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Modern Language Studies

The World as It will Be? Female Satire and the Technology of Power in "The Handmaid's Tale" Author(s): Stephanie Barb Hammer Source: Modern Language Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring, 1990), pp. 39-49 Published by: Modern Language Studies Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3194826 . Accessed: 09/02/2014 07:09
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be?Female Satire andtheTechnology as itwill TheWorld

Tale of Powerin TheHandmaid's
BarbeHammer Stephanie novelof 1986is an important futurist book formany Atwood's Inparticular, a significant reasons. TheHandmaid's Taleplays roleinthe in so faras itrepresents one of thefew evolution of women's writing successful and critically (if not universally commercially recognized a writer a contributions woman to domiacclaimed) by literary genre its nated satire.' however, Curiously despite necessarily bymen-namely, The as a femaleinvasion of male literary subversive status territory, formal andthematic of Talepossesses features Handmaid's many typical it is In traditional as defined satire, bycontemporary literary theory. fact, tothe ofsatire of critics putforth according understandings byaccepted inmany thegenre, novel a satiric Atwood's text-book case. presents ways in The author a variety ofthemes and motifs found employs commonly classical and modern satire: rhetorical devicessuchas formal complex which inturn as a novelwhich (a satire disguise masquerades masquerades as an autobiography) and irony,2 a static or nonprogressive plot where little seems tohappen,3 thecharacter ofa commonvery actually who speaks in a seemingly sense,averagenarrator straightforward and the a dystopic scene of manner, Furthermore, nightmare city.4 Handmaidboastswhatis perhaps themostcrucial element of satiric which the clear existence ofa topical here writing, namely, political target, is very Christian fundamentalism.5 evangelical obviously The presense of thesefeatures indicates thatHandmaidis an candidate foradmittance excellent to thecanonofsatiric literature-a state ofaffairs the novel's doesnot which, matter, reassure, given subject butrather unsettles and disturbs thefemale critic. After all,Atwood's narrative focuses onmen's domination ofwomen of specifically bymeans andmore other women's andmental women, generally physical portrays within a particularly sinister In this maleregime. manner, imprisonment thefactthat Handmaidfits so wellwithin a maleliterary canonraises as to the truevalue of thisnovelist's potentially disturbing questions Inwriting achievement. satire hasAtwood indeed invaded a maleliterary inorder bastion to produce a new female or is her itself writing writing as towhat satire be anddo? should penetrated bymasculine assumptions Is TheHandmaid's Talea subversion ofmalewriting oristhis subversion itself of an established male art alreadysubverted by theregulations form? is thequestion ofaesthetic Perhaps judgment; equallyimportant to whatstandards thequality should offemale satire be meaaccording sured-should we base ourassessment on traditional maleconceptions ofwhatsatiric literature be oruponan as yetundefined should aesthetic
of femalesatiric writing? raisestheseveryissuesin herreview MaryMcCarthyunwittingly ofthenovelfortheNew YorkTimes.6 shecomparesHandmaid Tellingly, 39

