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MAY/JUNE The Handmaid's Tale > Slight Confusion with the Way the Story is Told...

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message 1: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments I am an avid reader, I love books and I love reading all different kinds of books so it's not that I am unfamiliar with varying types of story telling but the way Margaret Atwood wrote the Handmaid's Tale can be slightly confusing to me. I have been, admittedly quite busy this month and maybe it's from lack of sleep or mind clutter but as much as I am enjoying the book, sometimes I feel slightly confused as to what's going on or as if there's missing pieces in what exactly is happening within the story and the protagonist's mind. I feel like there's an element of it that's meant to be that way, to make you feel like an outsider who learns along the way, but there's another part of me that wonders if it's just my brain that's not picking up on all the cues and subtleties of her writing? Is it just me or does anyone else feel this way at times while reading the story? Sometimes I'll have to re-read a paragraph once or twice over to sort of grasp who is talking or if we're in a flashback or present day ect.


message 2: by Pam (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
Toria wrote: "I am an avid reader, I love books and I love reading all different kinds of books so it's not that I am unfamiliar with varying types of story telling but the way Margaret Atwood wrote the Handmaid..."

Hi Toria! I'm glad you have taken time to read the book and to post this question - it sounds like your time is vary precious.

Yes, I agree. The book almost has three intertwining times in it and Attwood never clearly defines all three.
1) Present Day in the Republic of Gilead.
2) Flashbacks or memories from the past or before Gilead forms
3) Future or post Gilead.

I personally think Attwood leaves things open ended to allow the readers to interpret things as we want. Instead, I feel that Attwood acts like a painter, right, where she paints us a picture that it meant to evoke a certain feeling. She doesn't tell you what feeling, but instead allows you to interpret it and sit with it.


message 3: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments Hi, Pam! Thanks for the lovely comment. I really agree with what you wrote and I assumed that how's the story was written (a beautiful way to interpret it as well, to read the story almost as if it were a painting. Bravo on that!) I'm sure it's because of my lack of sleep and busy schedule that maybe more subtle moments in the story that help you build up a bigger picture might be escaping me. But you've definitely helped me see it a different way. I'll take that approach as I continue reading today :)


message 4: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments Emma:

Yeah, that's what I assumed. It's probably just my cluttered head, but I wanted to make sure that was the cause and not that the story was actually cryptic intentionally. (Which it can be in it's own way) I'll just have to try and clear my brain a bit :)


message 5: by Megan (new)

Megan | 1 comments Toria
Besides what has been discussed above, I also think that because of Offred's trauma, she is confused. She doesn't know how to process what is happening to her. Many times with trauma, the brain isn't able to process things in sequential order so everything gets jumbled up. Attwood did an amazing job at bringing readers into the mind of a traumatized woman.


message 6: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments Megan:

That's very true! Good point. The more I read the book and after hearing everyones theories and opinions, it seems clearer to me what the intent of the mystery is and what these little moments are amounting to, especially if you see it through the eyes of someone who may be confused themselves.


message 7: by Ross (new)

Ross | 1444 comments to me the book reads like and experience a personal memory some parts highlighted some faded parts not known, no one person experiences all of historical events. Buy over all an accurate recollection.

as a caveat love the style, the author paints with the mind though vivid imagery and prose.


message 8: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments Ross:

I think that's a great way to explain the story. It's very much a glimpse into the mind of a traumatized woman coping with her surroundings, trying to find the reason for everything and learning how to exist without completely losing herself to rage and sadness, to continue having some small ounce of faith that she will be reunited with her family someday but as the book goes on, you can feel her wanting to conform less and you know things are going to come to a head soon and explode. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it ends.


message 9: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments Keith:

I have not read Oryx and Crake yet, which sounds very intriguing, but I have read Diary of a Young Girl (one of my favorite books ever) and completely understand what you mean. I didn't even think of that but there is a slight similarity between that and the Handmaid's Tale. Two females recalling a traumatic time in their life where they had to conform to certain rules and lifestyles to survive, both full of oppression, fear and war simply because they are who they are (one's oppressed because she's Jewish, the other because she is a woman) and both recall simpler times and what led life was like leading up to the turn of events.

That's a really interesting comparison!


message 10: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments *sorry for the typos


message 11: by Winston (new)

Winston | 180 comments Toria,

I was also, not confused but feeling a little blinded (Ha) by Offred's narrative perspective but I found the epilogue, read closely, gave a good context for her story, allowing me to fill in the pieces much clearer. I would recommend reading that part closely and using it as a pseudo-guide to the entire story.


message 12: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments Winston:

Thank you for the suggestion! That sounds like a good idea. Maybe it'll give me a little more insight into Atwood's thought process. I'll try that.


message 13: by sara frances (new)

sara frances (sara_frances) | 4 comments One thing I noticed about half-way though is that when Offred is remembering things from her past, there are no quotation marks. When something is "currently" happening, all the dialogue has quotation marks. Figuring this out helped me keep up with what was going on in the story.


message 14: by Toria (new)

Toria (queencreole) | 17 comments Sara:

Thank you! I wish I had noticed that while I was still reading the book haha I managed my way through and finished it (absolutely loved it) but that tip would've been incredibly helpful!


message 15: by Ana, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Ana PF | 746 comments Mod
I agree with Ross that the book is painterly (painterly? I hope I am using the adjective right!), something that shocked me in a way, because how would you expect such a quality in a story that serves to depict the terrible society that Gilead is? Yet, that's the way it would read to me sometimes, too. By the end of the book, I no longer perceived it as an odd quality and it actually came to suit the plot nicely -brutality and horror that were intertwined with the change of seasons, a splash of blood on the Wall, the women's dresses as they visited the markets.

