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Margaret Atwood’s Significance In Writing The Handmaids Tale Essay, Research Paper

In 1969 Margaret Atwood first addressed the world with her pro-feminist ideas. As a direct result from encouragement and influence from literary mentors like Atwood, feminism became the rage. As the interest in women’s rights heightened, so did the tolerance and need for more strongly biased and feminist sided articles of literature. In 1985, Margaret Atwood completed The Handmaid’s Tale, and fueled the fight for equal rights, no glass ceilings, and occupational opportunities for women all over the world.

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1939, and grew up in suburban Toronto where she was raised by her father who was a forest entomologist. Atwood began writing in high school where she discovered her love and even knack for mythological irony. She was influenced early on by the critic Northrop Frye who introduced her to the poetry of William Blake during her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto (Draper 1995).

Soon after graduating from the University of Toronto, Atwood completed and published her first book of poetry, Double Persephone. Eight years later, Atwood began writing novels, and in 1969 she introduced herself to the world with her first novel, The Edible Woman (Draper 1995).

Atwood’s employment venue was not one that consisted primarily of writing. Throughout this time period, Atwood taught English at the University of British Colombia, Victorian and American Literature at Sir George William’s University and creative writing at the University of Alberta (Draper 1985).

In 1969 Atwood was the first female recipient of the Governor General’s award, the highest ranking Canadian award for literature. Upon receiving this award, Atwood became a victim of the press and had to relocate. Her and her husband, Graham Gibson moved to a farm to escape the media (Draper 1985).

It was during this time period that it became apparent that Atwood’s shear purpose in writing was both to “entertain and dramatize the current plight of women (Moss 1997). This characteristic of Atwood’s writing norm became especially clear in her 1985’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

About Margaret Atwood, Sharon Hall says that upon maturing Atwood became more concerned with displaying her natural abilities and her responsibilities as a literary artist. In the beginning Atwood retained much of her talent, never holding back opinion but reducing her work by usage euphemisms. By the time Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale she had disposed of her concern for niceties which gave this 1985 science fiction its edge (Hall 1987).

The Handmaid’s Tale is said to be about oppression and Hall supports this theme completely. Atwood’s continuance with pro-women’s rights and effects of oppression against women is what truly makes this a Margaret Atwood novel (Hall 1987).

Hall compares The Handmaid’s Tale to Jane Eyre. She says that the connection between the two is inevitably obvious and very physically visual. Atwood uses melodrama to enrich the protagonist of the handmaid and Hall says that the vision of the long hair and flowing night gown idle at the top of the long and winding staircase are all features that resemble Jane Eyre (Hall 1987).

Atwood uses many literary devices to express both herself and the handmaid throughout The Handmaid’s Tale. One of these is her usage of language and diction. Atwood uses language as a foothold for the protagonist to keep her grounded. In Atwood’s other novels language is seen as a barrier and Hall feels that this paradox could be an “impediment to her gifts” (Hall 1987).

Despite this prior commentary, Hall feels that The Handmaid’s Tale ranks with Orwell’s 1984. It is a post catastrophe story with a well thought, planned, and executed plot that views the future in a manor that makes her imaginary account disturbingly believable (Hall 1987).

Paul Brians, examined the story line and believes that The Handmaid’s Tale is a futuristic insight as to what the outcome of continual environmental problems would be (Brians 1996).

Brians believes that the evolution of the handmaids and their entire purpose has nothing to do with social and moral standards, but they arose because of environmental depression (Brians 1996).

Brians then retracts this opinion and begins his approach by stating that the eighties were a time of the feminists. Throughout this time period our country was raped of its male dominance and absorbed in controversy dealing with feminist attitudes towards sexuality and pornography. Both of these prompted Atwood’s emphasis on the depreciating value of sex in The Handmaid’s Tale (Brians 1996).

However, Susan Brown says that at first Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale radical stray from her writing norms, but when looked at on a deeper level it is only a further exploration of the powers of politics and sex, and the corruptions found in both of them (Brown 1996).

Brown also says that throughout the novel, Offred, the protagonist, (the ignored and overlooked feminist group of society/the only preserved voice left after the fall of Gileadean Rule) cries a continual plea for an audience. Her plea is answered only in Atwood’s typical sardonic and paratactic ways (Brown 1996).

At the time of Margaret Atwood’s writing prime our nation was fighting feminism, anti-feminism, and engaged in a major social controversy that ultimately led to Atwood’s pro-feminist bias (Moss, Wilson 1997).

As far as Brians is concerned, Atwood’s message could also be not only political but environmental. Atwood addresses pollution and environmental poisoning as problems that led to the theorized Gileadean utopia.

Atwood also continually embarked upon a path that led to criticism regarding the American government. Reagan was elected in 1980 and 1984 which overall weakened the infrastructure of the United States’ Government, and led to Atwood’s perpetual jabs at the lack of strength and stability in governments in The Handmaid’s Tale (Moss, Wilson 1997).

As a result of Atwood’s literary forte, and the field in which she chose to express it, many women have fought a little harder, questioned authority more often, and have raised their head when in prior times it would have been lowered. Atwood’s works offer support for those who have fallen and inspiration for those who are burnt out. However, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale provokes the question: were Atwood’s intentions strictly those of a speculative and/or experimental nature, or is this a true insight as to what the future may be like if life proceeds as normal? Could this actually happen?

Brians, Paul. “Study Guide to Margaret Atwood.” Online. Internet. 11 April 1999. Available: Http://www.studyguide.com/atwood.html.

Brown, Susan. Contemporary Novelists. 6 Ed. New York, New York: St. James Press,1996.

Draper, James. Contemporary Literary Criticism: Vol. 84. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1995.

Hall, Sharon. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 44. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1987.

Moss, Joyce and George Wilson. Literature and Its Times. Vol. 5. Detroit Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1997.

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