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to established male worksof futurist satiric literature-1984, unfavorably to thissubgenre lackstheironic Atwood'scontribution biteand linguistic works.'Andyet, oftheother three shouldnotfemalesatire imagination by definition makeus redefine ourtraditional as to whatconstimalenotions tutes"good" satire?Barbara Ehrenreich's reviewfortheNew Republic thus faron thenovel)8is moresensitive to (themostvaluableessaywritten this admits While she to her own with what is problem. readily impatience forhera "fantasy of regression" on thepartof a heroinewho is a "sappy stand-in forWinston she also recognizesthatthebook concerns Smith," withcomplexfeminist itself In thisway, Ehrenreich issues.9 successfully that the of certain novel's aesthetic is implies verybetrayal expectations somehowlinkedto itssatiric purpose. How then,we mightask, does the challengeof writing female connect withHandmaid'satmosphere ofmale domination and with satire theauthor's satiric statement? ultimate of femalesatireappear Such queriesas to thevalue and function read Atwood's novel, forwe unnecessarily complicatedwhen we first is straightdiscoverthat,on one level at least,Handmaid's satiric thrust of Gilead's born forwardand unambiguous.Atwood's condemnation isneverindoubt,because Handmaidrelentlessly againtheocracy exposes thetotalhypocrisy of a regimewhichpreachesbiblicalvirtue but where thebrutalexecutions of dissidents vice reignseverywhere-from to the institutionalized sexual promiscuity enjoyed by the commanders.The of thenew way are consistently monstrous. The sadistic representatives aunts are frustrated older women who brutalizetheiryounger, fertile comout of and fear. The mild-mannered jealousy seemingly charges mander Fred cheats on his wife with alacrityand calmlyjustifies the withthe observation oppressiveregimewhichhe partlymasterminded intheold society that menfelt wereno longer needed by women;he they forced American men to take that women's liberation thereby suggests the women's thisdrasticaction; ergo the presentregime is ultimately is certainly that of Fred's "fault."And Atwood's most ironicportrait and cruel wife Serena Joy. Neitherserene nor joyous, this resentful who is enragedand wifeis a former "totalWoman"activist high-ranking which existence her successful the embittered advocacy now imposes by upon her. Within thisdemonicscheme even the victimized handmaidsare thanthatof their forcedintoan existencewhichis no less hypocritical among themare oppressors;in orderto survivetheyand the narrator of values whichdeniconstantly obligedto pretendto espouse a system to annihilatethem. In this manner,an allegedly gratesand threatens transforms Christian every citizeninto a profoundly societyironically inorder inso faras each personmustbecome a liarand a hypocrite sinner to exist withinthe system.This is, of course, the supreme ironyof is a theocracy wherenotone person Atwood'sfictional future world;this is devout and where such notionsas faithand morality simplyhave no meaning. Handmaid's message unfolds Thus, on thelevel of topical satire,

BraveNew World, and A Clockwork that Orange-and she remarks

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witha cartoon-like and is consequently notparticularly clarity surprising; American Christianfundamentalists are fanaticaland dishonest,and therefore highlydangerous; theyseek to erode the libertieswhich all Americans-and especiallyAmerican women-cherish. And yet, thistopical satirerepresents only one very superficial a far layerof Atwood'scritiquein The Handmaid's Tale; simultaneously more complex criticalprocess is unfoldinghere. This second satiric dimensionlies embedded and partially concealed within Offred'sown narrative procedure.Despite theheroine's apparentstraightforwardness and despiteherseemingfitness to givea true, woman-in-the-street report of a nightmare Offredsurreptitiously offers thereader a very situation, different kindof narrative. thenarrator revealsthat shebecomes Fred'smistress Significantly, and thatshe laterhas secreteroticrendez-vous withNick,thestrong and silentchauffeur who is possiblyan agentof thesecretpolice. A strange kindof live triangle now develops,a bedroom farceof multiple assignationsunder one roof,which would be comical if Offred'slife did not of thesetwo sexualrelationships. The depend on hersuccessful juggling is weirdly reminiscent of populargothic romance, plot as itnow unfolds for in such storiesthe heroine,like Offred,is oftenmade a helpless prisonerby an evil and sexuallydesirousmale force,untilshe is finally liberatedby theromantic hero. Offred'spredicament recalls thatof a romantic heroinein other sheis desiredby and musteventually choose between ways as well. First, two men who, second, embody an impressivecombinationof male drawn fromgothicromanceand romantic stereotypes comedy: on one established who connotes hand,Fred,theolder,paternal, authority figure at once a lord of themanorand a seasoned military campaigner;and on the otherhand,Nick, theambiguous,delinquent, dangerousand thereforemoresexually attractive man of inferior socialposition. The younger fact thatNick is a chauffeur is repletewith eroticovertonesfromthe between him and movies,while thelower-classupper-classconnection Offredalso recallsD.H. Lawrence'ssteamylove-affair in Lady Chatterman seems romantily's Lover. Finally,Offred'schoice of theyounger in whichNick miraculously effects callyvalidatedby thenovel'sending, herescape from in CommanderFred's household. imprisonment From the reader's point of view these fragments of romantic fiction are ironically to say theleast;thegrim realities of Offred's jarring, actualexistence resemblethoseofa concentration farmore camp inmate, thanthoseofa gothic Butwhilewe read Offred's heroine. as predicament a grisly Offred herself is farlesscertain conundrum, parodyofa romantic as to how to interpret her relationships with Fred and Nick. Despite she takespleasurein herstatus as Fred's mistress,'0 and although herself, she recognizesthefallacyof readingromanceintoher affair withNick, she is unwilling to regardhimand herfeelings forhimin anyotherlight: it'sa cave,wherewe huddletogether Beingwithhimis safety; whilethestorm Thisis delusion ofcourse. Thisroom is goesonoutside. oneofthemost there would dangerous placesI couldbe. IfI werecaught

