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 …

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 …

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

Reading Time: 5 minutes 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 …

Appropriation of Language in dystopian fiction

Reading Time: 8 minutes As an English teacher – and student, still, I think! – I love novels that engage with the idea of language itself. For me, literature’s how we enter and understand the world, and dystopian novels often bring that to the forefront. They explore communication, memory, story-telling, and the way that language works to soothe, manipulate, warn, and memorialise. In particular, I’ve been studying The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 with A-Level students, and both novels have some interesting discussions about language’s role in our society. World-building Setting a novel in the future, as many speculative fictions do, language is a good …

The symbolism of clothing and colour in The Handmaid’s Tale

Reading Time: 5 minutes One of the texts I’m teaching this coming year is Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as part of the dystopian topic for OCR A-Level literature. Re-reading it (again!) it’s striking how much the colours play a part in the makeup of this novel. Clothing in dystopian fiction is an important signifier. The totalitarian dystopias – The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and so on – use clothing as a method of control, ensuring that divisions (often power hierarchies) are respected, and that people are in their appropriate places. In 1984, the Party members wear black or blue overalls (a working man’s clothing, removing …