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Author: Rachel Nugent

The End of Handmaid’s Tale

After the scene of Offred’s “escape” (for better or for worse), I was feeling a little better about her story. In the sense that I thought to myself, “At least she got out.” Despite having not really cared much for Nick before the end of the book, it was a surprise to me that he called in people to help her at the end (or at least that seems to be the consensus of what happened).

That aside, the part that I have the most strong feelings about is actual the historical notes section. I just couldn’t stand the fact that she went out of her way, maybe even risking her life to do so, to record her story and then these guys find it and instead of treating her story like something worth hearing, they complain about how she didn’t give more details about the men involved in her story. They give a lecture not on the actual “document” (because they hesitate to even call it that) but on the speculation of who the Commander might have been and the impactful things the two men they narrowed it down to did for Gileadean society. What bothers me most about it is that previously in the story Offred talks about how “family portraits” were taken, but they never included the handmaids, which meant that in the future when someone looks back on their history, the handmaids will have been erased from it, forgotten. She tries so hard to make sure that doesn’t happen by telling her own story. She tells us it’s a story she doesn’t want to tell, but she does it anyway, because she knows how important it is. All of that, and these two dudes find her story just to talk over it and erase it anyway. Man, it was so disheatening.


Handmaid’s Tale X-XI

I think Atwood has really brilliantly crafted the tension that exists in the Handmaid’s Tale. In this section, she has given us morsels to show that the people surrounding Offred may not be as against her as they first appeared. Specifically, I think of how Ofglen took a chance to comment and see if Offred was a true believer or not, and how the Commander openly shares information about the handmaid that came before the Offred we know without reprimanding her or denying her the information. However, I still read on, ridden with suspicion and paranoia that none of it is genuine, that at any second either one of these two people that Offred may consider something kind of like friends/allies/at least amicable acquaintances could betray her at any second. The constant fear of something turning horribly south is what makes the story so powerful and what propels me to keep reading.

I also think that the more comfortable Offred feels with the people around her (even if it is just understanding how to work around them better), the more she settles into herself and the ways in which she can push the envelope. It was very refreshing to me to see that when the Commander asked what she wanted, she asked for knowledge, because knowledge really is power in this story. It also reminded me of our conversation about the hierarchy of needs. She’s clothed, fed and sheltered, so her next greatest priority is attaining knowledge of what exactly is going on, so she can keep herself safe and have the power to make the correct decisions to further protect herself.


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.


The Price of Freedom (End of Persepolis)

Trigger warning: mentions of attempted suicide

There were so many pieces to this final section of Persepolis that really jumped out at me. The first thing I found most jarring was how quickly we bounced back from the section about Marjane’s attempted suicide. On 272-273, she shows this remarkably sad tale of her attempt and then the consequences of it, and on 274-275, we see her teaching aerobics. It’s a very abrupt shift, and I know it’s meant to show that this moment very rapidly changed her life, but it was really something that stuck with me through the end of the story. It colored the way she both pushed herself with her small rebellions and how she accepted a bit of conformity. The way she conformed still served to further her ability to make her own decisions. It led her to have a bit more agency.

We really see Marjane grow into the person I think we’ve all been rooting for her to find throughout the whole story. She talks about how she is neither western nor Iranian right before her attempt, but then we see her begin to believe in herself, make decisions that are actually for herself, and take pride in some of her accomplishments. I was very struck by how she went to the graves of her grandfather and Anoosh before she left, but I was rather perplexed by how she chose to end the story. Not the fact that it ends with her moving to France, but the specific words she chose.
She tells us that her grandmother passes away a couple years later and she only managed to see her one time in the time that passes. And then she says “that’s the price of freedom…” I think the ending is left intentionally ambiguous in that sense. Does she mean the price is that she wasn’t with her grandma when she died? Does she mean the entire story? Regardless, the choice to end the story with “…” rather than a simple period really implies to me that the story continues. There’s not perfect moral or lesson to take away from the story. Each person can get what they want from her story.

