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Finally, I want to consider the relationship between identity and acts of language — specifically composition and revision — and, by extension, the function of Gileadean discourse to reduce identity to a set of roles or masks. For the subjects of Gilead, all answers are provided and unquestionable ; theirs is the luxury of not having to think, to explore alternatives, and theirs is the sacrifice of not speaking, not voicing contradictory perspectives and possibilities.

In dialogue is the potential to build communities based on shared experience — pain, celebration, commiseration, complaint, empathy and hope — and in the written word is the ability to order, to narrate, to gesture toward truth, and — in another kind of dialogue — to ask for the faith of readers. She has become speechless. Here and elsewhere, Offred plays with words to describe the suppression of language, and in Gilead, playing with words — on the or the illicit Scrabble board — is a dangerous act of trespass. At one point, when she addresses her unknowable and maybe impossible reader, she notes the extent to which the lack of exchange is undermining her sense of identity :.

I feel very unreal, talking to you like this. I feel so alone. All alone by the telephone. And if I could, who could I call? Oh God. Oh God oh God. How can I keep on living? In the postmodern exchange of this novel, the very existence of readers and writers is a cooperative and communal project. Even when the distances are not physical, the often-physical forms of punishment exacted by Gilead render direct discourse almost impossible, even when there is faith shared among the speakers.

If you can call it talking, these clipped whispers, projected through the funnels of our white wings. Offred scripts fights in her head, luxuriating in the memory of having been able to participate in the dialogic establishment of priorities. In the early days at the Red Center, the Handmaids-in-training learn to communicate through their imposed silence :. We learned to whisper almost without sound. In this way, we exchanged names, from bed to bed… Here as elsewhere in the novel, Offred desires contact with other women, a sense of community that Gilead necessarily forbids.

Offred suggests the necessity of such links to the women around her throughout the narrative, as in one scene where she imagines staying in the kitchen to talk with Cora and Rita, a possibility denied by her station :. Which it would be, which it is. How I used to despise such talk. Now I long for it. At least it was talk. An exchange, of sorts. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororizeit would have to be, he said. From the Latin…. In English there is no verb for participation in a community of sisterhood ; in Gilead this linguistic absence and the priorities it implies is writ large in the institutional silences that segregate women.

All this is pure speculation. The enigmatic inscription Nolite te bastardes carborundorum that Offred finds hidden in the shadows of her cupboard, for instance, acts as a source of joy and strength, even before she knows its meaning :. It pleases me to ponder this message. It pleases me to know that her taboo message made it through, to at least one other person, washed itself up on the wall of my cupboard, was opened and read by me.

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Sometimes I repeat the words to myself. They give me a small joy. When I imagine the woman who wrote them, I think of her as about my age, maybe a little younger. Freckles, I think ; irreverent, resourceful. Later, Offred discovers the source and meaning of these words, during one of her secret encounters with the Commander ; when she questions him about the phrase, he opens a book for her to look at :.

What I first see is a picture : the Venus de Milo, in a black-and-white photo, with a moustache and a black brassiere and armpit hair clumsily drawn on her…. I can see why she wrote that, on the wall of the cupboard, but I also see that she must have learned it, here, in this room. Where else?

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She was never a schoolboy. With him, during some period of boyhood reminiscence, of confidences exchanged. I have not been the first then. There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt with. In the paint of the washroom cubicle someone unknown had scratched : Aunt Lydia sucks. It was like a flag waved from a hilltop in rebellion. Therefore I am sent for…. What does he get for it, his role as boy?

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Like the flag of an unknown country, seen for an instant above a curve of hill, it could mean attack, it could mean parley, it could mean the edge of something, a territory. The Commander is standing in front of the fireless fireplace, back to it, one elbow on the carved wooden overmantel, other hand in his pocket. When I knocked he probably rushed over to the fireplace and propped himself up. She does such things to look good, I think. But that is what I must look like to her, as well. How can it be otherwise? Possibly nobody ever talked like that in real life, it was all a fabrication from the beginning.

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Something could be exchanged, we thought, some deal made, some trade-off, we still had our bodies. Here, the body is imagined as an object to be traded ; ificantly, this passage is immediately followed by the ly quoted description of how the women exchanged names through lip-reading, and the contrast of these two images of exchange suggests how the political imbalances between men and women make contact between them especially difficult.

The image of the peephole suggests the intimacy of her earlier conversations with Moira, but in fact, the potential for such common ground is absent here. On the contrary : everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts ; no special favours are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love.

Dishtowels are the same as they always were.

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Sometimes these flashes of normality come at me from the side, like ambushes. The ordinary, the usual, a reminder, like a kick. I see the dishtowel, out of context, and I catch my breath. Likewise, her relationship with Luke, who was at first a married man with a pedantic interest in etymology, is ironically rendered in her role as a Handmaid and her relationship to the Commander. He gives her his word, which she can take or reject.

It is her faith, in Nick as in her readers, that frees her, that liberates her at last into a field of possibility and difficulty, where she can finally compose herself, in a story that is her own. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, Check if your institution has already acquired this book: authentification to OpenEdition Freemium for Books. You can suggest to your institution to acquire one or more ebooks published on OpenEdition Books. Do not hesitate to give them our contact information: OpenEdition - Freemium Department access openedition.

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Meet sex Atwood

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