You'll love this one...!! A book club & more discussion

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Group Themed Reads: Discussions > The Handmaid's Tale - Discussion lead by Kipahni

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message 1: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments So I am going to post questions as I move along with the book, answer them as you like

1. Why do you think this book was/is "controversial"? Should we even ban books? If so what basis is there to ban any form of literature?




message 2: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments I'm only half way through, and it's quite a number of years since I last read it, but I can't see why it would be banned anywhere other than the sort of totalitarian regime that oppresses women, where the parallels may be too close for comfort.

I suppose some may not want to consider the topic of prostitution, which is an obvious discussion point arising from the book, but as it's hardly promoting it, that doesn't seem much of an objection.

Regarding censorship in general, my instinct is against: every time and place draws the line in a different place and it's a dangerous and slippery slope, but if there is carte blanche for anyone to publish anything, however obscene, that can't be good either.

And with the net, censorship is increasingly meaningless. Writers don't have to persuade a publisher, they don't need permission from a national censor, they can just write and be read.


message 3: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments Good thoughts CFSR. I am about a 1/3 of the way and so far I am haveing a hard time seeing the controversy. Although, the hand maid's speech pattern ("praise be") is strickingly similiar to how people converse here in Egypt. There are a lot of automatic responses, like "Insh'Allah" (god willing, which kind of can be used in substitute or with the words yes/no/maybe/okay) or another is "Al'hamdil Allah" which means thanks be to God, an automatic response to "how are you"

Something else along the speech pattern I noticed is how for some reason it also makes me think of early American Puritan times. Prehaps because it was something in the way of how they described the handmaids dress, or maybe how Theocratic the society is.

The second thought or question I have to discuss is the use of symbolism:

2. The author uses the color red a lot, what do you think this symbolizes? Can you think of any other symbolism she uses in the book?


message 4: by Cecily (last edited Feb 05, 2009 05:26AM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments I won't jump in on that question till others have had a chance, but I will add one other BIG symbol: tulips and, to a lesser extent, flowers in general...


message 5: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments I've managed to get hold of it and I've just started so will be joining in with the convo soon :)


message 6: by Jo (new)

Jo (Jo_Wales) | 62 comments I'm in the early stages of reading it (p.79) and will look for the symobolism of flowers which hadn't occured to me.Thanks for pointing it out.


message 7: by Megan (new)

Megan Lyons | 4 comments I didn't even realize it was controversial. We read it as a class in high school. Maybe it is b/c I am from Canada?

That being said, some of my favourite books are on the "most banned books list," particularly children's and YA books. A lot of the books that are banned in schools in particular are challenged by parents who don't actually read the whole book. They become aware of certain passages and just read those, taking them out of context. One novel I read for a children's lit class was censored and republished with changes that made the racism in the book, which was historically accurate, more covert and therefore more damaging.

Sorry, I am off on a rant, but I just don't get censorship.




message 8: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments okay finished the book. WHAT AN EMOTIONAL READ!

Just some random thoughts for now. I love the way Attwood writes in an almost free word association poetic rambling. The world of the handmaids is revealed to us layer by layer much so that in a way I as a reader felt just as helpless and defenceless and lost as Offred did.

Do you think the style that Attwood wrote helped or hindered the stories development? I am thinking specifically towards the end (with the abrupt change in narrative style)


message 9: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Kipahni wrote: "Do you think the style that Attwood wrote helped or hindered the stories development? I am thinking specifically towards the end (with the abrupt change in narrative style)"

Do you mean the transcript of the historical lecture at the very end, or are you referring to the last few chapters of the main book?




message 10: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments Yeah I am talking about the historical lecture


message 11: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Well, the "Historical Notes" were a very original way to wrap up the story and how it came to light.

What jarred for me was that right from the outset it seems trivialised by the punning name of the university (Denay Nunavit/deny none of it).