As for the style that Toria, and surely many others, found a little challenging sometimes, I think it is a mix of many factors. If you think about it, these are transcriptions from tapes. They're memories from a society that was in its first steps, from a member trapped in its dangerous games. There is also trauma, as some of you eloquently mentioned. All in all, Offred's voice reaches the reader somewhat incomplete -as it should.


message 16: by Ross (new)

Ross | 1444 comments For me the structure of the book works on two levels, first showing personal memory and experience shape our world. Second how similar perception and bias on collective scale an create such brutal environment that it allows regimes such as that described in the book to flourish.

The structure shows a person and her world decent into darkness because it was allowed to happen and why it was allowed to do so.


message 17: by nil (last edited Jun 16, 2017 12:01PM) (new)

nil (nilnil) I find this to be the case with a lot of Margaret Atwood's writing, to be honest. It has a stream of consciousness feel that blurs the line between the various different parts and settings of the narrative. This was particularly noticeable in The Blind Assassin for me, and it took me a little while to adjust to the tone and meter of the whole thing. Side note: I actually thought I hated The Blind Assassin until I reached the end and then I retroactively loved it. The storytelling in this book did not, unfortunately, result in the same. :) I am a solid middle of the road person when it comes to the writing of this story, even though I can agree that the story itself is a powerful and interesting one.


message 18: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (barbarainhouston) Thank you for that comment. I am in the middle of The Blind Assassin and debated whether to continue - now I will. I feel the same way about some Dickens (eg. Tale of Two Cities).


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

I think with Handmaid it can be not very easy, because memories jump back and forth, on this occasion the to series helped clarify a lot of stuff and easier for me to read.


message 20: by nil (new)

nil (nilnil) Barbara wrote: "Thank you for that comment. I am in the middle of The Blind Assassin and debated whether to continue - now I will. I feel the same way about some Dickens (eg. Tale of Two Cities)."

I am glad to help! I hope it ends up being worthwhile! I would hate to have wasted your time. haha


message 21: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra (cassandrat) Megan wrote: "Toria
Besides what has been discussed above, I also think that because of Offred's trauma, she is confused. She doesn't know how to process what is happening to her. Many times with trauma, the bra..."


I didn't know that. That helps me make sense of this a little more.


message 22: by valerie :) (new)

valerie :) (valeriekateee) | 15 comments I'm reading the book right now and I'm also a bit confused... What's a Martha??


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

valerie :) wrote: "I'm reading the book right now and I'm also a bit confused... What's a Martha??"

Martha = servants that does the housework etc.


message 24: by Massiel (new)

Massiel | 1 comments As a handmaiden Offred is seldom allowed to speak to others and even when she can the responses are very calculated. I came to think of her narration to be that of someone alone with their jumbled thoughts. At times I found it disorienting because she's having flashbacks mid conversation or not wholly completing a thought, but it turned out to be one of my favorite aspects of the book. Even though on the outside she's - for the most part - complying with what's expected of her on the inside her mind is racing and all over the place. Reminds me of the Gandhi quote: "You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind."


message 25: by Hearsie (new)

Hearsie Berg | 2 comments Loving this book: http://amzn.to/2sdgiYz


message 26: by Beatriz (new)

Beatriz | 6 comments Megan wrote: "Toria
Besides what has been discussed above, I also think that because of Offred's trauma, she is confused. She doesn't know how to process what is happening to her. Many times with trauma, the bra..."


When I was reading the book, I thought that it was describing the dreams she had when she was forced to take a nap, and for that reason, they were disjointed stories. It never occurs to me that because of the trauma, her memories were all jumbled up. But now that you point it out, it has all the sense of the world and makes the character even more real.


message 27: by Sara (new)

Sara One thing that I find helpful for the reader is that Offred says numerous times throughout the book that her memory of things cannot be trusted. She says this most pointedly after recounting Moira's story, where she attempts to account for Moira's narrative voice as well as what happened to her.

It is very seldom that narrators actually admit to being biased/untrustworthy. Offred not only does this, but she also is afraid of her own mistrustful memories. She is worried about forgetting her past, especially as she is faced with a terrible present and an uncertain future.

Her untrustworthy narrative is definitely based not only on faulty human memory but also on her ptsd. We gather from the final chapter of the book that Offred recorded her experience after the fact, so what she remembers is through the filter of past trauma as well as remembering how things were before that trauma. There's bound to be inconsistency and spottiness.


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm a bit late to the party, but I'm reading the novel right now so bear with me. If I had to guess, I would say that the confusion of the timeline is a representation of how Offred thinks. She could just be thinking about something unrelated, and then all of a sudden she finds herself reminiscing in the past. Although it could be a bit a confusing at times, I think it's ingenious and allows us, to get a feel for her character more.


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