The Handmaid’s Tale Short Analysis
Of particular interest with regards to the narrative style employed in The Handmaid’s Tale, is that of the style in which Offred narrates the story. Although the style employs many elements that a brief two-page response would be likely to overlook, perhaps the most important of these is the unique narrative style that Attwood employs to great effect. This narrative style helps to engage the reader as well as place them in uniquely the same position of confusion, lack of understanding as it relates to historical events, and a foreboding sense of dread and fear. By establishing these themes and motifs through the narrative style, Attwood is able to augment the power and meanings behind the story in a way that few other literary devices might work to evoke.
The frenetic oftentimes jumbled train of thought passages helps to add a sense of urgency and fear to the reader. In this way the narrative style helps to inform the reader that they may be partaking in some type of voyeuristic peek into a prohibited world; one in which they are not allowed. In this way, Attwood helps to convey the feelings that the reader has somehow happened upon a secret journal that is hidden from the authorities on the pain of death.
The narrative style also helps to give the reader a keen insight into the internal thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are ongoing within the mind of Offred. As her world is increasingly boxed in, the more that random thoughts and over-emphasis on trivial details become. In this way, details and the expression of episodes that would otherwise be of so little importance as to not be repeated to anyone else.
Accordingly, the reader immediately notices that Attwood has the story shift rapidly from one topic, scene, and conversation to the next. By doing this, Attwood is able to express the splintered and broken spirit that society has affected on Offred. Additionally, due to the fact that the times and conversations change so rapidly, the reader is forced to try to piece together a sequence of events based upon the information they have absorbed. In this way, Attwood is placing the reader in a similar mindset to that of Offred. By performing such a feat of writing, Attwood allows the reader to experience the same level of confusion and disjunction that Offred experiences and resultantly appreciate the gravity of that situation to a greater degree.
Particularly haunting is Offred’s description of her own believed predecessor she became acquainted with at the Commander’s house. Offred states, “All I knew about her was on the scribbled message and scraps of information about how she hanged herself (Attwood 194). However, as the reader later finds out, this was only a representation of Offred’s own ghostly double. Later, when Offred is faced with this information, she tries to reconcile it with her own desire to be a whole, rational, and sane human being. Offred states, “How could I have believed I was alone in here? There were always two of us (Attwood 253).
Through the use of this particular narrative style, Attwood creates an aura of self-doubt, fear, and suspense as a way of placing the reader in an empathetic role to that of Offred. Furthermore, the particular style employed does not allow the reader to be coaxed into a sense of distance from that of the protagonist. The understanding that the words that are being read could at any moment be snatched away or somehow contain forbidden information is part of what gives the story its unique appeal.
Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid’s tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986.