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Author: Nicolette Romley

Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

In this section, we see a new phase of Offred and The Commander’s relationship. The Commander takes Offred to a secret club for upper-level generals. Offred has to wear a ridiculous, overtly sexual outfit and apply makeup in order to look the part of a woman that would be at the club. This scene feels as though The Commander is dressing up Offred as his toy and taking her out to show her off. Offred notes that she feels The Commander showing her off at the club and also sees him showing himself off in front of the other generals. He wants to look important for Offred, maybe he actually cares about her opinion of him. The Commander seems to regain the power by taking Offred out and displaying her in front of his colleagues. Offred is an object being used for The Commander’s pleasure, any benefit Offred is getting out of the situation seems minimal.

The only positive for Offred is that she is finally reunited with Moira. We get a retelling of Moira’s elaborate failed escape that she details to Offred. Moira, the former activist, is now content in her place as a Jezebel and Offred is rather disappointed to see her seemingly give up on her future. Moira sees how her place in society is better than that of many other women and is a bit out of touch with how the greater community of women are still being treated in Gilead. Moira gets to drink, do drugs, and have sex with whoever she wants, but any other woman in Gilead would be killed for committing those acts. The reunion of Moira and Offred seems hopeful, maybe they can work together and find a way out of Gilead, but we end the scene being told by Offred that she never saw Moira again.

Offred’s trip to Jezebel’s ends with her being in a situation that she knows all too well. She knows that she is supposed to have sex with The Commander, but she does not want to. Offred is constantly being put into situations by The Commander where she has no escape. She does what he asks because she has no power to say no, but he interprets it as her doing what he asks because she wants to. Offred seems practically numb to the idea of having sex with a man that she does not desire to be intimate with. She simply disconnects her mind from her body and does what she needs has to do. The arrangement between The Commander and Offred playing games and reading magazines seemed rather harmless and mutually beneficial until it is realized that all The Commander really did want was sex, and he was going to get it.

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A Game of Manipulation

The interaction between Offred and The Commander was, to me, the most important part of this section. The Commander most likely believes that he has the power in this situation. He can enforce negative consequences on Offred if she does not obey so she, theoretically, has to meet him in his office even though she is hesitant to. The meeting seems to be just for The Commander’s pleasure. He likes Offred’s company and gets much joy out of spending time with her, even if they are just playing a board game.

Offred, however, ends up seeing this meeting as a chance for her to get what she wants. She makes The Commander feel comfortable and as if she is going to his office because she wants to. When The Commander asks Offred for a kiss when she leaves, it seems that there is a switch in who holds the sexual power. During the ceremony, The Commander has the power, but during this kiss, Offred realizes that she has the power because she has something that The Commander wants. Offred reflects on how Moira escaped and wishes she could do the same. She realizes that she must give in a little to The Commander’s wants in order to get what she wants in return. She makes a conscious decision to leave her past self behind and live both mentally and physically in Gilead. Offred has to please those in her household in order to have the opportunity to escape and find her family. If Offred acts in the rebellious way that she probably wants to, she will never have the chance to leave.

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale takes us into a world quite unlike our own. The book starts in quite a confusing way. Offred is in a gymnasium with other women while they sleep in cots and are monitored by Aunts and Angels. They are constantly being watched and the Aunts and Angels are not afraid to take action against a rebellious woman. We then jump to the present, where Offred is stationed in her first home as a Handmaid.

The role of the Handmaid is to bear children, period. Women can also either be Marthas or Wives, each group with their own distinct role and color that they wear so they can be easily identified. The groups of women are not supposed to interact socially, but Offred wishes she could share in gossip with the Marthas. We hear quick stories about violence that give us another indication that something is not right in this society.

There are many rules in this society, especially for Handmaids who are the lowest on the totem pole. Offred notes that many items are restricted for Handmaids and that speaking out of turn is a huge offense for a Handmaid. Offred is slowly establishing the world of Gilead, leaving the reader very confused as to what kind of society this might be. It is clear that the society has not always been this way but it somehow came to be. It is interesting how members in the society are not only ranked, but women are ranked against each other. While women as a whole hold a lower place in society, there is an order amongst women from Wives to Aunts to Marthas to Handmaids. Because the story is narrated from Offred’s perspective, we see Gilead in a different light than we would if it was being told by a Wife. As Offred holds one of the lowest positions in society, she if often observing those above her, while someone in a higher position would most likely just ignore those below them. Offred has a different insight into this society and there is much to be discovered about Gilead and about life before Gilead.

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The Grass Isn’t Always Greener on The Other Side

I had high hopes for Marji’s new life in Europe. It seemed as though, because of her rebellious nature, she would fit into European culture much better than she fit into Iranian culture. I think Marji felt as though she would have new found freedom in Austria. Freedom to dress how she wanted, freedom to think how she wanted, freedom to act how she wanted. But perhaps the freedom was too much and too drastic for Marji. She had no stability during her time in Austria, constantly moving from friend to friend and house to house. She never quite found her footing and she eventually hit rock bottom by living on the streets. I could never have imagined that Marji would end up in the circumstances that she did. We forget that she is still a young adult, practically a child, and here she is facing the world on her own.