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... I dismiss butI'mbeyond these be noquarter, uneasy whispers, caring ... I makeofhiman idol,a I shouldn't I tellhimthings I talktoomuch. cutout. cardboard pp. 269-70) (Handmaid, thecave as itis sinister; is as important Offred's choiceofmetaphor is the site of sexual pleasure for two of classical literature's tragically misof Dido and Aeneas (whereDido fatally doomed love-affairs-that ofIsolde and Tristan towardher)and that understands Aeneas'intentions their fromsocietyin orderto consummate love). (who have fledbriefly With is veryrevealing. Her use of thisimage underthesecircumstances hercultural demonstrates tothecave Offred herreference simultaneously awareness heras yetunspoken (as a liberalartscollege graduate), literacy which Nick truth with her of ofthedisastrous (a relationship implications well as is "This delusion . an instant she consciously later, recognizes .."), inthe relianceon theromantic as herunconscious tropesofmaleliterature it is the "truth" of of her own eroticexperience.Troublingly, ordering common senseover Offred's discoursewhich triumphs male literary withNick is whichtellherthatherrelationship those"uneasywhispers" that her for Offred butdanger.Thus,although notsafety feelings suspects Nick are unfoundedshe cannot help but choose to romanticizeher "a to "idolize" the man into a hero of epic proportions, predicament, cardboardcutout." which she Offred'sconscious choice in favorof a romanticism when more even mistaken becomes as herself disturbing acknowledges her story.When we do so, we her behavior throughout we scrutinize with a consistent cannot fail to notice thatshe reacts to her situation center Handmaid's the to no She effort makes training escape passivity. she and a break such is Moira her best friend prison planning although Even more surprisof theresistance underground. rejectstheovertures with the ingly,Offred refusesto take advantage of her relationship lookstoher likesherand who,strangely who clearly commander, enough, and forsome forcompanionship not foreroticpleasure,but primarily kindof moralreassurance: onthefloor besidemychair, hesits thegames, after holding Sometimes, when helooksup at me so that belowmine, myhand.Hisheadisa little ... It's fake this subservience amusehim, it'sat a juvenile angle.It must ofanysort, butI I havepoweroverhim, for metobelievethat difficult to he wants it'sofan equivocalkind... Therearethings do; although he wantsto render, he wantsto bestow,services proveto me, gifts to inspire. he wants tenderness p. 210) (Handmaid, witha Offredrespondsto theseopportunities Comicallybut chillingly about current an indifferent and for hand-lotion events; question request herfateto thedesirablebut surrenders as alreadynoted,she latersimply Nick. unreliable herchoiceofnon-action Offred by indirectly, justifies Admittedly, of form self-assertion that us againstthisnew societymust any showing the rebellious females of Offred's world are all fail. Significantly, theMay Day undersuicideinorderto protect defeated:Ofglencommits

