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Author: Emma Joaquin

Final Chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale

The most interesting part of this final section of the novel for me was the “Historical Notes,” where professors discuss and analyze Gilead far in the future. It was interesting to me that the professor speaking warns the audience not to judge the people of this time period too harshly. The people of Gilead were struggling with many different issues, and although the system they put in place was inhumane and corrupt, they were doing what they felt was a last resort or the only option to fix their failing society. Those who put this power structure in place lacked the knowledge to find a better alternative, and those that went along with it lacked the power or ability to do anything else or resist. 

I think this is very applicable to how we look at history today. Although we should be looking back at history to learn from it to not repeat the mistakes of the past, people tend to judge what are now considered to be the “bad” parts of history. Placing too much judgement on the actions of some in the past does not progress society further, nor is it completely justified. People do what they believe is the best option at the time given the knowledge available to them, or they follow along with what others tell them to do due to a lack of power or ability to do anything else. This is not to their own fault completely, just as it is not the fault of the people of Gilead. 

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The Race Card

Michele Norris, Peabody Award-winning journalist and founder of The Race Card Project, gave a talk in the Queally Center this Tuesday, November 12th, called “The Race Card: Observations on Race, Identity, and Inclusion.” Norris notes from the beginning of her talk that conversations, like this one about race, are not ones well-received nor do most people desire to engage in these kinds of conversations typically. Norris notes that, “a lot of things we don’t talk about, loom large in a room.” Even in her own life, Norris comments that although the effects of historical racism have effects that still loom over her family, race and racism is still something that is rarely discussed among them. Wanting to encourage this kind of discussion in a more natural and low-pressure way, Norris began The Race Card Project. This project collects cards where people across the country can write six word sentences regarding their experience with race. 

Norris found that the cards that came in to her team were more honest than what she expected based on her previous experiences of discussions surrounding race. Some of these cards include “Black babies cost less to adopt,” and “Lady I don’t want your purse.” Norris showed various other cards, including some surprising ones such as, “I’m white and I pay the price.” I initially assumed Norris would condemn this card and whoever wrote it, but instead she stated that this was this man’s truth, and that is what The Race Card Project is about- listening to people’s truths. Norris ends the talk by challenging students, like us, to continue the conversation and engage in important discussions surrounding race.

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Ch. X-XI

This section of The Handmaid’s Tale delves deeper into the changing relationship between Offred and the Commander. Offred and the Commander’s relationship continues to grow and become less professional and more casual. The Commander loves to indulge Offred’s questions for him as he enjoys her childlike curiosity and acts as a paternal figure in a way. Offred notes that their relationship gives her a sense of worth that she had been lacking before. She says that, “to him I’m no longer merely a usable body. To him I’m not just a boat with no cargo, a chalice with no wine in it, an over — to be crude — minutes the bun. To him I am not merely empty.”(163) Offred had previously felt she had little value to offer to society. Her worth as a human in this society was completely dependent on her ability to conceive, and without a child, she had little to offer anyone. Spending time with the Commander, someone who enjoys her company and presence, finally gives here a feeling of self-worth that she had been missing. Even their interactions in the Ceremony becomes less robotic as they begin to have a connection. These small things give Offred a small feeling of normalcy in this newly changed world. 

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Mental Illness in Persepolis

In the final section of Persepolis, a lot goes down; however, the most important part to me was Marji’s attempted suicide. Marji attempts to kill herself due to being depressed for so long after returning to Iran and struggling to adjust back to her home’s culture and deal with processing her life in Vienna. This section of the graphic novel again shows how important the cartoon/child-like drawings are to making the story of Marji’s life digestible to a large audience. There are so many points in the story that are sad, dark, or scary, and if it were to be a typical written novel rather than a graphic novel it would have probably attracted a smaller audience of mainly those in academia. In the graphic novel form, Marji was able to share her message about Iran that she wanted to while reaching a wider audience through the accessibility of a graphic novel. 

