Identity and belonging: the importance of names in The Handmaid’s Tale

Reading Time: 10 minutes   If you’re studying this text for A-Level, you can pretty much write about the significance of names for any topic – gender, class, rebellion, politics, personal identity, relationships – even the use of humour can get a good paragraph on the politics of naming. Names are one of the main ways we signify our identities to other. In The Handmaid’s Tale, like so much other dystopian fiction, characters lose, change or adapt their names as they’re subjugated to the will of others or trying to represent themselves in different ways. Places are renamed too, to fit the new regime …

Unpicking language in literature: why the blue curtains do matter

Reading Time: 3 minutes 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: …

Writing interesting essay titles from dramatic headlines

Reading Time: 2 minutes I love this idea of turning dramatic headlines into an essay title or argument. I think it could work so well for A-Level and high-target GCSE students to make their writing really interesting and unusual.

Flowers and fancies in Shakespeare

Reading Time: 9 minutes 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)

Reading Time: 4 minutes 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 …