Reversing the Control

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing. (Atwood 135)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood “speculates” a society in which the structure of freedom rights is reversed from what America accepts today. If our society is structured to emphasize the freedom for citizens to act how they wish with less concern for the consequences of one’s actions, Atwood’s depicted society is structured against citizens acting however they wish in order to provide a “freedom” from the worry of the consequences of one’s actions. In order to accomplish such a structure, Atwood’s society diminishes much of women’s freedom of choice and seems to place most of the power in the hands of the men, creating a hierarchy of power. In the passage above, Offred has a moment of reflection in which she forms a conclusion that goes against the structure of the society illustrated by Atwood as a way to fight internally against the basis of the society she lives in.

Offred first defines that what she is reflecting about is the power dynamic exchanged between two individuals. She considers both those with power, “who can own… who can do,” and those without power, who are owned or acted upon. The relationship between the two is shown through the use of symmetric sentence structure in this passage. The short sentences in the beginning and end and the two parallel sentences in the middle with “[m]aybe it isn’t” show an exchange. However, this seemingly symmetric structure is interrupted when Offred interjects with what “it is about,” making a symbolic break in society’s hierarchy structure.

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An exchange between those with power and those without power

One of the most obvious devices of this excerpt is the repetition of the word “maybe” at the beginning of each sentence. This word is intimately related to the action of speculation. In this short reflection, Offred is speculating a different society than the one she lives in, without the hierarchy of control. By speculating this different society, she tries to create a new world for herself in which perhaps she is in control.

This passage as a whole begins by arguing against the fact that control is what defines Offred’s society. Offred lists examples of what society “isn’t about,” all of which depict a comparison between those with power, who perform actions, and those without control that are acted upon. By dismissing this comparison between those with power and those without, she again defies the basic structure of power in society. Near the end of this reflection, she chooses to put importance in action of forgiveness. Forgiveness opposes the idea of “get[ting] away with it,” which defines her current society. Her decision to put importance on forgiveness brings power to those “without power” because only those “acted upon” can forgive others, while those “acting upon others” must receive forgiveness. Thus, the role of those acting and those acted upon, in this case, are reversed, effectively creating a society with a reversed power dynamic in Offred’s own world.

 

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The Constant Internal Battle

Gender imbalances are a constant in our society. Albeit, there are fewer differences between the two genders – female and male – today than there have been in almost all of human history. The novel The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood, is a piece of speculative fiction that focuses on the story of Offred, who is a handmaid. Through the lens of Offred found in an excerpt on page 88, the differences between gender are heightened to a state in which the children of today would not recognize, which is shown by the internal questioning displayed, and the reader gains insight of Offred’s internal struggles between wanting to rebel and wanting to survive as long as possible within the societal structure she lives in, as seen through the back and forth internal banter. Continue reading