Unpicking language in literature: why the blue curtains do matter

As a teacher, the thing I find myself saying over and over again to students is, “develop your language analysis”. Every year, every student, almost every piece. It’s not that they’re bad at it – far from it, mostly! But it’s always the thing that makes their explanations more precise and, in the exams they do, will get them better marks. The thing is, we’re trying to make the implicit become explicit. The feeling that you get when you read gets unpicked, understood, and stitched back together again. I usually get shown this meme at some point in the year too: …

Flowers and fancies in Shakespeare

We all know if we ask for symbols of love, the rose is high up the list. Floriography – studying the meaning of flowers – has more or less dropped out of English custom. We might occasionally hear that lilies are better for funerals, but most of us don’t attach much symbolic meaning when our loved ones show up with a bouquet. Pre-twentieth century though it’s a different story. Victorians wrote whole handbooks on the meanings of flowers and dedicated time to deciphering the hidden messages of a buttonhole. Flowers in paintings back to the medieval period were also loaded …

Is Offred too passive to be satisfactory? (part 2)

Read part one of this blog here Thirty years of feminism later In the television series, Elisabeth Moss’s Offred is more feisty from the start, with out-loud sarcastic quips and internal bitchy comments. She still doesn’t fully rebel, but there is definitely something more spiky about her – a sense that she hasn’t given herself over to the regime of Gilead even for the self-protection that it offers: her mind is still her own. She offers comforting conversation to other handmaids, seeks out quiet private moments with the handmaids and Nick, and on several occasions bites back at Serena Joy’s …

Is Offred too passive to be satisfactory? (part 1)

The recent television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has been striking in its success. Critically acclaimed, it’s benefited from Margaret Atwood’s input in a way that the over-eroticised, over-dramatised, heavy-handed 1990s film didn’t. Contains details of plot, both novel and series. The washed-out grey of a dystopian colour palette The colours, a slightly washed-out palette, capture the grim reality of Gilead and provide an easy symbolism of the differences between before, and now. The adaptation is faithful in style, tone, and idea if not always in plotline. Some events, and even dialogue, are echoed from the original novel. But the …