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Author: David Ataide

Moira’s Fate and the Jezebels

In this section we were introduced to the concept of the “Jezebels.” The Commander instructed Offred to dress up in a gaudy outfit with makeup in order to come with him to a secret club. The “club” is actually a hotel where Gilead prostitutes known as Jezebels reside. It seems like even in the harsh Gilead society there is leeway for accepting prostitutes as a means of pleasing the Commanders. It seems strange to me that a society that preaches such extreme oppression of women’s rights in the name of religion would allow this. The women that become Jezebels seem to do so as an alternative to being sent to the Colonies or being executed.

In this section we also learn the fate of Offred’s old friend Moira. After her escape attempt from the Red Center she was recaptured and faced with the choice I mentioned above. In this case, Moira chose being a Jezebel to the radioactive death that the Colonies present. I found it interesting that Moira said the Jezebels get 3-4 years to live. I wonder why this is. This section interested me though because it showed that despite the harsh rules of Gilead these women were presented with an option that seemingly grants them some autonomy over their bodies.

The last part of this section showed the Commander trying to enjoy “real” sex with Offred but she does not enjoy it. She forces herself to fake it and act like she was enjoying it. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me because how could she ever shake the image of the Commander as nothing more than her “boss.” The whole scene is just strange to me because the Commander wants more out of Offred than she is willing to give and it makes me kind of uncomfortable at times.

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Who Really Holds the Power in Gilead?

In this section of The Handmaid’s Tale, we were able to witness the birth of Janine’s (Ofwarren) child. While this ceremony was interesting, I feel that the most interesting part of this section was the interaction between Offred and her Commander. In this chapter, the Commander summoned Offred to his study, something that is highly illegal in Gilead, for something very simple: to play a game of Scrabble. Offred debates going because of the illegality of the act, but decides it is far worse to disobey a Commander than it is to follow the law. What follows in this scene isn’t some commanding punishment or order, but rather just the Commander wanting to play a game with Offred.

I thought it was very interesting when the Commander started the conversation with “Hello,” something that Offred herself acknowledges as being the “old way” of talking. Then when the game is finished, all the Commander asks is for a kiss. This scene was really sad in a sort of way because the Commander seemed to just be lonely or empty, and almost seems like he feels bad for how things are in Gilead. The most important part about this scene is that it really brings to light that just because he is labeled as a “Commander,” doesn’t mean he is the one who wields the power in Gilead. Rather, these Commanders are just as under the control of the laws of Gilead as anyone else. I am interested to see where Offred’s interactions with her Commander go from here.

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Paternalism to a New Extreme

The first four sections of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale paint a very descriptive image of a dystopian future world known as “The Republic of Gilead.” In this world that seems to be a future of what used to be the United States, true fundamentalism and paternalism rules. Women are demoted to roles and are considered the property of their husband. “Handmaids” live to bear the children of their “Commanders.” In this bleak existence, people in general are banned from sexual expression unless they are permitted to marry.

The first thing that popped out to me about this society was how they justify this existence. The Aunts tell stories about how things were before Gilead and describe it as a horrible place where women were constantly at risk of sexual exploitation. Using things like cat-calling as an example of how life was “worse” before Gilead is how they justify the oppression of women under this new republic. They claim that this restriction is for the sake of protecting women, and that they are better off being completely abstinent and separated from men than having to worry about protecting themselves constantly. This means of justifying a clear dystopia reminded me of how many totalitarian dictators justify their oppressive regimes by claiming that they are protecting their people from some outside threat.

Another thing that I noticed overall in this section is how this world reminded me of Persepolis, or more specifically, of fundamentalist Iran. The oppression of women in this fictional world seems like a dramatized version of how women were (and still are) treated in Iran. Given how this book was written in 1985, it makes me wonder whether Atwood was inspired by the treatment of women in Iran to write this book. Of course, women have been treated this way (usually under the justification of religious beliefs) for centuries across various different cultures. Whether the justification is in the name of Islam or Christianity, women have faced the same oppression throughout time. I am very interested to see where this story in Gilead goes.

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Marjane’s Homecoming

This section of the novel was very jarring for me. It was painful for me to watch Satrapi fall in love only to have her heart broken after investing everything in Markus. It was especially painful to see her become homeless after seemingly finding her place in the world. Watching her literally digging out of trash cans and sleeping on benches was sad but seemingly had a purpose. It is clear that Marjane never fully adapted to the culture in Europe, and despite her thinking she was fitting in there was always that voice in the back of her head that she didn’t belong. This was never more clear than when she found herself alone and homeless.