A Talk With Jennifer Tipton (Event Reflection #1)

On Wednesday October 23, I attended a talk with Jennifer Tipton at the Modlin Center. Jennifer Tipton is an acclaimed lighting designer for dance and theatre whose work has earned her a prestigious MacArthur award as well as two Tony awards. As I am currently working as assistant lighting designer for our theatre department’s main stage production, I was excited to attend and hear about her experiences and wisdom in the field. The talk was moderated and put together by Anne Van Gelder, director of dance at UR, and Maja E. White, faculty in the theatre department, lighting and sound designer, and my mentor. When Maja was young, Jennifer Tipton was one of her mentors, so it was interesting to hear from the mentor of my mentor and to see how the influence has trickled down to me.

She had quite a lot to say about how her experience has shaped but little to say in terms of specific advice. She talked about how being a performer (a dancer) made it easy to approach a piece from a performer’s point of view and that she only fell in love with lighting when she literally stepped back to look at the big picture. That was her first broad piece of advice. The second was to be rough on yourself. She didn’t really elaborate but I got the sense that she meant it’s okay to be your own worst critic because that’s how we improve.

Something interesting that came up was that Anne asked Jennifer if she had some commentary on how she felt being a woman in, what some might call, a male-dominated profession (lighting design or even just technical theatre in general). The interesting thing is that Jennifer didn’t really seem inclined to entertain that train of thought. She is of the older generation and the stereotype I have of that is that they say “that’s just how it was/is” or “I was discriminated against for being a woman” even if they actually were. And sure enough, what she said was that you get hired for your art. And maybe there were plenty of times that she wasn’t hired because she was a woman, but she could do nothing else but assume it was because of her art. I found a strange sort of comfort in those words. Kind of thinking about how I could either be bitter and assume I wasn’t hired because I’m a woman or I can assume they just weren’t looking for what I was offering and that somewhere else, they would be looking for it.

The last thing I’ll throw in is that I really related to a little anecdote she had that I found quite relatable. She talked about how when she moved from lighting dance to lighting theatre, the whole script analysis thing was very difficult for her. She didn’t understand the ins and outs of analyzing a script like a director would. So much so that for her first Broadway show… she didn’t even read the play.

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The Impact of Nothingness (Satrapi p. 135-206)

In this section of Persepolis, there was one thing that stood out to me more than anything else, and that was page 154. Or, I should say the lack of a page 154. It was so jarring to see the blank page after the completion of the section “The Dowry.” At first, I thought maybe she just left this page blank so she could start the next section on the right-side page, but sections have ended and started on the left page before, so why choose this moment to break the pattern of simply starting the next section on the immediate following page? It’s not as though the start of the new section would influence the end of “The Dowry” because you’d have to turn the page anyway. I then, of course, realized that this is likely where the story was split up into part one and part two. That being said, I think the effect it has is still valid.

Satrapi’s whole life changes at the bottom of page 153. She shows us this stylized image of her father carrying her mother away and lets the reader know she regrets looking back and seeing them this way. In this image, it’s less the image of her mother’s face that draws my eye and more the shadowed image of her father. Everyone else on the page is drawn “normally” whereas his face is drawn with black ink and white lining. It gives a horrifically somber look to the image. And the blank page on the opposite side has the same effect that it would had we finished the first Persepolis and were going to set it down. It has a note of finality, like we’re meant to linger here in this place. And I think that speaks to Marji’s feelings in this section about her time away from her parents. She’s still lingering in this place of comparing each guardian she has to her parents and wishing she were with them. She constantly thinks about things in terms of whether or not her parents would approve. And I think that’s a very natural thing for us in our culture as well. Even after reading another fifty pages after that, I still found myself thinking about that image followed by that blank page, so the effect it has really does carry forward, even though it might really be nothing more than just the practical fact that this is where the two parts were split up.


Satrapi’s Story Through A Child’s Eyes

The first thing that struck me about this first segment of Persepolis is the fact that Satrapi is that the way the story is being told is through the lens of childhood, because that’s when it was occurring. Of course, some of the ideas presented and discussed are not child-like at all, but the truth is that she was exposed to them at that age. The way the story is told through pictures and through the voice of Satrapi gives it a lighter feel than you would expect from a discussion about revolution, imprisonment, torture and death. I found myself laughing at moments that weren’t necessarily funny, simply because the words were coming from a child. But when I stopped to think about it I realized that fact actually made it even less funny. A child making up games about torture might be funny in a fictitious comic strip, but not in a story that’s true. I just think it’s interesting that the story is kind of being filtered twice. Once, through this child-like perspective, but then again because it’s Satrapi writing about her childhood experiences as an adult. I think this contributes to the ease of the consumption of the book as well. I think less people would read her story if it weren’t for the fact that it’s presented in the form of a graphic novel and presented in a way that lightens it, even if just a bit.