Even though this section made me sad, it was interesting to note how quickly and without any dramatic flare that Marji wrote this section. It seemed as though it was just another casual anecdote about her life and not a traumatic life event. This section of the graphic novel brings up important points about mental illness and the effects of living in a war torn nation can have upon its citizens. Even for those who leave also suffer negative side-effects as Marji noted of being a third-world citizen and feeling out of place wherever she went. I think this is an important part of the novel to recognize the effects situations like life in Iran can have on all of its citizens.

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The Big Move

In this section of Persepolis, Marjane moves abroad to Austria to finish her education in a safer and less oppressive environment. Prior to this move, she had been getting in trouble at school for acting out which was a huge issue in the Iranian school system that was extremely strict. Additionally, Iran was consistently under attack and it was safer for Marjane to leave the country. In Austria, the school system was much more liberal than in Iran. It is interesting to see how Marjane’s high school experience in Austria was not unlike what we consider to be the ‘typical’ high school experience. She had a roommate, the normal high school friend drama, and the kids acted very similarly to how American kids in high school act as well. Marjane finally had the experience of focusing on normal high school things like finding the perfect friend group, learning how to fit in, etc. It is a refreshing and lighter moment in the book talking about Marjane’s high school experience in Vienna versus the sadder and heavier stories of her experiences living in Iran prior to her move.  

Before the big move, Marjane begins to experience death on a larger scale as Iran starts to be bombed. This is another moment the childlike/cartoonish drawings works in the book’s favor. If the story was only written as a novel, or also if the depictions of the bombings were real photos, this story would be too heavy and much harder to digest. Satrapi does an excellent job at making her harsh reality into a somewhat lighter story that more people are able to handle reading.

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Memories of Beloved

The ending of Beloved addresses the theme of memories that is apparent throughout the rest of the novel. The phrase, “it was not a story to pass on,” is repeated twice and then again with a third slight variation of “this is not a story to pass on,” in the final section of the novel. This phrase is interesting given that the novel itself has done the deed of passing on this story to its readers. Beloved is filled with moments of passing on stories and looking back upon the past. However, the narrator of this section notes that although the characters may do this with all other stories of their pasts, no matter how painful, the story of Beloved is not one that should be repeated and shared to continue her memory. The narrator of this section notes that Sethe, Denver, and all the other people in the community reached a point where Beloved is barely remembered by even those that have interacted with her. They essentially forced out Beloved and her memory out of their minds. Beloved is “disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her.” It is interesting that the painful memories of slavery, assault, etc. were stories that Sethe passed on and recounted, but the story of her first daughter will be forever gone from her mind and the minds of others. 

Additionally, this section talks about Beloved’s lack of name and how, “everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name.” It made it easier to forget her for those who knew less and less about her, so her lack of name made this even easier. This section is interesting for many reasons. It really ties together all the ideas surrounding memory and time throughout the novel, it finally addresses Beloved’s real name not being told, and it gives a feeling of closure for readers at the end of the story. 

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Self-Identity & Slavery

During the beginning of this section of the novel, Baby Suggs struggles with the concept of her own self-identity. After Halle buys her freedom, Baby Suggs and Mr. Garner leave Sweet Home to make Baby Suggs a new life for herself as a freed slave. Through this experience, Baby Suggs has difficulty adjusting to being her own person after years of being someone else’s property. She’s never had anything of her own including her own name. At Sweet Home she was called by the name of Jenny which she indicates was not her real name, and she was unsure as to why everyone called her Jenny there. When Mr. Garner asks what she was called beforehand she responds, “Anything, but Suggs is what my husband named me.” Even the most simple and basic human expectations of what one should have, such as a name, are lacking for Baby Suggs as a result of her life in slavery. 

Baby Suggs also describes how little she knew about her children. She intentionally did not get to know them because she knew they would either be taken from her or they would grow up and leave her. Despite this, Baby Suggs explains how she still knew more about them than she knew about herself. She thought, “sad as it was that she did not know where her children were buried or what they looked like if alive, fact was she knew more about them than she knew about herself.” She can barely recount what her children’s faces looked like, but in comparison to the knowledge she has about herself it is still greater. Many other subtle comments like these demonstrate how slaves like Baby Suggs lacked their self-identity. They did not have the sense of self-ownership that the average American citizen typically has, and they did not get to know themselves as whole, complex individuals with agency. 