All of this said, it was sort of bittersweet when she made the choice to return home to Iran after all these years. Watching her don the veil again with a somewhat sad look in her eyes gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, she was finally returning to her home with her culture and family. But on the other hand she was returning to an oppressed fundamentalist Iran. Her brief moment of freedom was now being rescinded. However, in many ways this part of the story is representing a “coming of age” story for Marjane. She realizes that she flew too close to the sun during her time abroad and has hit rock bottom. Now it is time to see how she rebounds from this and how her time at home in Iran impacts her further.

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Resistance to a New Authority

In this second section of Persepolis, I could immediately tell that the vibe of the story had changed. With the coming of the new Islamic regime and the war with Iraq, the atmosphere of Iran as depicted in the graphic novel had changed dramatically. Suddenly most characters in the story wore all black. The Satrapi family in particular came under heavy fire from numerous outside sources, both soldiers and neighbors, about their supposedly sinful behavior. Violence and verbal harassment have become a norm as radically religious people begin to berate those who they consider sinners for doing something as simple as wearing the wrong kind of sneakers. It was really alarming to see such a sudden shift in mindset in Iran, but it helped paint the picture and show why the country is the way that it is today. The thing that interested me the most is how the Iranian government would lie to its people about the daily war updates against Iraq. This in particular reminded me of the Kim regime of North Korea, and how they lie to their people about everything to keep them uninformed about the true nature of world politics.

All of this being said, I felt a huge theme of this section was the idea of resistance to oppression. This part of the story featured some of the strictest oppression that we have read so far in this class, but it was good to see that there was still some resistance from those who refused to simply accept the new changes. Examples include Marjane’s father who is adamant about resisting any religious fanatics who try to berate him. Even the children of Marjane’s class were rebellious against their new strict school policies because, as Marjane stated, they remembered a time when schools were secular. The end of this section included Marji dressing in Westernized clothing and blasting “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde in a blatant rejection of the religious fanaticism. It was comforting to know that people weren’t immediately accepting the new oppression and had some element of resistance.

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Satrapi and her Relationship with God

The first 71 pages of Persepolis illustrate the early life of Marjane Satrapi and her perspective of the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran. When this section of the graphic novel ends, the new Islamic Republic is in place and already some forms of oppression are being implemented. Marjane’s parents are worried about the state of the country and are pissed off with the new government. Throughout this section of the novel we see the evolution of Satrapi’s relationship with God. I think this is the most important part of this section by far.

At the beginning, Satrapi is in love with God and wants to be a Prophet herself. She has discussions with God in private and is infatuated with the concept of God. This begins to change as she starts studying about the revolution and various Marxist works. She seems to have a detached relationship with God at this point, still having discussions but choosing to avoid talking about prophets and instead more focused on the revolution. This relationship finally reaches its breaking point when her Uncle Anoosh is murdered by the new Islamic government for being a communist. Her rage and distress at the loss of her Uncle is what sets her over the edge, and she finally curses God and abandons him entirely, because of the new government’s use of religion as a weapon.

This evolution over the 71 pages feels natural, and seems to reflect Satrapi coming of age in the changing world she was raised in. What started as a blind obsession, turned into learned detachment, and finally finished with rage. As the old oppressive government is replaced with the new religiously oppressive government, Satrapi seems to blame God, and religion as a whole, for the new violence and loss that she is experiencing. I am interested to see how her relationship grows (or further decays) as the graphic novel goes on.

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The Concept of “The Jungle”

Stamp Paid’s portions of Chapter 19 discussed a common theme of a “jungle” that existed within people. In these parts, Stamp reflects on events of his past, from his life as a slave with his wife, to the horrors of Beloved’s murder and its impact on Baby Suggs. These reflections seem to be a reflection of the story so far, and tie it together under this idea of a “jungle.” According to Stamp, white people believed that there was a jungle within each black person, which was a savage side to them that made them more crude. He goes on to say that this jungle was put there by these very same white people for forcing slavery upon them and all the horrors that came with it. In response, white people themselves developed their own jungle as they became scared “of the jungle they had made” within black people. This led to increased savagery on their part as they became frightened of the very slaves that they owned.

This part to me was very important because it acknowledged the psychological impact of the institution of slavery on the enslaved. With increased punishment came increased resistance and an increased rage/desperation among the slaves, as shown in Sethe’s psychotic break when she considered it better to murder her own children than allow them to be returned to slavery. It also reminded me of how slavery differed from the United States to the West Indies. Slavery in the West Indies was considered to be far worse than in the U.S. because slaveowners were significantly more brutal to their slaves. In response, the slave uprisings in the West Indies were likewise some of the most horrific uprisings in the history of slavery. As Stamp would say, in the West Indies this “jungle” was far more prevalent among both the slaves and slaveowners, and it demonstrates what human beings are capable of when their mental state is pushed to its limit.

