The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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As is evident from this summary, all the usual ingredients of romantic fiction are included in The Handmaid’s Tale , though Atwood’s text is far more self-aware, complex and analytical than any formulaic ‘bodice ripper’. Particularly relevant here is the character of Offred herself: most of the book is narrated by her, and she is an unabashed romantic who writes in the context of a society which firmly rejects romanticism – it is opposed by almost all the viewpoints expressed in the text other than her own. One instance of this, for example, is found in Chapter Thirty-Four:

Love , said Aunt Lydia with distaste. Don’t let me catch you at it. No mooning and June-ing around here, girls. Wagging her finger at us. Love is not the point. (206)

The Handmaid’s Tale contains an explicit debate on the whole question of ‘falling in love’ – indeed the romantic agenda to which Offred subscribes is subjected to a series of critiques, both from a feminist perspective and a patriarchal one. Surprisingly perhaps, the romantic viewpoint appears to be validated in every case – and this is an important point to consider before Offred’s romanticism causes her to be pigeonholed by the reader as one of post-modernist fiction’s many ‘unreliable’ narrators.

Offred’s mother is a character who sees no value whatsoever in romantic love. To her it is an irrelevance, and her own ‘love life’ could hardly have been more perfunctory. ‘A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women,’ she tells her daughter –

Not that your father wasn’t a nice guy and all, but he wasn’t up to fatherhood. Not that I expected it of him. Just do the job then you can bugger off, I said, I make a decent salary, I can afford daycare. So he went to the coast and sent Christmas cards. He had beautiful blue eyes though. (20: 114)

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