While it is impossible to know what would have happened to her if she stayed in Iran and not gone to Austria, one could at least imagine that her experiences during her teenage years would have been drastically different. Although Marji faced many difficult experiences that overshadowed any joy she might have felt in Austria, she was able to learn more about herself through the hardship that she faced. Marji still does not have a strong sense of self, but she at least knows who she is not. We are left with a sense of hopefulness after Marji reconnects with an old friend. Upon seeing her friend who is now confined to a wheelchair, Marji realizes that her life could be much much worse and she has no reason to feel sorry for herself anymore.

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The Impacts of War

The changes that happened in Marjane’s life were quite drastic and sudden. One moment, the shah was exiled and things seemed to be getting better, and the next, Iran is at war with Iraq. Perhaps most surprising, is Marjane’s interest in the war. She is not afraid at first, she wants Iran to win and almost enjoys seeing the battle against Iraq. As a child, she is obviously not able to fully understand the war, but what she does understand is intriguing to her and promotes nationalistic views that she had. It is interesting to see how Marjane and her family try to cope with their circumstances. Her parents throw parties for their friends and family, something that is forbidden but they know that the people need some happiness in their lives. No one has been in a situation like this before, so they are all just trying to figure it out as they go along. Rather than be consumed by fear, the Satrapi’s are trying to look for the good still left in their lives and embrace it.

We are brought back to the reality of what life is like in a war-torn country when Uncle Taher is unable to get proper medical attention because the borders of Iran are closed. One does not usually have to think about how they will get medical attention that they need, and having such advanced hospitals in America and also the ability to travel abroad to receive medical attention is something that we take for granted. It seems as though proper medical care should be a reasonable excuse to leave the country, but, unfortunately for Uncle Taher, his life or death situation was not enough of a reason to leave the country. While we see Marjane’s juvenile reactions to the world around her, it is important when stories like Uncle Taher’s are shared in order to put the reader back into the reality of Iran at the time and how the war affected people in many different ways. Marjane wants to leave Iran in order to get contraband Western goods, but Uncle Taher needs to leave Iran in order to receive critical surgery.

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Who Are The Real Animals?

In this section, we hear a lot from Stamp Paid, who has seemingly replaced the only other male character, Paul D. Stamp Paid brings about this concept of “The Jungle.” Stamp Paid uses the metaphor of The Jungle to help understand how slavery is so terrible for everyone involved. Blacks are described as jungle-like, while the actions of whites help emphasize and promote the jungle-like behavior. The whites create jungle-like instincts within people and in turn, they behave like brutal animals in order to control those instincts. And yet, white people are never described as animals, only black people, even though the acts of white people are the most animalistic of them all. Stamp Paid highlights how slavery affects everyone, and while black people are obviously the ones who have horrible acts done against them, individual white people are reluctant participants and are often just doing what they think their role is in life.

“The Jungle” made me reflect on the discussion we had last class about black people often being described as “animalistic” when it is often the actions of others that bring them to that point. When discussing who should be blamed for Sethe’s horrible act against her children, it was hard to pinpoint a single person. One could blame the Schoolteacher and his nephews, but they are also a product of their environment. Sethe made the physical act, so blame can be placed there, but she would never have had to make that choice had the world been a different place. White people grew up believing that they had this power over those that were enslaved, and so the individuals cannot always be fully blamed for their actions. The Schoolteacher was, of course, unnecessarily cruel, but his actions were only permissible because the institution of slavery existed. Everyone is part of The Jungle and everyone suffers in some way because of slavery. No one of that time could be untouched by the effects of slavery. Yes, white people as a group are to blame for the institution of slavery in America, but blaming individuals is nearly impossible because who’s to say how those individuals would have acted had the circumstances of the country been different.

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Paul D and Beloved: A Battle Between the Future and the Past

Paul D’s ongoing struggle with the past comes to a head in this section. Paul D has locked his past in a tin box, refusing to recognize it or deal with any of it. He has learned how to guard himself so that the pains of his past cannot happen to him again. Paul D has such a tumultuous relationship with Beloved because she is the living embodiment of the past. He feels uncomfortable around Beloved and is not sure how to act around her, just like how he feels uncomfortable about his past and chooses to keep it locked up instead of confronting it. Paul D and Beloved’s sexual encounter is a message that it is impossible for Paul D to escape the past and that it is more powerful than he ever imagined. Beloved is able to control Paul D and make him do things that he normally would not do. The past is controlling the future and Beloved is beginning to have too much of an impact in the present.

Paul D and Beloved are at a constant battle over Sethe, deciding whether or not she should move into the next phase of her life or if she should settle in the past forever. It seems as though Paul D has won this battle and won the attention of Sethe. He sees a future with Sethe and won’t let Beloved get in the way. Sethe is still unsure of who Beloved is, however, and the discovery of her true identity might break Sethe and pull her right back into the past. The way that Beloved died is the one element of the past that Sethe has yet to confront and reflect on.