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Return of Beloved

With the arrival of Beloved, it is almost immediately assumed that this character represents the return of Sethe’s baby that died years ago in some eerie, supernatural way. Apart from the obvious, that being her name, there are many other signs indicating she is in fact the child from Sethe’s past. It began with a quiet devotion to Sethe that could only be compared to that of a child’s devotion to its mother. Beloved wanted to spend every moment she could with Sethe, and often acted in ways that gave off a fear of potential abandonment by the older woman. She became enamored with hearing Sethe speak and tell stories of her past. Sethe noted that storytelling, “became a way to feed her.” (69) However, what Denver noticed in this is that occasionally Beloved would indicate she wanted to hear a certain story that she should not have been able to know about like in the case of the earrings. This leads to the sense that Beloved comes from Sethe’s past and knows more than she is letting on. 

The language used to describe Beloved’s connection with Sethe is well-suited to describe a mother-daughter like relationship. With words and phrases like “desire” and “pet-like adoration,” the way Beloved feels about Sethe could be described as love. The words Beloved uses to describe where she was before staying with Sethe, Denver, and Paul D depict imagery in line with the idea she was in-fact Sethe’s baby. When Sethe asks about where Beloved was beforehand Beloved responds, “‘Dark,’ said Beloved. ‘I’m small in that place. I’m like this here.’ She raised her head off the bed, lay down on her side and curled up.” (88) Immediately, this description conjures up the image of a small child in the fetal position. Beloved goes on to describe the temperature where she was as “hot,” and saying how there was no room to breathe or move as if she is describing her time in the womb, or also potentially, her grave. These eerie descriptions of Beloved’s past only serve to compel and confuse the reader further on how this character could in-fact be Sethe’s past child returning.

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Make America Great Again

A particular poem by Langston Hughes that stood out to me was “Let America Be America Again.” This poem talks of how the ideals that America and the “American Dream” were built on do not apply for everyone that make up this nation. Lines such as, “but opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe,” are countered with lines like, “(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.’)” America boasts the importance of liberty, equality, freedom, etc.; however, not every person in America has these important rights our nation was built on. For those of color, achieving these aspects of the American dream has been an on-going battle throughout the entirety of the nation’s history. 

I found this poem particularly interesting because of the present day relevance with the similarities it holds with the slogan of the Trump administration: “Make America Great Again.” This slogan closely mimics the title of the poem. Both the poem and this slogan infer a greater America in the past, but for those of color, America has never been great; issues such as the oppression and segregation of African-American citizens were only more severe. Although America is still not a land of equality for minority groups, comparing this present day America to the America 100 years ago, America is technically “greater,” even if not by much. 

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Gender Inequality Issues & Their Impact on Uncle Tom’s Cabin

An interesting anecdote from “‘Oh, what a slanderous book,’: Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Antebellum South” that is closely connected with our discussion involving intersectionality in class on Thursday was made by reviewer John R. Thompson. Thompson critiqued Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel beyond just its usual controversial implications about slavery in the south at the time. Thompson had additional critiques for Stowe herself. Specifically, he did not approve of her writing the novel as a woman. Hagood explains Thompson’s reaction to the novel saying “Stowe had violated the rules of nineteenth-century gender decorum and the American patriarchal order that pervaded both North and South … Thompson found her willingness to engage publicly in the slavery debate an affront, one that might ‘place woman on a footing of political equality with man.’” This critique exemplifies how the issue of women’s rights and the abolitionist movement were so tightly connected beyond the typical assumption. 

As a result of the extreme gender inequality at the time that Stowe released Uncle Tom’s Cabin, some critics discredited her writing due to her gender. Even those that commended Stowe for her work treated her differently than they would a male author. When Abraham Lincoln met her he referred to her as “the little woman,” who helped spark the civil war. Although a positive comment, these words still implied that it was extra surprising that the novel was successful given she was a woman. Although supporting the abolishment of slavery as a woman was important, in some ways it hurt the cause as many critics also discredited women’s opinions and women’s rights.

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