Extended text essay Analyse how your imagination was stimulated by the writer’s use of language in a text you

have studied Offred, the main character of Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, believes that “what I feel is that I must not feel”, however the reader is encouraged to ‘feel’ through Atwood’s use of language. My imagination was stimulated by the idea of the power of language, in creating emotions, providing freedom and as a method of control, which was expressed by way of first person narration, metaphor and biblical allusion. Atwood’s use of first person narration stimulated my imagination by portraying the power of language in provoking emotion. The novel is written from the perspective of Offred, a Handmaid in the society of Gilead, who is sharing her life story with the reader: “because I’m telling you this story, I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are.” The use of personal pronouns enforces the fact that the reader’s involvement with the story depends entirely on Offred, giving her a rare sense of power. The style of narration is gives a singular, subjective account of the Gileadean regime, however the trust that Offred puts in the reader by telling her story – a dangerous act of rebellion – means that they are forced to trust her in return. There is no other reason to believe her story, but the fact that we do stimulated my imagination by showing how easily people can be manipulated by language, because of the emotions it creates. It is hard for the reader not to feel an emotional attachment to Offred when she writes that “I don’t want to be a doll hung up on the wall”, a metaphor which highlights her lack of power as a Handmaid by comparing her to an inanimate toy. The name Offred further reinforces the metaphor by suggesting she is ‘owned’ by Fred, but the word ‘I’ contrasts to this as it confirms her own, separate existence. Despite her situation, language is a means of finding freedom for Offred which stimulates the reader to consider its possible power in their own lives. To develop the idea of language as a powerful means of providing freedom and continue to stimulate the reader’s imagination, Atwood’s makes use of metaphor. In Gilead, Offred has the “voice of a monotone, voice of a doll”, a metaphor which expresses the fact that as a Handmaid, her opinions and feelings are of little importance in comparison to her fertility, determining her role in society. Like a doll, Offred has no means of communication with others in her position because it is forbidden, and without the chance to use language, she is powerless to change her situation and remains under the control of her Commander. The Handmaids are though of simply as “two-legged wombs”, and this personification dehumanises them, taking away their ability to communicate, and therefore their freedom. As is shown by Atwood through the character of Offred, language is power – those who have control over it have ultimate control, while those without access to it, like the Handmaids, have no choice but to submit – they cannot say the word ‘rebel’. The danger of this situation is that the meanings of words change over time so “it may not seem ordinary to you now, but it will become ordinary.” With continued deprivation of access to language, eventually it will no longer have meaning for these people, and they will become literal “two-legged wombs”. Atwood’s description of this situation made me realise how important is to retain language and stimulated me to consider how modern society relies on language in giving individuals true freedom: freedom of speech.

The use of biblical allusion also stimulated my imagination by developing the idea of withholding language as a method of control. The fundamental purpose of the regime is to increase the rapidly dwindling population through the exploitation of young fertile women as Handmaids. This is justified by a passage from the bible where Rachel is infertile, so her maid has a child for her: “Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.” This story is publicised throughout Gilead because it suggests the Handmaids have a religious role, giving them protection but also no way of arguing against it. This society’s downfall is that people are not aware of many contradictions which exist in texts such as the bible – they are not precise historical records – and therefore the dangers of reading them too literally. Rachel says, “Give me children or else I die”, and this is the reality for Offred – Handmaids have three chances to produce a healthy baby and if unsuccessful are sent to the Colonies to die of radiation sickness. The bible can be interpreted in many different ways, which makes its meaning easily manipulated to suit the purposes of the regime. As a safeguard, it is kept “locked up, the way people once kept tea locked up”, and this comparison highlights how the bible is a ‘staple’, a necessity for the rulers of society. At the same time, it is a dangerous weapon because of the powerful language it contains, so should not fall into the wrong hands – ironic when Gilead has already manipulated it. People have no access to the original document so are forced to accept the passages they are read as the truth. It is clear from this society that the subjective nature of language makes it a powerful form of control, and my imagination was stimulated by the thought of life in a society oppressed by lack of language. “Faith is only a word” but language as a whole is powerful, as Margaret Atwood concludes in her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Through the use of first person narration, metaphor and biblical allusion, she stimulated my imagination by showing how language can provoke emotion and give or take away freedom. It is a powerful tool of vital importance to society, but we are warned to recognise the subjectivity of language to prevent it from being used to manipulate us.

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