On balance, I think it was quite a good way to tidy up the loose ends, but was not quite as good as the rest of the book.


message 12: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments I am going to go ahead and point out some other symbolism in the book.
Red: Almost always is seen in association with prostitution, passion, blood. All of these are addressed in the book in one form or another. The fact that the handmaids are used only for their fertility (menstral cycle again equals red) and are prostituted in a bizzare way.

I would like to know what everyone thought the flowers meant.

Also the fact that the wives wear blue, I wonder if this is significant as well


message 13: by Cecily (last edited Feb 16, 2009 12:02AM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments The tulips and other flowers in various stages of life or decay are worthy of a lengthy essay, hopefully with many participlants and I'm conscious of the fact that other people haven't finished the book yet.

However, the fact the wives wear blue seems more straightforward: blue is the opposite of red and generally a colour of coldness. Furthermore, in European art, blue has been associated with purity for centuries, e.g. portraits of the Virgin Mary from the Renaissance onwards usually have her in blue.

When Offred imagines her daughter, she pictures her wearing green; what's the significance of that?

I'm more intrigued as to why the servants wear green; brown might have been a more obvious choice.


message 14: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments brown were worn by the aunts in their khaki color. I think it was to play up their militant power (or what little they had) I found it interesting that women were so eager to enforce the rules on eachother , as in case with the aunts. but then I am not too surprised.
I am doing a little educational work here in egypt about FGM and it's usually the women that are most resistant to changing the culture surrounding FGM


message 15: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments I mean that it's the older women enforcing it the FGM for the sake of the girls purity


message 16: by Heather (new)

Heather (hpduck) | 354 comments Kipahni - I think you are right. It always seems to be women who enforce the rules of propriety. Going back to last month's read, who forced their girls to have their feet bound? Their mothers. Now a days, who are the ones who show derision for improper dress and attitude, size, etc? Our Mothers and our female friends. It also goes back to the Handmaid's Tale. I mean, men seem to make the rules, but in this case, it is still women who enforce them on other women.


message 17: by Cecily (last edited Feb 17, 2009 03:32PM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments I suppose if you've had to endure that suffering yourself, you can either campaign against it (dangerous and maybe impossible), or come to terms with it by believing in its merits even more forcefully?

In Peony (and See's other book, Snow Flower), it was interesting the way footbinding could, in some circumstances, provide greater freedom for a girl than a more lowly alternative, because there was a class aspect. However, I doubt the same is true of FGM, because where it's practised, I think the norm is that it's done to all girls regardless of class. If so, the only "advantage" (it seems such an inappropriate word) of enduring it is that otherwise you would be a total outcast. Kipahni, can you confirm?

I'm not sure how either of those traditions compare with the aunts in the Handmaid, since it was a relatively new regime, so they weren't justifying something they themselves had experienced. I suppose it was just safer and more appealing than the alternatives? Nevertheless, it's another case of women restricting other women for the benefit of men.


message 18: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments Yes the aunts were just trying to save their own skin, or perhaps they truely believed in it.

The families that choose not to go through it aren't necessarily outcast, (at least where I am at) but they do go through some anxiety. Part of the reason FGM is used is to prove a girl is a virgin on her wedding night, by the evidence of blood. So because this is still relatively new in this village, none of the non FGM girls have gotten married yet. (not old enough) so if the girl DOESNT bleed it could be a huge set back for trying to stop FGM. The other reason it is enforced is because they think it curves a womans desire for sex, like if a women doesn't get circumcised then she will end up a sex-maniac floozy (and they point to western nations as an example)
So anyway once the non-FGM girls get married and can "prove" their virginity, then the abandonment of this practice will be a lot more prevelent, and accepted as a community.


message 19: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments So looking at the other Characters in Handmaids,
Do you feel that the Commander is a sympathetic character? a monster? both?


message 20: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments I've only reached the bit where he is getting her to play scrabble with him. At the moment I haven't really formed much of an opinion on him. I'm not sure what his motives behind the Scrabble are. At the moment it all seems pretty innocent and I feel quite sorry for him I guess.


message 21: by Jo (new)

