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Information Overload (Handmaid’s Tale V + VI)

There is a lot of information to unpack in this relatively small section of the book. It’s our first real interaction with the Commander, our first experience with the Ceremony, and there is a lot of flashback/backstory tidbits being dumped into our laps. It’s kind of a whirlwind of a section, in my opinion, but Atwood does a good job presenting information in a way that makes you think and doesn’t reveal everything at once, but gives you enough to not be helplessly lost and confused.

It’s strange to me how stark and cold all of the social interactions in the household are. It’s like none of these people are actually people anymore. We have Offred’s perspective and even she at times seems robotic (which makes sense when you think about the fact that she’s likely constantly dissociating from her experiences just to stay sane), but the way in which the other members of the household interact shows that no one really likes each other. It’s disconcerting to see how they all tamper everything that makes them human. I really am surprised any of them can upkeep this kind of pigeon-holing lifestyle without going completely insane.

Ignoring the horrible imagery of the “sex” scene, the parts that jumped out at me most were her memories. Because of how resigned to everything everyone is I never before entertained the idea that she and Luke had tried to get away with their daughter before all this. It was really heartbreaking to see that effort just to know that it obviously failed.

I’m very interested to see where this odd little ending scene with Nick takes her. We get Offred’s perspective on it as that desperate desire for human connection and I’m wondering if he will be the same and they’ll find themselves in a messy situation or if it’s going to come back to bite her that he found her sneaking around. It’s very powerful that something as little as leaving her room in the middle of the night is not permitted and is punishable. The book itself feels oppressive because it almost feels like just a stack of injustices, infringed rights and different methods of oppression just strung together by words.

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  1. Nicolette Romley Nicolette Romley

    The end section with Nick shows how Offred is willing to go against such an oppressive regime just to have a little glimpse of freedom and autonomy. Offred seems to not care very much about the potentials punishments she can face and instead values brief moments of freedom more than the fear of her consequences.

  2. David Ataide David Ataide

    I liked how you acknowledge the robotic nature of these characters. From the first page I thought this as the book itself read in a very robotic way. It contains very cold dialogue. I’d like to think that this highlights the extent to which humans will go to survive. In many ways it reminds me of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that we discussed in class. When your physiological needs are in jeopardy, you have no worry about higher order things such as if your freedoms are being protected.

  3. Katherine Fell Katherine Fell

    It was heartbreaking to read how much of Offred’s humanity was taken from her just from reading her narration. Like you said in your post and as others mentioned in the comments, even though Offred’s thoughts are safe from scrutiny in her head, they are still incredibly robotic and dry. Like you mentioned, this is likely a coping mechanism for her to maintain her sanity, but it is tragic to see a person resort to such tactics just to help themselves get by.

  4. Alexander Seeley Alexander Seeley

    I too am surprised more people do not go insane. Moira is the only one who attempts to leave and even when she comes back and is punished, she is not praised for her courage but rather scrutinized for her lack of common sense. In this oppressive environment, there is no questioning of authority, if there is it must be hidden in bathroom stalls for a couple minutes because everybody knows that they will be caught in some way eventually as the authority seems to have a very meticulous, even nazi regime.

  5. Sara Messervey Sara Messervey

    I liked your comment at the end about the book itself being “oppressive” to the readers. Though I think oppressive is a strong word, I do think Atwood emulates some of the conditions of the book. The readers have knowledge withheld from them, much like the women in the story. Similarly, we are distrustful of all the characters around the narrator, even when we want to like them (like with Nick). And finally, we are powerless to do anything about the events that transpire, only endure them (though thankfully as outsiders in a much better situation) with the narrator.

  6. Alexander Bogomolov Alexander Bogomolov

    The characters definitely seem robotic and cold. I think it speaks to the affect of extreme oppression and lack of mental stimulation on the personalities of the characters and their interactions with each other, which have become cold, devoid of pleasure, and seeping with distrust.

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