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in the is thwarted and she is imprisoned ground;Moira'sescape attempt in Offred's own mother is a city'sbrothel; glimpsed film-documentary about the dreaded toxic-wastecolonies. To survive,Offredseems to one mustsurrender. suggest, Butdespitethis whichOffred evidence,thedescription givesus of herown lifepriorto theGileadian coup castsincreasing doubtupon her reliablenarrative apparently pointof view. We learn,forexample,that she was formerly themistress of a married man,and thenovel obliquely that herhusbandLuke mayhave chosenheroverhisfirst wifefor suggests thesame reasonsthat thecommander favors heroverhisspouse-Offred is younger, moresexually and fertile Luke seems attractive, (significantly, to have had no children his first More by marriage. disturbingly, despite her intelligence and education,Offredseems to have exercisedas little control over her formerlife as she does over her presentexistence. which her husband activelyenUninspiredby politics-a disinterest remained on the sidelines ofpolitical couraged-Offred questions, justas she waited forLuke to make up hismindto marry her,and she worked, not as an explaineror analyzerbut as a transcriber of books to disksin a femaletaskforce-an act whichcuriously her predominantly prefigures own present narrative She is a woman who has, forthemost recording. others do. part,lived by watching Seen from thepointofview ofherpast,Offred's current existence and more like a begins to look less like a nonsensicalmetaphormosis horrible but nightmarishly of herformer extention life;one appropriate even might argue that,in a larger sense, Offredhas always been a handmaid-a woman who serves others,but never herself.Once the readermakes thisconnection, theapparently betweenthe huge contrast idealized good old days and thebad new days shrinks We considerably. shouldkeep in mindthat, from theverybeginning of thenovel,Atwood ironizesthegap whichOffredestablishes betweenherseemingly golden past and her ghoulishpresent; early on we witnessa confrontation between these false opposites when Offred encounters some curious on thestreet: Japanesetourists The skirts reach belowthekneeandthelegscomeoutfrom beneath just thin nakedintheir thehigh-heeled shoes them, nearly blatant, stockings, with their tothefeet attached likedelicate oftorture. instruments straps ontheir Thewomen teeter as ifonstilts, butoff feet their spiked balance; backs archat thewaist,thrusting out. Theirheads are the buttocks uncovered andtheir hair too isexposedinall itsdarkness and sexuality. thedampcavities oftheir like red,outlining Theywearlipstick, mouths, scrawls on a washroom I stopwalking. before. wall,ofthetime Ofglen shetoocannot takehereyesoffthese stopsbesideme and I knowthat women. Wearefascinated butalsorepelled. Ithas seemundressed. They takenso little timeto changeourminds aboutthings likethis. ThenI think: I usedtodress likethat. Thatwas freedom ... (Handmaid, p. 28) Offred makesan error herewhichis all themoretroubling because ofitsfamiliarity; shemistakes theoutwardappearanceoffreedom forthe thingitself.Her misguidedequation of westernfashionwithfeminine

