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'In the desert there is no sign that says you shall not eat stones.

' Compare the ways in which Atwood and Rossetti presents the themes of isolation and struggle in 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Selected Poems'. Show how your understanding of this theme was illuminated by your study of 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood follows the themes of isolation and struggle throughout its narrative and these themes are established right at the beginning of the novel. In the opening chapter an old gymnasium is described filled with women who being held captive. The women are not allowed to speak to one another and are being watched at all times by Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth 'We learned to whisper almost without sounds. In the semi-darkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren't looking' this shows the isolation and struggle the women feel as they are also not allowed to go outside of the gymnasium except for their walks twice a day. This description of how these women lead their lives and are treated mirrors the lives of a captive animal which therefore de-humanises them and highlights their isolation from the rest of the world. This feeling of isolation is also apparent in Christina Rossetti's poem 'Shut Out' as the speaker talks of a 'shadowless spirit' this spirit is male and oppressive which therefore implies a patriarchal society which is also shown in 'The Handmaid's Tale.' There is no communication between the 'shadowless spirit' and the speaker 'he answered not' which reflections the lack of communication shown in the 'Handmaid's Tale' and the theme of isolation which is evident in Charlotte Perkins Gilmans 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. We then learn about the Handmaids in Gilead who lead incredibly lonely and isolated lives their purpose is to wait until ovulation and then to be impregnated by the man of the house they are sent to live in. This could be linked to the position of women in the 19th century as a women's God given roles were as wives and to then become a mother and the struggle to bare children in Gilead is also similar to the struggle in the 19 century, as infant mortality was high due to disease and infection. Offred is sent to live in the home of Serena Joy after she failed to conceive in the previous houses. Serena Joy makes is very clear to Offred that she wants to see her as little as possible and that she must not speak to her. Serena Joy keeps her interactions with Offred as limited as possible, especially avoiding verbal interaction. When Serena Joy is obligated to interact with Offred she treats her more like an object than as a person Possibly shell put a hand on my shoulder, to steady herself, as if Im a piece of furniture this then isolates Offred further becoming her an outcast in the place that she lives in. To distinguish each woman's role they are dressed in colour coded uniforms, the Martha's must wear green uniforms, the Handmaids dress in red and the Wives wear blue uniforms. The coloured uniforms dramatise the patriarchal divides and the red uniform of the Handmaids makes them stand out more from than the Marthas and Wives therefore symbolising that they are being made an example of and therefore isolating them even more from the society of Gilead. Offered exclaims that she hates her clothes as she feels like a distorted shadow, a parody of something, some fairy-tale figure in a red cloak, descending towards a moment of carelessness that is the same as danger. A sister, dipped in blood. She shows that Offred feels like a shadow of who she used to be, and so feels vulnerable. The bold red colour of the cloak indicates danger and sin it is also a constant reminder to the Handmaids of fertility and the menstrual cycle. Throughout the novel Offred has flashbacks to different memories from her past, some happy, some not. She uses her memories as a way of escapism as it is the only place she and other handmaid's can be free as Gilead is not able to control her emotions nor can it control her imagination however this also indicates and expresses the isolation between individuals. Her memories of how things used to be also hold hope that one day things could go back to normal. Throughout the novel Offred seems to cling onto these little signs of hope as a way to keep herself from going mad. She discovers a message carved into her cupboard by a handmaid which previously used her room 'nolite te bastardes carborundorum' which means don't let the bastards grind you down. This phrase was

