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Essay on Romantic Love in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

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Romantic Love in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale


In her novel The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood addresses the concept of different expression of romantic love through the eyes of Offred, a woman who has lost almost all her freedom to a repressive, dystopic society. Throughout her struggle against oppression and guilt, Offred's view evolves, and it is through this process that Atwood demonstrates the nature of love as it develops under the most austere of circumstances.

The first glimses of romantic love one notes in this novel are the slivers of Offred's memeories of Luke, her husband from whom she has been separated. For the most part they are sense memories--she recalls most of all images of comfort: of lying in her husband's arms, of his scent, and of little details of his appearance--but also a sense of connectedness that gives her identity. And it is this that she misses the most. "I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable" (125-126). And yet already the person as a whole is beginning to slip away. The life she is leading now is driving him from her reality--she says, "Day by day, night by night he recedes, and I become more faithless" (346). Her love for her husband is marked with guilt and regret even in the beginning--she misses all the little characteristics about him that she never took time to appreciate when she was with him. She even misses the arguments, and wonders, "How were we to know we were happy?" (67). The memory of her love for Luke, and her guilt at betraying him with other men, especially Nick, for whom she develops genuine affection, is a significant psychological factor throughout the course...


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...ing previous relationships. It is perhaps what can be seen as the one spark left of a healthy bond between man and woman in the midst of a society that seems to have forgotten there could be such a thing. They alone among the victims of this dystopic society have learned the truth that  "we must love one another or die."

The student may wish to begin the essay with the quote below:

"All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie / The romantic lie in the brain / Of the sensual man-in-the street / And the lie of Authority / Whose buildings grope the sky / There is no such thing as State / And no one exists alone / Hunger allows no choice / To the citizen or the police / We must love one another or die."                           --W.H. Auden,"September 1939" 

Works Cited:

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. New York: Ballantine, Fawcett Crest, 1987.


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