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Atwood'sdescription of liberation-already signalled stylistically through whichemphasizeshow verymuchthisclothing thehigh-heels imprisons thanfrees-is especiallyironic rather thepersonweargiventhefactthat but eastern, and is a representative of a culture notoingitis notwestern riousforitsoppressionof women,at leastfrom a western pointof view. Here we arrive at thesecondlevelofAtwood'ssatiric message:this momentof inter-cultural confrontation suggestsvery clearlythatboth Offredand theJapanesetourist are prisoners of their societies.The only difference between themlies in the factthatOffred's culture has abolished thebenevolent "western" toleration of women'shard-won but still smalland superficial But truepersonalfreedom relatively prerogatives. for neither womanintheworldwhichAtwoodisdescribing, exists which, nota future but a present Thisis reflects by implication, reality actuality. nottheworldas itwillbe, this is theworld-symbolicallyatleast-as itis. In thismannerAtwood employshernarrator-heroine to provoke in thefemalereader.On one hand the two verycontradictory reactions but an average, collegevery fact thatOffredis not a revolutionary educated working mother makesherbothrecognizable and sympathetic to us. Butat thesame timeAtwoodturns ourempathy forOffred against thather protagonist us, suggesting (and thuswe too, in so far as we of resembleher) acts or failsto act based on a dangerousamalgamation which have women's behavior for centuries genderasumptions governed and whichhave guaranteed their oppression by men:" a viciouscircleof passivityand helplessness-whereinpassivityperpetuatesimpotence whichin turn and excusespassivity; a dehabilitating narcissism justifies whichcontinually deflectstheindividualfromherreal self-interest and in salvation erotic no matter how a maschositic belief love needs; through and potentially dangerousto the individual.This last pointis unlikely Nick saves Offred emphasizedby thefactthatwe do notknowwhether her.Further, effect herescape from or betrays even he does successfully he really love theRepublicofGilead,hismotives remain does ambiguous; inthat resembletheother menofGileadiansociety her,ordoes he simply of fathering at the thought a child thathe he becomes so enraptured it?12 If thelatter isindeedthe motive decides toprotect thevesselcarrying withNick is not verydifferent thanher case thenOffred's relationship is with In both she a breeder rather than a Fred. cases person relationship in herown right. But there remains yet another,more universaldimension to in Handmaid. One of themoststriking features Atwood'ssatiric critique of thisfuturist novel is itslack of futuristic technological trappings-be scientific theories, advances,or practheygismos,robots,or outlandish tothosefuturist satiric novelstoutedby tices.Thisis instriking opposition Fahrenheit451. These works all present worlds which are technothemto whichdehumanizetheircitizens, forcing nightmares--systems thanlikeindividuals. Each boastsan esperather operatelikemachinery, of Orwell, the quasithe video-surveillance cially demonic invention: Ludovico treatment babies of Huxley,thebehaviorist poisonedtest-tube firebrigade of efficient of Burgess,and the insidiously book-burning

A Clockwork BraveNew World, Orange,or even McCarthy-1984,

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tonature thesefictions and proposea return Bradbury. Correspondingly, to old-fashionedcustoms and values as a probably unattainablebut and Julia'sold-fashioned lovecertainly superiorsocial ideal: Winston's affairin 1984, the Shakespeare quotingSavage in Brave, the whiskeyof free-will in Clockwork, who affirms thecentrality and drinking priest in Fahrenheit. book people livingin pastoralharmony thehippylike In Handmaid on theother hand,theexactoppositeprocessseems to be at work.The RepublicofGilead strikes us,notas a techno-dystopia, but as a reactionary step backwards in time,to a kind of government thatresemblesthatof theMiddle Ages-based on one part and lifestyle biblicalpatriarchy, one partIslamicmilitantism, and one partHinducaste think we of it-as thetools,mechanisms, as system. Technology usually to machinesand expertisethateithermake our lives easier or threaten destroythem-seems to have been banished fromthissocietywiththe exceptionof a few cars and a couple of computers.Perhaps the most is Gileadian society's chillingaspect of this technologicalbanishment of of medical inefficient the absurdly techniquesforprerejection any seems to be thissociety'smajor ventingand curinginfertility-which problem. Or is it?I cannothelpbutsuspectthat ifinfertility werereally such a pressing would find a concernthis profoundly hypocritical society way tojustify ortoat leastprovideitunofficially either (as fertility technology it does withsexualpleasure)."13 I would suggest this as is typicalof Atwood'ssatiric that, strategy, absence in Gilead, is not what it appears to be. apparenttechnological is at work here-insidious kind of technology Instead, a verydifferent because itis at once invisible and all pervasive-and thatis,verysimply, the technology of power whichMichelFoucaulthas called discipline: It is an important forit automatizes and disindividualizes mechanism, notso muchin a person as in a certain power.Powerhas itsprinciple connected distribution ofbodies,surfaces, lights, gazes;inan arrangement whose inwhich internal mechanisms therelation individuproduce als are caught it does notmatter who exercises up .... Consequently, itdoes notmatter him.He whatmotive animates power... Similarly, who is subjected to a fieldof visibility, and who knowsit, assumes fortheconstraints of power;he makesthem responsibility playsponin himself he inscribes thepowerrelation; in taneously uponhimself; which hesimultaneously both hebecomes the ofhis roles; plays principle ownsubjection.'4 This invisible, is exactlywhat drives all-subjugating technology we see no rulersin Atwood's fictional Gileadian society.Significantly, but everyonein it fromCommanderFred to his domesticserworld,'15 thedoctorwho inspects to Offred Offred is caughtup herself vants,from in a networkof surveillance and counter-surveillance.16 The novel conof thescrutinizing stantly emphasizestheomnipresence gaze; theword thesecretpolice are called "Eyes,"and thefarewell "eye" is everywhere; "underhiseye" refers to thedivinegaze but also testifies to the greeting factthateveryoneis indeed undertheeye of someone else. AuntLydia