Response #2 for Sept. 11

“Not every man is a tyrant, but the law gives every man the right of tyranny.” This was the most powerful sentence in the video. It’s so relevant even now, because of things in the world like the “not all men” response to the “me too” movement. Tons of men went around telling stories of how while some men are awful and don’t respect women, they do respect women so therefore not all men are deplorable. But similar to how the “all lives matter” phrase undercuts the power of the BLM movement, saying “not all men” is stripping women of their voice. The idea behind it is that no, of course it’s not all men, but it is enough men. It’s enough men that women are afraid. And that’s what I think links this quote about the law giving men the right to tyranny. Too many times, we have seen in this country a profound lack of punishment for a man who sexually assaults a woman. When the concern is greater for the fact that “this criminal accusation could ruin this young man’s life” than it is for the actual physical, emotional and psychological impressed upon a woman without her consent which will also, in fact, ruin her life. This lack of response to this specific type of violence against women is exactly what they mean when they say “the law gives every man the right of tyranny.” No, not every man is going to capitalize on the fact that he won’t be punished for assaulting a woman. But even the fact that he can is a very scary thought. And it’s powerful quotes like these which force us to acknowledge how vast the difference of right for men and women in America actually is.

The other thing that jumped out at me in the video was the fact that the 15th amendment split the supporters of women’s suffrage. This made me think of Crenshaw’s idea of intersectionality. People were talking about the rights of white women and the rights of black men. Black women were completely ignored in the conversation. And of course, we discussed in class how suffragists and abolitionists originally banded together because they were political activists fighting for social reform and they thought if everyone is equal than everyone really should be equal. But with the presentation of the 15th Amendment, it became the case where some people were being given rights and they thought, “Hey, that’s better than nothing,” but of course for those that were not receiving rights the obvious response was, “No, this isn’t what we wanted, what we were fighting for.” So the two ended up being divided when, like Crenshaw says, it’s more beneficial for them to be intertwined.


Response #1 for Sept. 5

Olaudah Equiano’s retelling of his life’s events is an interest account, not just because of the nature of its contents, but because of the way in which it is written. As I was reading, I was surprised by how unemotional his writing felt. Of course, there were moments when he described to us his feelings of fear and sorrow and other negative emotions, but overall, for an autobiography, it felt very polished and almost manufactured. As a reader of this piece in 2019, I found myself feeling disconcerted at how calmly Equiano comes across, and how easily he gives praise away to the people who enslaved him. In today’s society, I think it’s very commonplace for people to worry over themselves and their situation and then possibly tack on “well, it could be worse,” but in the case of Equiano, who saw horrible things very frequently, he definitely focuses on that “it could be worse” mentality. He accepts his position in life because he knows first hand that his life could be far worse off. Towards the end of his writing, he does talk about his excitement at finally being free, and to me it almost feels like it’s a freedom from that “it could be worse” mentality. After receiving his freedom, he can safely say, “it was worse.”

The part of Murray’s work which really spoke to me was, “Are we deficient in reason? We can only reason from what know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence.” This speaks to me, because I think it’s so relevant today. Not specifically about a disparity between men and women, but because of the way we talk about “equality” in America. People like to think that everyone in America is equal because they can, theoretically, do whatever they want, just like everyone else and that, therefore, makes them equal. However, in our country there is a lack of equal opportunity, which does not allow people to behave in equal ways with others. People say that if poor people want to have money and food and shelter, they should get a job and work harder. But those same people may have been born into a neighborhood which has a poor education system. So they were unable to go to college and receive the education necessary for a better paying job. I just think that Murray really touches on something very key. People do not control their circumstances. Her point is that it’s not women’s fault that they were born women and therefore weren’t educated in the same way their male peers were. Their lack of knowledge or understanding does not come inherently, it’s a lack of access to the resources used to acquire those skills. I believe we have similar issues today.