Imagery is an effective element used by writers. It allows readers to be one with the story and to better comprehend the actions and thoughts conveyed by the author. In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaids Tale, actions and images of Offred and other individuals parallel with the theme of appearance versus reality. These images such as food and nature are reoccurring to further stress the theme. The gustatory and olfactory images of food and perfume, as well as the kinesthetic and visual imagery of cutting flowers and sexual intercourse juxtapose the discontentment of Offred's life as a handmaid.
Food is a symbol of fulfillment. As the novel opens, we are quickly associated with it as Rita asks Offred to pick up things from the grocery store. "Fresh eggs, ... cheese, ... steak, ... and peas;" with this image, the reader visualizes the food, as well as smells and tastes it (15). With this vivid boisterous image of food, it appears that Offred and the handmaids are nourished and fulfilled with not only nutrition, but in life as well because food is a symbol of life. But in actuality, Offred is not fulfilled with her life because of the lack of freedom she has, and the remaining handmaids fell the same way. The food that they embellish is not as rich as Atwood's gustatory and olfactory images make them out to be. The handmaids' diets are controlled, especially those of expecting mothers, by other individuals. The olfactory image of "lemon oil, heavy cloth, fading daffodils, the leftover smells of cooking, ... and of Serena Joy's perfume: Lily of the Valley," introduce a new element of reality into the n...
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... is an image of appearance versus reality. Serena Joy "grips [Offred's] hands as if it is she, not" Offred, is having intercourse with the Commander (121). On a larger scale, it appears that the utopia is satisfying, but in reality, it is only a fantasy, and amplified vision of sadness.
The gustatory and olfactory images of food and perfume, as well as the kinesthetic and visual imagery of cutting flowers and sexual intercourse contrast with the unhappiness of Offred's life as a handmaid in Atwood's novel The Handmaids Tale. Atwood's use of imagery parallel with her use of the theme appearance versus reality. Though all the images of flowers, food, and sex seem to suggest happiness among the inhabitants of the utopia, in reality, they are underlying symbols of the dystopia they represent.
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