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Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.

In the beginning of Beloved by Toni Morrison, the idea of running from the past is discussed. It is saddening to read that both Baby Suggs and Sethe had to physically and mentally run from the horrors of their pasts. Sethe tries so hard to forget the pain of her past but that is slowly erasing the memory of her sons as well. It is hard to imagine how one’s past can be so terrible that they’re willing to sacrifice happy memories in order to forget the bad ones. While Sethe is trying to hard to repress these memories, she ends up more or less living in the past because she is unable to move forward into the present. The need to forget holds her back from creating new memories, and one of her memories, that of her dead daughter, ends up manifesting itself as a ghost in the house that Sethe is physically unable to get away from.

Sethe has a belief that one can relive the past and is, in a sense, correct about that idea. We live in constant fear of repeating the past and repeating horrible wrongdoings, but do not take enough action to make sure we do not repeat the past. I am reminded of the struggle women must have endured to get abortion legalized and cannot imagine how those who fought for the original legalization would feel now seeing women’s reproductive rights regress instead of progress. History is repeating itself and we are having to fight for things again that we already fought for. Sethe is right to fear the idea of reliving the past because it means that you have not been able to move on from the past and create a better future.

 

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Women’s Suffrage: More Than A Fight For The Vote

The video about the women’s suffrage movement highlighted areas of the movement that are usually not publicized. Firstly, it was interesting to learn that suffragettes started as abolitionists. These women were able to recognize that slavery was the biggest human rights problem that needed their support, and fighting for women’s rights had to take a backseat to fighting for those who had no voice of their own. Through the fight for abolition, women were able to realize the similarities between women and slaves. Women had no right to their own body once they were married. They were their husband’s property, much like slaves were their owners’ property. While there were obvious differences in the lives of slaves and white women, it was interesting to learn how the similarities encouraged women to fight for slaves before fighting for themselves.

There are also negative aspects of the suffrage movement that were discussed in the video. Facing a need for more support, suffragettes turned to white conservative women for support. The suffragettes were angered when black men were given the right to vote before women, and white conservative women were the angriest of them all. They believed that the reason white women should have the right to vote was to make up for the uneducated black men who had been given the right to vote. This opinion set women back in their fight for the vote because it showed that many of them were not fighting to improve the greater good, but had turned to only fight for themselves. The former abolitionists neglected their duties to the slaves that they had fought to free and the argument for their rights became racist and bitter, thus taking away from the true reasons why women should have the right to vote.

This video made me reflect on the groups of people that are still fighting for human rights in the U.S. right now. While groups such as the LGBT+, racial minorities, and women are all still battling an upward fight for equity with white men, the opinions of other often get in the way of what is actually being fought for. When people have racist, homophobic, and sexist views, they fail to see the fundamental human rights violations that are taking place in the country, much like what happened with conservative suffragettes and their views on black men. People need to focus on the bigger picture, which is that many groups in this country still are not treated equally, and it should not matter what people actually make up these groups.

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Similarities in Pre and Post Slavery Societies

Olaudah Equiano’s life was filled with a great deal of tragedy and oppression. Equiano looks fondly upon his homeland and displays a deep connection to his nation and his people. Having ripped from his family at the age of 11 to be sold as a slave, Equiano has many stories about the horrors he faced under his owners and how his race determined his path in life. It is quite remarkable how Equiano is able to describe, in detail, the most traumatic events of his life. Equiano’s life in slavery differed from his time in various African nations to when he finally was taken overseas. Equiano had immediate fear for the white men who he had never encountered before. They were more cruel and terrifying than the previous people he had met on his journey as a slave. While Equiano’s life in slavery was filled with unimaginable maltreatment, he also did not see much hope for the life of a free black man.

Equiano’s story culminated in him buying his own freedom. Through all of the pain and suffering he entailed, he never gave up because he knew there was a better life out there that he deserved to live. Equiano was sold to many different people in many different places, but he never forgot his roots and his self worth and knew that one day, the life of a slave would not be his anymore. He was able to appreciate those who were kind to him, even though there were so many who had not been kind. Equiano knew not to take this kindness for granted, as he was not sure if someone would ever be kind to him again. Equiano did not let the opinions of others change how he felt about himself and he always had a clear self identity that allowed him to stay strong throughout his many trades.

While reading Equiano’s story, one has to also remember the slaves whose lives did not end in freedom. Many lives have been forgotten, as their stories were deemed not important enough to tell. Equiano makes sure to recognize that he was one of the lucky ones and that there were not many lucky ones. I would imagine that Equiano would be suprised by the lack of progress made today regarding the treatment of minorities. While slavery is illegal, the same mentality behind the creation of slavery still exists today and is still suppressing black voices, in particular black women. Intersectionality reveals the reality of black women who are constantly overlooked as they fall into two minority categories. As a society, it is our duty to be aware of and change these views because one group of people should not have to fight the constant oppression from others on their own.

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