originated in the Second World War and was used by Joe Stillwell an American army general, as his motto during this period of time. The use of this motto by a Handmaid shows how the Handmaids are made to feel that they are at war with the system of Gilead and how corrupt the system has become. For Offred this message brings her some hope and comfort; there are others that have gone before her that feel the same way she does. It also symbolises that Offred is not alone in her struggle for freedom and this sign of rebellion against the system brings more hope that there is a resistance out there fighting for their freedom. Offreds explores the idea that when in a bedroom of your own, you are entering into your own space place of privacy. This is shown when she says I wasted them, those rooms, that freedom from being seen it makes the reader realise how controlled she is living in the Commanders houses, and how the freedom to make her own decisions and live her own life, she once took for granted. Offed also suggests that once you have been living in a room for a period of time, you leave your own mark and part of yourself after you leave which is also shown through the carved message 'nolite te bastardes carborundorum' as it acts like a previous womans signature in the room and even though this message does convey a name to Offred there is still a great sense of identity in this message. This also explores the idea that a room is only worth what meaning an individual attaches to it as in Offreds past life a hotel room meant for her, seeing Luke. Whereas the Commanders household isnt meaningful to her, the room to her is just a sleeping space yet the phrase she finds in the cupboard creates the room to becomes more interesting to Offred as it has now given her something to think about a distraction to help her carry on while she ponders over what the message could mean. Night time; when typically a person would feel most isolated is the time Offred feels most free, when she is alone she is able to think to herself, no one can control her thoughts and so she uses this time alone as a way to escape from her lonely life. During this time Offred is left alone to explore her imagination comparative to the women in The Yellow Wallpaper being left alone to her own imagination which strikes the question will Offred over time cause herself to turn crazy just like the women in The Yellow Wallpaper. Women suffering from postnatal depression during the Victorian era were not understood and those women were instead just classified as mentally ill and anyone who was thought to have a mental illness became a social outcast. This could be compared to the poem Cousin Kate as societies view towards women in the 19th century was that if they were not what they were expected to be then they became an outcast because you were so good and pure... call me an outcast thing.. The speaker still thinks about her love O cousin Kate, my love was true, your love was writ in sand and is struggling to come to terms with it. This poem like in all the poems Ive looked at, The Handmaids and The Yellow Wallpaper demonstrate women who are weak, controlled by men and has become an outcast due to no real fault of their own. The ending of The Yellow Wallpaper shows an interesting reversal in role as John is now the one who is vulnerably crying for Gods sake and she is now feeling confident and talks to him in the way he talked to her slowly and gently... John dear as she now infantilises him calling him a young man.

Many of Christina Rossettis poems deal with the themes isolation and struggle and one of these is The Thread of Life. The speaker in this poem has become disengaged from society The irresponsive silence of the land, the irresponsive sounding of the sea this could indicate a metaphor for society and symbolises that she is not longer part of society as society is not longer responding to her. She has imprisoned herself But who from thy self chain shall set thee free? she blames herself and if she could be different than she would be accepted in society. The theme of blaming yourself for being isolated is also shown in The Yellow Wallpaper as the narrator is made to feel she is inadequate as she does not follow the typical role of a Victorian housewife. The narrator compares herself to her Johns sister She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper this makes her feel like a failure as a wife and a mother as now she is the one being treated like a child he laughs at me so about this wallpaper. He also calls her his blessed little goose, this is extremely patronising and dehumanising and does not listen to her nor does he let her make her own decisions.

The struggle to fulfil human desires such as the desire for love, sex and freedom, and also the struggle to cope without these basic human needs is seen in all three texts. Offred longs for male attention and struggles to gain any sexual power, she looks straight into the eyes of a Guardian and walks away from him swinging her hips in a seductive way. Even though Offreds ability to attract men is constricted by the Gilead government for she must wear the prescribed flesh-hiding clothing, she uses what sexual power she has left to her advantage and in doing this hopes that those men will agonise from unsatisfied lust. Offred also tries to retain her beauty by rubbing butter onto her skin, this rebellion against the wives rules implies that she still has hope for future rebellion against the system, and that things may change, and it also prevents her from feeling objectified by the society of Gilead for she is doing something to make herself feel good. During The Ceremony all struggle for sexual power is lost for all who are involved, as they do not have a choice The Ceremony is a rule that must be obeyed. The government believe they are giving women the freedom from fearing male sexual assault however what they have replaced this with is no better, in my opinion it is worse. Offred description of The Ceremony shows that she shows no emotional attachment my red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what hes doing. The Ceremony leaves Offred feeling hopeless and defeated I want to be held... like a child this shows the reader that Offred just wants to be comforted but knows there is no one there to do this, she thinks about Luke which entail makes her feel even more isolated than she felt beforehand. This struggle against instinctive feelings and feeling isolated is also apparent in Who Shall Deliver Me? as the speaker wants to give herself fully to God however she is stopped by the feelings and instincts in human nature If I could lay down myself, and start self-purged upon the race that all must run! conclusively creating the speaker to feel isolated as she is not emotionally strong enough God harden me against myself. The speaker in Who Shall Deliver Me? just like Offred does not have the emotional strength to fight off her human instincts. This struggle against human instincts is also exposed in De Profundis as the speaker desires to be united with god, however she is prevented by her human form and experiences an internal struggle isolating her from society like in Who Shall Deliver Me? and The Handmaids Tale. However struggle and isolation does not just apply to Offred in The Handmaids Tale it affects all characters including Serena Joy and the Commander. Serena Joy is an unfertile Wife. She has failed to do what her society values women for most and so feels incompetent and worthless which makes her bitter and she abuses the powers she is given in her household and over her husband as this is the only way she can gain back control as she has no cards to play in the struggle for sexual power. She is defeated in this sense as she has now been replaced by Offred who can, unlike Serena complete her womanly duties. Offreds struggle for independence is shown when she steals a flower as stealing is a strict rule in Gilead and if broken could be punished with a death sentence.

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