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themtobe as better advice thansheknows,whenshetells givesher"girls" invisible as possible,because "tobe seenis to be penetrated" (p. 28). And outlets for frustrated even the apparently group orgiastic spontaneous, orchestobe carefully revealthemselves violence,suchas theSalvagings, inwhichtheactors arepainfully aware exercises trated, closelysupervised thattheyare beingwatched: itstamps inanygroup likethis; tohang backtooobviously It'sa mistake inzeal. (Handmaid, p. 278) lacking youas lukewarm, of behavior of everyoneby everyone The constantmonitoring whichmakesa BigBrother coupled with (withan efficiency unnecessary) threatof clearly defined punishments the ever-present representthe in is no medieval of social control which of a way technology components but which is ratherradicallymodern.17 Seen fromthispoint of view ofreadingforwomen, theoutlawing Gilead's emphasison child-bearing, and the otherbizarrerules and values which characterizethissociety whichserveto make docile,not to be theinstruments reveal themselves just women-although the bulk of these devices seem to be aimed at threat-buta themostsubversive them, represent probablybecause they of oftheexercise theperfection wholesocialbody.Itis totalsocialcontrol, it into is world turned this is no a strives that Gilead for; theocracy, power, a perpetualpenetentiary. the Such a view of Gilead explainswhy forall its freakishness, and inthis socialorderof The Handmaid's Tale seemsweirdly familiar,18 of Atwood'ssatiric lies theultimate argument. politicalthrust familiarity to from freemother transformation As was thecase forOffred's apparent US ofA from democratic thesocialmetamorphosis indentured surrogate, to totalitarian Gilead is an ironicone, forthisdisciplinedsocietyof the our controls that mirror is a grotesque future imageofourown-a society thatwe failto noticethedegree to and discretely behaviorso efficiently whichwe are manipulated.'19 thatwe are also Atwood suggests Withthisironicfuture portrait with of institutions underscrutiny Gileadians,constantly by theplethora examinafrom theIRS audittotheuniversity whichwe must have contact theothers. who scrutinize and examiners tion.Andwe arealso theauditors In conclusion,I believe that The Handmaid's Tale is at once a and at thesame timea clever satire text-book exampleofmodernfictional forfeminist maleliterature ofa predominantly purposes.It appropriation us to admireit subverts as it borrowsfromthisliterary canon,enabling More imporsatiriceffort. both as a satiricmodel and as a pioneering satiriccritiqueat itsmostcomplex;it offers the novel manifests tantly, itselfas a satirefor women and to a certainextentof them,while it mechanismsof attacksboth the insidiousdisciplinary simultaneously ignoranceof them.Offred contemporary societyas well as our willful of politicalself-recognition herself earlyon in the signalstheimportance novel: isn't thesameas ignorance, as usual, Welived, you Ignoring byignoring. at it.(Handmaid, haveto work p. 56)


