red is used to symbolize female oppression. You could explore the similarities between Hester Prynne’s scarlet “A” and the Red Habits worn by the Handmaids. In the Christian religious tradition, crimson is frequently used as a symbol of sin; it can also, perhaps more literally, represent blood and feminine fertility. Dissecting the interplay between these two interpretations of red with regards to the feminine could be an avenue for your paper.

Sex and Sexuality: In both novels, sex and sexuality define the female characters. When Hester Prynne is caught in an adulterous relationship, she forced to wear the scarlet symbol of adultery. She is ostracized by the community and suffers stoically for the rest of her life because she acted on sexual impulses and bore a child from her relationship with Arthur Dimmesdale. Offred is also labeled an adulteress because of her divorce, but she is selected as a Handmaiden because she is fertile. Sex holds little pleasure for Offred, but she is prostituted to “The Commander” on a monthly basis simply because she has a functioning reproductive system. Examining the similarities between these two novels’s treatment of female sexuality is an option for your essay.

Religion and Women: In both novels, the horrible fates of both Offred and Hester Prynne are driven by a radical interpretation of Christianity. Contrasting the fictional theocracy of the Republic of Gilead with historical Puritan communities that inspired Hawthorne could make for a fascinating paper.

I hope this helps!

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Portrayal of women is a very good topic. I would choose something more specific to inquire about such as the treatment of women during World War I or II. You could even discuss the women's suffrage movement. If you want to be more current you could discuss women's pay in today's society and how it compares to what men make in the same profession.

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This would be a good discussion board question!

I definitely think you have the right idea; however, you do need to narrow your topic a bit, so think about the treatment of women in a narrower sense.  How were women treated during these specific times periods?  What were the expectations for women during these time periods?  How did the two main characters of these works break those expectations?  I hope this helps.

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