Wanting is Weakening

“But to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power.

But there must be something he wants, from me. To want is to have a weakness. It’s this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me. It’s like a small crack in a wall, before now impenetrable. If I press my eye to it, this weakness of his, I may be able to see my way clear.

I want to know what he wants.” (Atwood 136)

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the readers are introduced to a society in which individuals are distanced from each other via social stratification. Individuals from different classes are discouraged from associating with one another, Commanders and Handmaids, in particular, by law. So, how did this society come to be? What is the reason why formation of relationships are so discouraged and individuals are so emotionally isolated? This is a question that we have already begun to ponder in class. Through use of parallel structure, imagery and a conversational tone transparent to Offred’s perplexity, the above passage suggests that to expect something from another is a form of weakness. The passage further complicates relationships through attributing its formation to the revealing of such weakness, and thus arguing the vulnerability of human beings when we engage in relationships.

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Wanting leads to weakness. Revealing the weakness or vulnerability leads to the formation of relationships. There is something enticing about the realization of vulnerability. (http://www.thecoachpod.com/2016/03/14/cp55-the-power-of-vulnerability-2/)

The use of parallel structure in this passage functions to establish a universal truth. The phrases that involve parallel structure that we have been exposed to include “Like father, like son” or “Easy come, easy go”. The rhythm and flow created by such parallelism adds a matter-of-factly tone to the phrase. Thus, by stating, “To want is to have a weakness”, the narrator establishes that “wanting” as a form of “weakness” is a universal truth. In other words, the parallelism impresses to the readers that it is an undeniable truth that when one “wants” something out of another, they are “weakened”. Such matter-of-fact phrase, placed right after the first sentence asserting the Commander’s power effectively debunks the seemingly dominant male. It ultimately points the weakening of the Commander to the fact that he “wanted” Offred to come see him; by trying to form a relationship with Offred, he is thence weakened.

In addition to the parallel structure creating an instantaneous assertive tone, the overarching conversational tone places an honest ethos to the narrator. Phrases like “whatever it is” in “It’s this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me” invites the readers into Offred’s internal confusion. The fact that she is being conversational in admitting her confusion in the exact idea of weakness then adds a more authentic voice to the fact that she was enticed by it. In other words, she honestly did not know how one is ‘weakened’ in response to the ‘want’ but was nonetheless lured by the idea of the Commander being vulnerable. The authentic voice created with the conversational tone then serves to reveal to the readers that the narrator herself is beginning to form a relationship with the Commander. The fact that she is enticed by the seemingly vulnerable Commander then implies that she ‘wants’ to figure him out. In effect, the passage establishes a mutual ‘want’ of relationship. This concept is further clarified by Offred’s last sentence in the passage when she says, “I want to know what he wants”. In her authentic voice, the readers are convinced to believe that she too ‘wants’ to get to know him, a seed to the development of a relationship, and is therefore also ‘weakened’. Offred’s engagement in ‘wanting’ acquaintance is leaving her vulnerable.

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Crack in the wall, representative of the peek into the Commander’s vulnerability (http://eastebuilder.co.uk/articles/view/184/Reasons+for+Cracks+on+Your+Walls)

Finally, the use of visual imagery highlights Offred’s transition from a passive female to one that actively seeks to learn about the Commander’s ‘want’ or ‘weakness’. Creating the image of a wall with a small crack, and illustrating Offred going up against it and pressing her eye to it gives the readers the image that Offred is actively engaging. In contrast to her reluctance to come up to meet the Commander, previously, the image created displays her moving towards the crack, or apparent weakness of the Commander. As a result, the visual imagery further strengthens the fact that Offred is actively taking initiative in forming the personal acquaintance. This image, in particular, is crucial given the circumstances of Offred being a Handmaid. It would be illegal for her to display any sign of visible action to get to know the Commander. Instead, the imagery helps communicate Offred’s below-the-surface level active initiative.

In such ways, the passage helps to underscore the vulnerabilities that branch from the formation of relationships. This is done through drawing a definitive link between ‘want’ or any desires for another, and the subsequent ‘weakness’ as drawn by parallelism, strengthened by an authentic voice and enhanced through imagery.

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One thought on “Wanting is Weakening

  1. I thought this quote was interesting because it highlighted a weakness in the Commander, who is a high-ranking official of the current government of Gilead. It was really interesting how you analyzed the passage in terms of the vulnerabilities of humans when forming relationships. I think these weaknesses in relationships can also be contextualized in terms of a totalitarian government. The Commander, a symbol of the totalitarian government of Gilead, also has his own wants, creating a weakness or vulnerability and illustrating how difficult it is for humans to repress their desires and follow strict rules. Like you stated, the image of the crack in the wall shows that Offred is actively approaching the Commander. I viewed this as the ability to take advantage of the corruption that exists in totalitarian governments because of the innate weaknesses of human nature.

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