Atwood's Attention to Words in The Handmaid's Tale Essay

Atwood's Attention to Words in The Handmaid's Tale Essay

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Atwood's Attention to Words in The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaids Tale illustrates that dictatorship can be established by
creating a state of fear once language controls are instituted. As a
tradition to dystopian novels, Atwood has drawn much attention to the
meaning of words and the significance of names, as well as the
prohibition for women to read or write, in order to portray Gilead as
a successful totalitarian state. Atwood is trying to make the point
that in a dystopian world, language can be the power.

The meaning of names is a central focus of the novel, because names
define people. Their worth and functions are summarized by the names.
To some extent, the names also discourage originality. This occurs
especially to the Handmaids, whose names all begin with the prefix
“Of”, plus their commanders names, forming names such as Offred,
Ofglen, and Ofwarren. This act taken by the Gileadian state totally
objectifies the Handmaids. They no longer have a status in the
society, and instead they become possessive items of the commanders.
In the case of Offred, she does not mention her real name throughout
the entire novel. In fact, Offred is probably numbed by the reality
that she doesn’t even want to mention her real name, as she once said,

“I must forget about my secret name and all ways back. My name is
Offred now, and here is where I live.” (p.185)

As a result, she is often perceived as an imaginary figure. In a way,
she has already lost her original identity, that we are unable to
trace her in the future. Here, Atwood is trying to draw the attention
that stripping people’s names may as well result in stripping their
individuality. Furthermore, she has created a system of titles to
oppress wome...

... middle of paper ...

... has tried to warn the readers
that there would be a genuine consequence if language is exploited.
What Atwood is trying to promote to the readers is that words aren’t
just words. Language is incredibly powerful for getting people to not
look at the reality of things, or for making things to be more
emotional than they need to be. Renaming can certainly be used to
create a state of fear through distinctive classification. More
importantly, it can significantly dehumanize people and take away
their identities. Other than that, religious influences also allow the
government to control the society psychologically. After all,
language is an extremely important device in The Handmaids Tale. A
good understanding of how language functions in the novel allows us to
become aware of how a totalitarian regime can maintain its power
through the control of language.

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