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is equally and dramatically And certainly, absent from self-recognition the academic conferenceassembled to discuss the Handmaid "document" in Atwood's parodistic "Historical Notes." Here the plenary speaker compounds the errorsof the past with his pompous, unselfofhisown culture's critical hislecture is superiority. assumption Fittingly, to confront themoral repletewithbothsexist jokes and an unwillingness questionsposed by thepast: we havelearned are of necessity by now thatsuchjudgments Surely, was under a gooddeal ofpresAlso,Gileadian culture-specific. society andotherwise, tofactors andwassubject from which sure, demographic we ourselves are happily morefree.Our job is notto censure butto understand. (Handmaid, (Applause). p. 302) Bymeansofthese negative exempla,Atwoodurgesus torecognize theflawsof ourculture and to refuse passiveacceptanceof them.Handmaid is,above all,a book about responsibility, at once emotional, sexual, intellectual and civic. Seen fromthisperspective,the satirein The Handmaid's Tale directs its criticismtowards all of us-feminists and non-feminists, women and men.It warnsus of theimperceptible ofpower, technology of the subtle dominationof women by men, and of our unconscious of each otherand ourselvesby ourselves. imprisoning of California, Riverside University

1. There canbe nodoubt that the ofsatiric hasbeendominated history writing ofsuchwriters as theRomans HoraceandJuvenal, the bythe"virile" irony 18th Swift andVoltaire andsuch moderns as Orwell, and Century's Huxley, Andevennow,when we consider forms ofsatire such Burgess. non-literary as the comic-strip, we see primarily the namesof men,such as Gary Trudeau. 2. David Worcester consists of precisely sucha complex arguesthatsatire rhetorical infrastructure. See TheArt Harvard UniofSatire (Cambridge: Roosevelt Press, 1940;rpt.New York: versity Russell, 1966), p. 231. 3. In The Plot of Satire(New Haven: Yale University Press,1965),Alvin Kernan usesPope's The Dunciadto illustrate theregressive plotstructure ofsatiric narrative, pp. 223and following. 4. Kernan, TheCankered Muse(NewHaven:YaleUniversity Press, 1959), pp. 14-18. 5. Gilbert thatsatire is alwaysessentially Highet goes so faras to maintain See TheAnatomy Princeton topical. ofSatire (Princeton: Press, University 1957), pp. 5-6. 6. "Breeders, andUnwomen," New York Times BookReview, FebruWives, ary9, 1986, p. 1. 7. McCarthy takesparticular to Atwood's to imagine a exception "inability to match thechanged faceofcommon life"("Breeders," language p. 35). thelinguistic whichdeterBut,she failsto takeintoaccount deprivation minesthe lives of all Gileadians, but especially the Handmaids. These 47

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8. 9. 10. 11.