Jo (Jo_Wales) | 62 comments Well, I've just finished the book.I have to say, I wasn't enjoying it for about the first 100 pages and almost gave up, but I'm glad I didn't. It developed into a good read - disturbing and the ending - what did you think of that? Very clever and set me thinking lots.


message 22: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments I don't think I liked the ending. It was a good way to tie up the story but I was getting the urge to skim read which I hadn't throughout the rest of the book. I also felt it was like one of those films where it ends abrubtly and leaves you wanting more. I didn't feel satisfied, I felt frustrated. I wanted to know what happened to Offred, Nick, Luke and to her daughter.


message 23: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments Well is a good segway(sp?) into what my next question: What do you think happened to Nick, Offred and her daughter or Luke?

Personally I see a tragic ending, Nick gets killed, Luke was killed earlier, Offred gets captured and sent to a colony and her daughter is married off to an angel.

I agree with you jenny about the ending being like a film


message 24: by Cecily (last edited Feb 20, 2009 10:18AM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Kipahni wrote: "So looking at the other Characters in Handmaids,
Do you feel that the Commander is a sympathetic character? a monster? both?"


I couldn't make up my mind about him. He was trapped in the system too, albeit with the trappings of power and wealth, but what were his motives for the Scrabble sessions and the trip out - especially given what happened to Offred's predecessor?

On balance I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he wanted intellectual stimulation, companionship, and maybe to indulge a rebellious streak. Perhaps he should have stopped at that, given the risk Offred in particular was at when they went out, but once you've started, I guess it's hard to stop.


Kipahni wrote: “What do you think happened to Nick, Offred and her daughter or Luke?”

I like to imagine an ending more like Farenheit 451 (which I read immediately afterwards): rebels camping out, biding their time for the inevitable change of regime. However, I think the tone of the book makes a tragic outcome more likely.




message 25: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments tragic ending also given that the end of the book has the lecture given some 100 years later so maybe Offred made it off okay, but it is more likely the rest were killed off.

I think that the commander craved to have someone to be intimate with, which is what all humans really want, to know and be known. and it seems that in this gilead society intamacy was stripped away.


message 26: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments Y'all feel free to answer any of these questions or previous ones as you like, I am just writing questions as I think of them and regurgetate the book in my mind

For a more socio-political question
It seems like a lot of the rules inforced in the Gilead society were for the safety and better ment of society and specifically the woman. Is this a good reason to impose rules regarding anyones personal freedom? Can you think of any rules in todays society that infringes on personal freedom?


message 27: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments I guess it worked in a certain sense but whenever there are extreme rules like this it just moves underground instead where it then becomes even more unsafe. Hence the reason why banning boxing would never work or why some people want prostitution legalised.

In regards to personal freedom here in the UK we have CCTV cameras everywhere. I don't think you can do anything without being watched. This doesn't bother me personally but it rattles some people.


message 28: by Susan (last edited Feb 22, 2009 08:36AM) (new)

Susan I read this a while ago and didn't reread it for this month, but I think the question Kipahni poses in message 26 is really the essence of the book - what happens when we trade freedom for security, and how dangerous that can be. A cautionary tale for our times.


message 29: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments That is exactly what I was thinking of Susan.
Post 9/11 it seems a lot of freedom was given up as far as transparency with gov. and the patriot act.
Where I currently live it is even more opressive, but that has to do more with culture and less with laws. Woman don't go out at night alone, School age girls have to wear uniforms but not boys. There is a modest dress code, and no greeting anyone one of the opposite sex unless they are a relative. These rules are put on woman for their own protection, which people that grow up in it see no problem, but to my western taste it feels too domineering


message 30: by Cecily (last edited Feb 23, 2009 05:26AM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Hmm... security versus safety. I didn't think of extrapolating that theme to the current situation in England and elsewhere, but it's a good analogy. And a worrying one. Often it's a false choice: the security that's enforced often doesn't offer greater safety - and in some cases may even reduce it.