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Beloved as a Symbol of Punishment

After reading this section of the book I have no doubt in my mind that the theory we discussed in class about Beloved being there to punish Sethe is completely true. The scene that comes to mind is the one in the Clearing, where Sethe asks Baby Suggs (or rather, the ghost of her) to massage her neck. This turns dark quickly as the soothing presence turns violent and begins suffocating and strangling Sethe. When this is discussed later between Denver and Beloved, Denver confirms that she saw Beloved try to strangle Sethe. So far Denver has always been the one who saw Beloved for what she really is, the ghost of her dead older sister. So I have reason to believe that she is right when she says she saw Beloved try to strangle Sethe. With that established, it is pretty obvious that she is trying to punish Sethe for some previous wrongdoing.

What that wrongdoing is I am not sure yet. The obvious speculation is that Sethe somehow caused her daughter’s death, and Beloved is there to haunt Sethe and make her never forget what happened in the past. I’m very interested to find out what exactly Sethe did to Beloved that would make her want to come back to haunt her, or even strangle her. All of this being said, I find the characterization of Beloved to be very interesting. In most stories, the return of the ghost of a dead family member or friend is typically seen as a happy event. To be able to see a specter of a lost family member is usually a blessing for someone in mourning. But in Beloved, the appearance of Sethe’s dead daughter has only wrought mystery and stress. To me Beloved’s scenes are always very eerie, and honestly creep me out the more we learn about her as a character. Especially when you consider what happens between her and Paul D, which I have no idea why that happened or what it represents. Either way it is obvious to me that Beloved’s appearance at 124 is not a happy one, and she really does represent a figure of punishment, notably for Sethe.

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Suppressing the Horrors of Slavery

In the first three chapters of Beloved, we are introduced to Sethe and her daughter Denver, who live in a house that is haunted by a ghost suspected to be Sethe’s eldest daughter who died. Sethe herself is an escaped slave who tries in vain to suppress the memories of her past in enslavement, all for the sake of insuring a better life for her daughter Denver. Despite her efforts, she is constantly reminded of her past through the ghost and through Paul D, one of the male slaves who also worked at her plantation called Sweet Home.

As of these chapters, it seems to me that the ghost in the story is a representation of the psychological impact that is left on those who lived as slaves. Having lived their entire life considered as sub-human and under the threat of torture or death for any action considered out of line, slaves bear the weight of these horrors every single day. What makes it worse for Sethe is that she was never actually freed from slavery, but rather escaped. This makes her even more paranoid of her past, because she could be easily returned to Sweet Home if she were to be discovered. All of these factors together show a clear impact on Sethe’s psyche, and form a representation of the mental state of those who were once in captivity.

It even goes a step further and shows the impact that Sethe’s efforts to forget her past have on her daughter, who is practically home-ridden because of the “ghost” in the house. While the ghost itself seems real in the story, I again believe that this goes to show the impact that witnessing her mother’s traumatized mindset has had on Denver. With every reminder Denver seems to understand more and more about what her mother went through and in turn becomes more secluded from society. Overall, it seems as though Sethe’s efforts to suppress her past and secure a better future for her daughter have been in vain due to constant reminders of slavery through the ghost of her daughter and through her paranoia of being returned to captivity.

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Fighting for Women’s Suffrage

I found the video on women’s suffrage very informative. There are certain things that most people don’t know about the movement. People typically simplify it by seeing it as a spontaneous movement when all women finally decided to fight for the vote, but it was a much more complicated and strenuous process. The women involved in the suffrage movement began as abolitionists. I thought it was interesting how the movement for women’s rights began because women were locked out of the anti-slavery discussion, despite being abolitionists themselves. To this end, one of the points of the video that I enjoyed the most was when they talked about how former slave Frederick Douglass himself came forward in support of the women’s suffrage movement. Unfortunately, when slavery was finally abolished and down the line when black men were guaranteed the right to vote, the women’s suffrage movement didn’t achieve the same success.

On this point, I thought it was interesting to consider how the women’s movement has always seemed to be on the “back-burner” of American politics. As more and more classes of men were allowed to vote (the poor, blacks, etc.) nobody besides women themselves seemed to care about their movement. Even as the most radical change in American politics since the creation of the Constitution was occurring with the abolition of slavery, American men were still unyielding and were refusing to even consider a women’s perspective on the matter. Living conditions aside, it seems like women had a social status equal to a slave. Despite all of this, I found it at least interesting how World War I secured the suffrage movement, with women becoming crucial figures in the factories at home while men were off fighting in the war. This time it seems women made themselves heard and refused to be swept aside despite the global conflict. And finally, after the war concluded, women guaranteed their vote.

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