women have no access to the written word, verylittleaccess to even oral and onlythemostlimitedopportunity forspeech. Since they information, are forbiddenmeaningful contactwithany otherperson,they,and Offred stateof linguistic among them,existin a constant impoverishment-hence thethrill ofplayingScrabble. Thus,whatMcCarthyascribesto Atwoodas a lack of imagination pointsinsteadto Offred'sexcruciating predicamentthat of a person who is systematically being robbed of her language capability. "Feminism'sPhantoms,"The New Republic, March 17, 1986,p. 33. Ehrenreich, p. 34. The Handmaid's Tale (Boston: HoughtonMifflin, 1986),pp. 162-3. Ehrenreich satiric attacktargets "a represarguesthatthebook's "ultimate" sive tendencyin feminism itself"and points to the insidious similarities between ideas of the anti-feminist rightand those of the culturalfeminist See "Feminism'sPhantoms." Whilethisaspect of Atwood's satire militants. is clearlyan important one, I wonder if thismise en question of current feminist strains is notless crucialto thenovel's critiquethanthe attitude of to the heroine herself-which typifiesthe female "yuppie"'s indifference also notes.After reveals all,Offred repeatedly politicalissues,as Ehrenreich of political activismwhich thatit was the average citizen'srenunciation to take over the country it into the lunaticfringe and transform permitted Gilead: inthenewspapers,ofcourse,corpsesinditchesor the There were stories woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated... How awfulwe would say, and theywere, but theywere awfulwithout being believable ... They thatwas notthedimension were too melodramatic, theyhad a dimension of our lives. (pp. 56-7) of extremist Thus, while Handmaid admittedlyexpresses an indictment damns the passive and of left,it no less certainly genderideology of right non-resistance exhibitedby itsanti-heroine. ofNick'smotivesare suggestedby theironicHistoriSuch an interpretation cal Notes at theend of the novel,p. 311. drop by notingthatonly Again, the HistoricalNotes ironizethe birthrate were lessening, Caucasian births p. 304. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish(New York:VintageBooks, 1979), p. 202. The cited section pertainsto Foucault's descriptionof Bentham's Panopticon, which the author sees as an idealization of the disciplinary mechanism.Such a model, accordingto Foucault, can be used "whenever of individuals on whom a task or a one is dealing with a multiciplicity a regime form ofbehaviormustbe imposed" (p. 205). Therefore, particular ofanypoliticalpersuasioncan and (in Foucault's opinion,necessarily does) use disciplineto controlthebehavior of itscitizens. Aptly,Ehrenreichwonders why it is never clear in the novel, "who is in charge."See "Feminism'sPhantoms." of disciplinehelps explainwhy,as JoanL. Slonczewski The omnipresence in thenovel strike us as passive. See "A so manyof thecharacters remarks, Tale of Two Handmaids," The KenyonReview, 6:4 (1986), p. 123. Foucault notesthat"theproblemlies ... in thesteep risein theuse of these mechanisms of normalization and the wide-ranging powers which, of new disciplines,they bring with them," the proliferation throughout

12. 13. 14.

15. 16. 17.

p. 306. Discipline,


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R. Stimpson 18. Catherine notesthatGilead'sdomesticated totalitarianism because its monstrosity seems . "become[s] even more frightening normal." See "Atwood The Nation, Woman," 1986, absurdly May31st, p. 764. Giventhisstateof affairs, withMaryMcCarthy's againI disagree which claims that theelement ofrecognition ofourownsociety assessment, is missing from See "Breeders," Handmaid. p. 1. 19. Foucault comments onourcontemporary inthefollowing manner: society in theamphitheatre, "We are neither noron stage,but in thepanoptic invested ofpower, which we bring since toourselves machine, byitseffects we arepartofitsmechanism," Discipline, p. 217.


The Foreign Language Teaching Assistant ProgramoffersU.S. educational institutions an opportunity to engage a native Chinese, Italianand Spanishspeakerfortheir French,German, languageteaching Undertheauspices of theprogram programs. Chinese,French, Austrian, Italianand Mexicanuniversity or youngteachers students come German, to U.S. schools,colleges and universities as native informants to serve in language departments or in languagehouses on campus. The duties of the assistants may consistof teaching,servingas resourcepersonsin conversational in languagelabosituations, working a language house or table, directing ratories, clubs, directing animating extra-curricular etc. In return forthe servicesof theassistants activities, U.S. hostinstitutions provide the FLTA's room and board, a waiver of tuition and a stipend, whichusuallyrangesfrom $150 to $300 per month. In some cases, homestays may be arrangedin lieu of room and board. Assistants fromthe Federal Republic of Germanymay be eligible for a grantfromthe GermanMarshallFund of theUnitedStatesto supplementaward offers. Candidates are chosenfirst in their home countries. by personnel IIE reviews candidate dossiers and submits dossiers of appropriate candidates to participating U.S. institutions which thenmake the final candidate selection.IIE coordinatesplacement and provides administrative supervision throughoutthe academic year. Participating institutions arechargeda nominalfeeof$100foreach candidateaccepted as a language assistant and are billed at the startof the academic year thattheassistantship begins. For information, contact:BonnieSachs,Assistant Manager,OESS, Institute ofInternational Education,809 UnitedNationsPlaza, New York, NY 10017.Phone: (212) 984-5494.


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