The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power, you just take
it” Roseanne Barr
Compare and contrast the power and identity of women in the
The Handmaid’s tale and selected poems from the
Feminine Gospels ?.
Odd Women published in 1893 by George Gissing, explores the struggles for women’s th emancipation during the late 19 century through the point of view of various Women who are all victims of the Victorian patriarchal system. Margaret Atwood’s novel
Tale published in 1986 is a dystopian fiction told from the first person narrative of Offred. The novel explores the destruction of female identity within a theocratic dictatorship. Carol Ann
Duffy’s collection Feminine Gospels gives the notion of women’s liberation which looks beneath surface of the female form. These texts explore how women have tried to take power over themselves and establish an identity beyond the one given to them by men.
One could argue that in
Gissing’s The Odd women and Atwood’s
The Handmaid’s Tale both place women in constructive roles, not allowing women to express their views and opinions freely, which denies women any rights at all. All women in Gilead are channelled into roles as
Daughters, Wives Marthas, Econowives and Handmaids.
The New York times book review by
Mary McCarthy describes Gilead’s class system as the basis of society:
‘The Handmaid's Tale'' is a woman's world, even though governed, seemingly, and policed by men. Its ethos is entirely domestic, its female population is divided into classes based on household functions, each class clad in a separate colour that instantly identifies the wearer”
. (Mary McCarthy, February 9,
1986) Offred’s only purpose in contributing to Gilead is to reproduce children for the
Commander and his wife, consequently Offred is seen as inferior by the rest of the women who constantly judge Offred’s purpose to Gilead even though she resents her new role and her loss of identity. The reader learns instantly that Offred Is not the protagonist’s real name it means “Of Fred.” She is the Commander’s possession: “ my name isn’t Offred, I have another name which nobody uses now”.
Atwood never reveals the narrator’s real name which could be implying that Offred no longer has the power to use her name. The Narrator frequently refers back to the pre Gilead days in an almost emotionless prose: “
It’s strange to remember how we used to think everything was available to us”.
Offred’s memories seem to imply futile dreams of where she can be free to choose her destiny instead of depending on men. Atwood wrote
The Handmaid’s Tale in 1986 in West Berlin during the cold war where berlin was symbolically divided by the infamous wall. The wall in Gilead could be an allegory of the
Berlin wall, the wall in Gileadean society represents the isolation from the rest of society.
Handmaid’s tale falls squarely within the twentieth century tradition of a dystopian novels such as George Orwell’s 1984. Novels in this genre present imagined worlds and societies that are not ideals but restrictive.
In contrast to Atwood’s presentation of the role of females,
Gissing’s The Odd Women focuses on women at the turn of the century whom are struggle to adjust to their roles as “Odd
Women”, as unmarried women were considered to be “redundant of their purpose”.
Characters such as the exuberant Rhoda Nunn has a “ zeal for womanhood militant
” and sees her mission in life to educate women so marriage does not have to be the only option, “ a 1
shameful delight when I hear of a girl getting married , it’s very weak”.
The 1890’s according to
George Gissing was necessarily a period of ‘ sexual anarchy’
, during which feminist campaigns
by the ‘New Woman’ challenged attitudes and ideologies of the 19th century society an d its culture .
Mona Caird in The Morality of Marriage
, “If woman’s claims