Oppression and Resistance in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
|Keywords:||瑪格麗特.愛特伍;使女的故事;壓迫;抵抗;Margaret Atwood;Oppression;Resistance||Issue Date:||2007||Abstract:||null
In this thesis, I attempt to show that Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a feminist critical dystopia. In light of Louis Althusser’s theory of ideology and the feminist theories of Luce Irigaray and Adrienne Rich, I argue that Atwood not only highlights ideological control and (re)production of patriarchy, but also attempts to show how female desire and female bonding may enable women to resist patriarchy and envision alternative identities.
Chapter One will discuss how patriarchy controls women and their bodies by means of ideological propaganda and surveillance. First, I will give a general introduction to Louis Althusser’s theory of ideology. The main thrust of Althusser’s theory of ideology is that the State utilizes Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) and Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) to make its people conform to its power. The deployment of RSA makes people submit to the power out of fear, whereas that of ISAs indoctrinates oppressive ideology so that people conform to the laws unwittingly. Applying Althusser’s theory, the whole chapter examines how Gilead maintains its dominance through the double-functioning of RSA and ISAs so as to reproduce the relations of exploitation between the oppressors and the oppressed. The first section reveals how Gilead appropriates the Bible to support misogyny so that the Handmaids will subjugate their bodies. Many ISAs, such as the coded dresses, false matriarchy, and the mass media, are performed to indoctrinate the Handmaids with the ideology of the ruling power so that they will not only bear children, but also reproduce the relations of exploitation unwittingly. In the second section, I will discuss the strict surveillance and RSA Gilead utilizes to maintain women’s conditions of subjugation and objectification. As I observe, in addition to enacting a threatening RSA in public domain, the power of surveillance infiltrates the private domain to watch over people at all times. Finally, we will see how the double-functioning of ISAs and RSA makes the narrator conform herself to the authorities sometimes willingly and sometimes fearfully.
Chapter Two delves into how Offred revives her senses to express her refusal to be an objectified procreative machine and her longing to become a desiring and loving subject. The first section discusses the power of the female gaze to resist objectification. Through evading and returning the gaze, Offred implicitly transgresses her prescribed role as a passive object. Moreover, she makes herself a rebellious subject with an empathetic mind towards other oppressed people. Her empathetic eye becomes another challenge to the ruling ideology: she refuses to be complicit in the persecution of other victims. In the next two sections, the memories of past pleasure and power are keynotes in Offred’s exploration of her senses of touch, taste, and smell. In the second section, I apply Luce Irigaray’s concept of “two-lips” to theorize Offred’s desire for touch and taste. Irigaray proposes that tactile experiences enable women to explore their sexuality without mediation. Therefore, touch not only arouses Offred’s longing for true intimacy and power, but also substantiates her desire for sexual pleasure as she enjoys physical intimacy with Nick. As we proceed to examine Offred’s exploration of taste, we see Gilead’s oppression over female bodies. Most importantly, since the concept of “two-lips” refers to both the mouth and the vulva, it suggests the possibility of replacing the reproductive system with the digestive system (such as the mouth and appetite) to show a woman’s resistance. Therefore, Offred’s low appetite signifies her resistance against becoming a “two-legged womb” and her sexualized taste suggests her attempt to become a desiring subject. The final section deals with the sense of smell. On the one hand, Offred’s depiction of scent shows the strong indoctrination of the ruling ideology to oppress women; on the other, her repulsion to certain scents illustrates her resistance against the ruling power, while the the revival of her past memories via different scents serve to remind Offred of being a loving and loved subject in the past.
In Chapter Three, I contend that Offred is able to resist patriarchal oppression and find alternative female identities by remembering maternal genealogy and reestablishing female bonding. Using Adrienne Rich’s notion of compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence as well as the Greek mythology of Demeter and Persephone, I will explicate how female bonding and the mother-daughter relationship may give courage to oppressed women to resist patriarchy and search for alternative identities. The first section will provide a general introduction of Rich’s criticism of compulsory heterosexuality and her promotion of lesbian existence to form female bonds. Later, I will examine how and why maternal genealogy in Gilead is marginalized and how the women who try to offer alternative identities for women are also exiled under surveillance. The second section looks into Offred’s attempt to build female bonding through whispers of the present and the past. Her recounts of these whispers among women enable her to form genuine female bonds. The last section examines the mother-daughter relationship. Offred, who is deprived of maternal genealogy, addresses her desire for mother(ing) through her narratives. Her quest for her mother and daughter is analogous to Demeter’s quest for Persephone. Through her reflections on her mother, Offred shows conflicts between mother and daughter in a patriarchal society as well as her eventual reconciliation with her mother. Offred’s recollections of her daughter torture her to some extent but also make her realize that keeping herself alive is the only way to get her daughter back. Finally, Offred’s memories of her mother and daughter make her realize that with love and understanding, it is possible to form a positive mother-daughter relationship.
The Conclusion reiterates the ideological control in Gilead and Offred’s resistance.Since the novel ends with a male scholar’s historical notes, this coda seems to suggest that Offred may not escape from patriarchal discourse after all. However, the blending of genres and Offred’s resistance through her body, orality and her memories serve to contest and resist the given system. Moreover, the ambiguity of Offred’s escape at the end of the novel maintains utopian hope in the dystopian world. Because of the open ending, The Handmaid’s Tale has become a critical dystopia, where readers may receive warnings and find resistant power at the same time.
|Appears in Collections:||外國語文學系|
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