HANDMAIDS TALE AND FRANKENSTEIN (Language (The ways that Atwood plays with…
HANDMAIDS TALE AND FRANKENSTEIN
In both books, the body and agency over the body are key themes.
Who owns Offred's body? The commander? Gilead?
When Atwood was writing, there was widespread protest against abortion, which demonised women who sought control over their own bodies.
Who owns the Creature's body? Victor? Himself?
When Shelley was writing, there was widespread fear towards processes like Galvanism, which sought to restore life to a dead body through electrical currents.
Elizabeth is presented to Victor as property
Birth and motherhood
Both of these books are corrupting ideas of motherhood, birth, and mother/child relations.
Atwood is corrupting our view of family relationships the same way as Shelley, redefining “mother” in an uncomfortable and thought provoking fashion.
The dream Victor has about kissing his mum. A lot of people would argue that Victor has an Oedipus complex – a repressed sexual desire towards his mother. We might go as far as to say that he then projects this onto Elizabeth instead, who is effectively his sister as well as lover, and who assumes the role of mother in his family.
Victor channels his absence of a mother into the way he disowns the creature.
Perhaps his incestuous desires are symbolic of how he is corrupting the natural order, and trying to play God through his creations?
Pregnancy as a means of control and a way of defining a woman’s value
Is Offred the mother of any child she produces for Gilead? Does Serena Joy have any maternal instinct?
The link between language and oppression permeates so much literature. 1984 is another great example of a book which explores this theme.
Gilead creates an official vocabulary that ignores and warps reality in order to serve the needs of the new society’s elite. Having made it illegal for women to hold jobs, Gilead creates a system of titles. Whereas men are defined by their military rank, women are defined solely by their gender roles as Wives, Handmaids, or Marthas.
The ways that Atwood plays with language, pulling apart multiple meanings of words. If we imagine a society where reading and writing are forbidden, it’s likely that our internal relationship with words and thought processes would become far more important.
Offred describes her scrabble game very sensually
In Frankenstein, language is most important when considering the Creature. Significant that the Creature can’t speak at first, and what changes when he adopts language.
When he becomes more eloquent, we feel differently about him.
Is language what makes us human?
The way Offred tells her tale. Consider the use of analepsis and dreams sequences: this book is ordered by days, nights and naps. A lot of it exists inside Offred’s head rather than the world around her.
Atwood is using a
meaning that her story is essentially self aware. Offred knows that she is recounting a story, hence her emphasis that “this is a reconstruction.”
In Frankenstein, remember this is a framed narrative, told in an epistolary form by Walton. What is the effect of Walton’s voice tying this story together? Do you find it more believable because Walton believes it, or do you think the story would be better without him?
Science and religion
Both of the books demonise science in some sense.
Gilead is regressive because this makes it easier to control women. Doctors and scientists end up hung on the wall, because the search for knowledge threatens the foundations which the society is based on.
An extreme theocratic regime takes the place of science because it works on historic principles and doesn’t welcome change. What Gilead frames as “religion” is an extremist version of Christianity, and a lot of people would argue that it isn’t about religion at all. Do the people in charge believe in what they are saying, or is it a way of controlling the people beneath them?
Victor’s overstretch in scientific practice is what leads to his downfall. He is trying to play god, and he is punished for it, linking into Shelley’s own beliefs that God is all powerful, and that nature cannot be reined in.