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The Handmaid's Tale is a gripping novel about one woman's struggle through a revolution of extremism. In this society of severe military rule, her position is one of slavery were she is used for breeding. She is under constant surveillance and any miscue she makes can result in death. We follow her along this path as she meets different characters, goes through daring situations, and reflects on her former life. The thing about the novel that is so striking is seeing all the human emotions and the characters adapt in the most inhumane of times. From seeing all the different aspects of fear, apathy and hope, the book shows how survival in such bleak times can still be possible.
Upon learning of the woman's circumstances, I can't help but think how I could never last under such unbearable conditions, no one could. Especially since she is from the United States, with a family and a normal life of freedom, having all this going only to have it ripped away makes the situation that much more awful. But the thing that Atwood portrays so well is what is going through her mind, along with what she believes others are thinking. I can't help but draw parallels to this situation with those such as holocaust survivors when I think how someone could withstand so much.
The day to day emotion portrayed by the woman is one of trying to remain emotionless. Throughout the book she says over and over about many things that "I try not to think about it." This seems to be about the only way one could keep from killing oneself in such deprivation in comparison to before. However, in such trying times that task seems easier said than done. The woman focuses on details and surroundings as opposed to emotions to pass time; we see her step by step make herself robotic for most of the day. She often thinks back to her husband and child but whenever the feelings begin to become too much to bare she shuts them off as though she had a switch. Many times when she is in her flashbacks she seems to do so with no real emotion. She thinks of how things were to pass time as opposed to feel something in certain instances.
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I find it compelling the way she uses her emotions with such control. The woman does not even care to think of her name anymore because that time no longer exists. We never even get told her name; just her new name of Offred is briefly mentioned. At first I thought her feelings were that of hopelessness in these situations, only to realize it was simply a technique of indifference she learns. The vivid sex scenes with her commander, when she has already conveyed her love for Luke and hatred of this duty, seems like something horrendous, but she simply stairs up at the ceiling fan to block out reality. However, as apathetic as the woman seems, she still is very much alive.
Acting emotionless is fine for getting through a task, but the characters need feeling in order to be able to survive. This is where the underlying sense of hope becomes evident. All the characters in the book are living their lives based off a small bit of hope. The woman looks for all the good in her life and all the things she can be grateful for. The way she finds happiness in little things such as going to the market, nice spring weather, little gestures by others, or simply through flashbacks, shows that she believes things can get better. The way she becomes friendlier with Cora, learns to like her commander, and develops romantic feelings for Nick show that she is far from giving up. These feelings can also be seen in other characters, which helps show how not just one person, but a whole society can survive in such times. Moira believes escape is still possible. Ofglen is obviously involved in some sort of network rebelling against the army. But we can also see signs of hope in other characters that are less drastic, but still very much there. Serena Joy helps the woman despite their awkward situation, which leaves an underlying sense of good intention and optimism. The commander shows he is still hopeful in his acts of defiance. Even the friendship Cora provides the woman is an act of hope, as the book said Cora put her faith in the woman and was essentially living through her. But hope in this society also proved to be a downfall for the woman.
The epitome of hope often gets overlooked, that is the act of self preservation. Basic survival to live another day, shows people's expectation of a brighter future. This new government is aware of that and uses this to it's advantage in the form of fear. The people are so scared of the consequences they are willing to sell each other out. We see people sacrificing others for their own survival. This combination of people being optimistic for the future, yet so fearful for the day keeps most in line and a formidable revolution nearly impossible. Two people as opposed to the military rule as the woman and Ofglen are still remain so scared to speak of it; they don't even realize each others similar viewpoints until they have known each other a long time. The novel demonstrates how fear and the human instinct to survive can be such a powerful tool that it can drive something as evil as the new government when put in that situation.
These vivid emotions are what grabbed me the most in the novel. This world and lifestyle that seemed so surreal at a glance, but through the woman's feelings and the way I related to some of them, made it not only exist, but put me right in the middle of it. Before I would pick up the book each time, I would have a different outlook at that moment than I would after I'd put it down. I would think how I have too much homework, or how hard practice is, or how stressful things are, then I would get caught up in this world the woman was living and all those feelings I had suddenly seemed absurd. I notice how many little things I take for granted and just how blessed I am to be here. The way the book not only embodied such emotion, but also gave me such feelings is what impressed me the most.