What is a Name?

“My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I’ll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried. This name has an aura around it, like an amulet, some charm that’s survived from an unimaginably distant past. I lie in my single bed at night, with my eyes closed, and the name floats there behind my eyes, not quite within reach, shining in the dark.” (Atwood 84)

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale delves into the idea of individuality and one’s own identity. Offred struggles with this idea of who she truly is with the change of her former name to her current name which suggests that she is the property of her commander. Offred has lost her true self and doesn’t know all parts of herself. In this particular excerpt, Offred attempts to confirm that her name truly is important and is an integral component of her identity.

whoami

Offred starts off with describing how names don’t matter as they are simply “like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.” Even though Offred initially states that names are initially not important, she immediately back tracks and restates the importance of names. When Offred does this, it seems as if she is confused about her own identity and what truly is important. Does her name matter or not?

Furthermore, Atwood later compares knowing a name to “treasure [Offred will] come back to dig up, one day.” Offred elevates the status of her name so once again to the point that it is a treasure that is considered to be important. By comparing her name to treasure, Offred brings up the idea that her name is a rarity as if a long, lost treasure. This rarity heightens the importance of her name while also hinting at the idea that her true identity is difficult to find and maintain as it is hidden away. Also, immediately afterwards, she goes to say that she is going to bury her name almost as if it is something to be ashamed of rather than appreciated. This duality in her thinking demonstrates her confusion with her sense of identity and understanding of herself.

buried-treasure

In addition, Atwood personifies a name as it “floats there behind my eyes.” By personifying the name as something that floats, it creates an image of unattainability. It almost illustrates a scene of a child reaching out for a balloon that is slightly out of their reach as their fingertips barely graze the end of the balloon. Her name is so close yet so far. Offred does not have a true understanding of her identity as it is a hazy image.

girl-with-a-balloon-by-banksy

Furthermore, floating can also be connected to ghosts. In this way, her name has passed away and is locked away. Even more, Atwood writes that “this name has an aura around it, like an amulet.” By addressing her name as an aura, Offred further emphasizes that her name and identity are ambiguous and hazy. An aura does not have a defined set of boundaries; the boundaries can be difficult to identify similar to Offred’s true identity. 

aura

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2 thoughts on “What is a Name?

  1. Hello!
    I really enjoyed reading your blogpost, discussing how Offred’s uncertain grasp of her name closely resembles her uncertain grasp of identity. In particular, the way Atwood compares Offred’s lost name to a treasure stood out to me. You have a solid point that not only does this elevate the value inherent in a name but also implies its difficulty in being found, once hidden. This then prompted me to wonder who is responsible for hiding such name, and identity. Is it solely society that has forced the name to become unseen, or is Offred herself to be held responsible for abandoning the buried name? Has society molded her to be passive about trying to discover her name?
    I also thought that the use of “aura around” the name intriguing. While you make a valid argument in this aura alluding to the haziness of Offred’s identity, I interpreted it slightly differently. In fact, image you attached inspired me. While the aura itself is hazy with not definitive boundaries, it is only through the presence of the aura that the outlines of the silhouette of the individual is sharpened. Without this aura, the outlines of the individual would be lost in darkness– unseen. I think that this then may suggest the pivotal role of a name sharpening and carving out the identity of the individual themselves, which goes back to your thesis. Really enjoyed engaging in your discussion on Offred’s reflection on her name and identity!

    Like

  2. Hello!
    I really enjoyed reading your blogpost, discussing how Offred’s uncertain grasp of her name closely resembles her uncertain grasp of identity. In particular, the way Atwood compares Offred’s lost name to a treasure stood out to me. You have a solid point that not only does this elevate the value inherent in a name but also implies its difficulty in being found, once hidden. This then prompted me to wonder who is responsible for hiding such name, and identity. Is it solely society that has forced the name to become unseen, or is Offred herself to be held responsible for abandoning the buried name? Has society molded her to be passive about trying to discover her name?
    I also thought that the use of “aura around” the name intriguing. While you make a valid argument in this aura alluding to the haziness of Offred’s identity, I interpreted it slightly differently. In fact, the image you attached inspired me. While the aura itself is hazy with not definitive boundaries, it is only through the presence of the aura that the outlines of the silhouette of the individual is sharpened. Without this aura, the outlines of the individual would be lost in darkness– unseen. I think that this then may suggest the pivotal role of a name sharpening and carving out the identity of the individual themselves, which goes back to your thesis. Really enjoyed engaging in your discussion on Offred’s reflection on her name and identity!

    Like

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