Tuesday, September 23

Language is key. The attention to detail. The peeking out of the sides of our hoods.

In 'The Handmaid's Tale', the female 'handmaids' are named Of + [commander's name]. Our (for she is ours; she is the voice which Atwood has sung in knowledge that the personal is the political) protagonist is called Offred.

If she had simply named the women Mrs + [husband's name], I doubt we would have been asking where the Ms was. Especially since it seems that a lot of women in my generation are hardly aware of Ms. By subverting our traditional naming practices, however, she comments on the possessive power element embedded into our naming system through a patriarchal society. We ask, why should this women be named after a man? (A man, incidentally, with whom in Gilead she has not initially chosen to associate herself. The choice was not there.) Why, moreover, should she be defined in terms of the man? ‘Offred’ insinuates that the most important thing is that she is owned; she is someone else’s; she is Fred’s, and he has laid claim to her more publically than any wedding ring.

We turn the question to ourselves. We can’t help it. The parallel is clear. Why should we be defined (for naming is defining, see 'Translations' - Brian Friel) by our male partner? And what on earth happens if our partner isn't male? (Gilead being a puritan, Christian fundamentalist state, homosexuality or anything verging remotely away from heterosexuality is forbidden. The choice, again, is not there.)

This example from 'The Handmaid's Tale' is a small one, but it shows how Atwood is clearly tackling gender issues: question of power, possession, and patriarchy.

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