Maybe we should read 1984 next? Well, perhaps not, as it would be a bit samey to have another dystopian, totalitarian story so soon.


message 31: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments Ya it is a lot like 1984..... Big brother is watching....


message 32: by Molly (new)

Molly | 270 comments Kipahni wrote: "I love the way Attwood writes in an almost free word association poetic rambling. The world of the handmaids is revealed to us layer by layer much so that in a way I as a reader felt just as helpless and defenceless and lost as Offred did.

Do you think the style that Attwood wrote helped or hindered the stories development? I am thinking specifically towards the end (with the abrupt change in narrative style)..."


I think you described her writing style perfectly - it had the effect of me being able to slip right into Offred's shoes. And speaking of dual word meanings, I always pronounced it Off-Red in my head while reading instead of Of-Fred. As in - get this red dress off of me!


message 33: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments haha very insightful molly!


message 34: by Molly (new)

Molly | 270 comments One thing I wondered about - near the end, just as Offred is beginning to tell about her first visit to Nick, she says something to the effect that she is not proud of this next part but feels that although she has little left to give, the truth is the best she could do and she owes "you" that much. I am wondering who she is talking to specifically. Her daughter? Us - the general reader? Luke? Or perhaps she is telling this story to a second child - from the union of her and Nick?

It wasn't until the end when it was revealed that we were eavesdropping all along on a story from dictated tapes that I began to wonder who specifically she was telling this story to.


message 35: by Cecily (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:32PM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments I think she was just recording it for the unknown "you" of posterity, in the hope her story would be a lesson for the future. I don't imagine she held any realistic hope of Luke, her daughter or any other child ever hearing the tape.

BTW, I liked your insight about Off-red.


message 36: by Molly (new)

Molly | 270 comments C F S R wrote: "I think she was just recording it for the unknown "you" of posterity, in the hope her story would be a lesson for the future. I don't imagine she held any realistic hope of Luke, her daughter or an..."

I felt that way all along until that specific point when she made a big point about being ashamed of her actions and that she owed something truthful to the listener. Why would she feel that she owed people she doesn't know anything? And what exactly was so shameful about being happy - unless she felt she was betraying her husband? That's why I thought maybe she was speaking directly to her daughter and someone had promised to deliver her recorded story to her which she made while preparing to be smuggled into Canada from Maine. Her daughter was the only person she knew to be alive after all.



message 37: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments great insight molly I am going to have to go back and read that part.


message 38: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Interesting. I'll have to track down those passages.

Till then, it's possible that although (because?) she'd broken the rules of the system, she was still burdened by the guilt indoctrination had implanted in her - certainly I know plenty of people who have abandoned the religion of their childhood, but can never quite throw it off.

Also, if you're going to the trouble - and risk - of telling your story at all, and especially as some sort of political statement, you might well think you owed your readers/listeners the truth.


message 39: by Molly (new)

Molly | 270 comments The passage I was talking about is the beginning of Chapter 41 in the section entitled "Salvaging." The portion that made me think she was addressing someone specifically goes as follows:

"Nevertheless it hurts me to tell it over, over again. Once was enough: wasn't once enough for me at the time? But I keep on going with this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story, because after all I want you to hear it, as I will hear yours too if I ever get the chance, if I meet you or if you escape, in the future or in heaven or in prison or underground, some other place. What they have in common is that they're not here. By telling you anything at all I'm at least believing in you, I believe you're there, I believe you into being. Because I'm telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are.

"So I will go on. So I will myself to go on. I am coming to a part you will not like at all, because in it I did not behave well, but I will try nonetheless to leave nothing out. After all you've been through, you deserve whatever I have left, which is not much but includes the truth.
"


message 40: by Jenny (last edited Feb 28, 2009 12:38PM) (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments Hmmm. I really don't know it could be Luke or her daughter!

By telling you anything at all I'm at least believing in you, I believe you're there

She knew her daughter existed as she'd seen the pic of her. So she wouldn't need to believe in her would she? I know this could have been years on from when she escaped so I really don't know. But then she does say 'escape' and she didn't know where Luke was so how did she know he needed to escape? I think she is talking to her daughter but now my brain is starting to hurt :P


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