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Hans Christian Andersen
In the course Y2k and The End of The World, we've studied apocalyptic themes, eschatology, and for some, teleology. Apocalypse, which is to unveil or reveal, eschatology, which is a concept of the end, and teleology, the end or purpose to which we are drawn, are all themes used in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The book is apocalyptic in that it revolves around dystopian ideals. Atwood creates a world in which worst-case scenarios take control and optimistic viewpoints and positive attitudes disappear. It has been said about this book that Atwood's writing echoes numerous motifs and literary devices, such as in Huxley's creation of a drug-calmed society, her characters awaiting execution seem tranquilized by pills or shots.
Atwood's Book has also been compared to other novels like it, such as Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, and the most obvious, Orwell's 1984. These books have many things in common, including the perversion of science and technology as a major determinant of society's function and control. Like most dystopian novels, The Handmaid's Tale includes the oppression of society, mainly women in this example, the prevention of advancement of thought and intelligence, and an overwhelming sense of government involvement and interference.
The Apocalyptic themes and situations found in Atwood's fictional city of Gilead focus around the mistreatment of all females. Women in this city, set 200 years in the future, have no rights, and get little respect. The rule by way of theocracy in Gilead also adds to the sense of regression and hopelessness in the future. The way babies are brought into the world, only through pregnant handmaids, the idea of a black market for things considered luxuries and privileges all add to the fact that society in this novel is in a desperate state of disrepair.
Other Apocalyptic themes found in the book can be compared to sections of the bible, particularly the Old Testament. The Handmaid's Tale has many elements of social decline written into its plot. From the way women are mistreated to the way corruption and evil have infiltrated the government and army, to the way the black market plays a key role in many people's lives causing a majority of society to become criminals makes it clear how social decline plays a key role in the book. There is also a strong sense of moral decline in the book. If a person, regardless of sex, doesn't fit into the tight pattern of role expectation, he or she is eliminated, exiled from Gilead, and left for dead. Also, God plays virtually no part in this soulless, sterile theocracy. The Commander locks away the family bible and the only other worship takes place through a computerized prayer service which people order through the phone. The society of Gilead also attempts to weed out all non-whites, even though it is ultimately unsuccessful, while at the same time, it successfully prevents women from gaining any individual identity.
As you can see, many apocalyptic themes are present in the novel. Planned pregnancy of surrogate mothers, an oppressive government, and an absence of God all contribute to the themes inherent in the story. Although some have called the novel a warning about the future, others claim it is a forecast, the fact still remains that characters in the book have less respect for the officials in society, less respect for the religions that now run the government, and less respect for themselves making the future into a terrible, terrible place.
The Handmaid's Tale is set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead. Sometime in the future, conservative Christians take control of the United States and establish a dictatorship. Most women in Gilead are infertile after repeated exposure to pesticides, nuclear waste, or leakage from chemical weapons. The few fertile women are taken to camps and trained to be handmaidens, birth mothers for the upper class. Infertile lower-class women are sent either to clean up toxic waste or to become "Marthas", which are house servants. No women in the Republic are permitted to be openly sexual; sex is for reproduction only. The government declares this a feminist improvement on the sexual politics of today when women are seen as sex objects.
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Waris Dirie was born into a family of nomads in a Somalian desert. Growing up, she was privileged to run free with natures most majestic animals, and learned a respect for nature that many of us as Americans could never fathom. However, these thrills are just on the surface of what life is really like for African women. She suffered through intense traditional mutilation in her childhood, and endless hours of hard labor in the fields everyday. At the age of 13, she ran away to escape the marriage that her father had arranged for her to a sixty-year-old man in exchange for five camels. She left with nothing but the swaddling clothes on her back not even shoes to protect her feet from the scorching African sun. Her journey on foot went on for weeks, until she found her sister, who had also ran away five years earlier for the same reasons. After getting reacquainted with an aunt and her ambassador husband, Waris moved to England with them. When her uncles term was up, she stayed in England where a photographer, who eventually put her on the cover many major magazines, discovered her. In describing her remarkable journey through life, Waris demonstrates examples of a masculine culture with elements high uncertainty-avoidance, and her own individualism amongst such a collectivistic society.
Wariss description of life in Africa is a perfect definition for a masculine culture. She explains, Women are the backbone of Africa; they do most of the work. Yet women are powerless to make decisions. She recalls a story of how her loving mother permitted her to be butchered, because of a traditional African ritual to please African men. When she was five years old, her mother made her an appointment to meet with the gypsy women. Waris didnt know exactly what this meant, but it was supposedly an exciting moment in the lives of young African girls, and when they returned, they were considered women. Waris recalls in graphic detail being bound and blind-folded by her mother while the gypsy women sliced between her legs repeatedly, then sewed her up, leaving a whole the size of a match-head. She was then drug off to a shelter under a bush where she spent weeks alone to recuperate. Sadly, this is not an isolated case, millions of nomadic cultures still perform the ritual, and many young girls do not survive the surgery. All this is done to ensure that African women will not be promiscuous, for after the surgery, sex is extremely painful for them. African men want a wife who has had the surgery because the tiny whole brings more pleasure to them, and so the women suffer through this to please the men. African mothers do what they can to ensure a wedding for their daughters, because there is no place in society for an unmarried woman.
The Somalian culture in which Waris was raised showed many aspects of a high-uncertainty avoidance culture. The world today contains incredible technology, yet her people still live in the same manner as their ancestors thousands of years ago. Their society has stayed virtually unchanged, and not because of chance, but choice. This avoidance is demonstrated by Wariss translator at one point in her life. After finally coming clean with her doctor about the reason she had such intolerable periods in which she could not function for seven days, he insisted that she get the circumcision from her childhood reversed as soon as possible. To discuss the details of the operation, the doctor hired a translator, for her English was not yet fluent. To her dismay, the translator was a Somalian male who scorned her about going against their custom. He was offended that Waris would deviate from the tradition, regardless of the pain that she experienced because of it. He didnt question that the procedure was inappropriate, just accepted it as culture. This is why the rules and rituals in that society have remained the same for so many years; they are not questioned, just followed. The people have faith that these practices are right under God, and therefor they continue.
Regardless of her strictly collectivistic upbringing, Waris throughout ... more
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