Handmaids and Bloody Chamber Review

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Both Atwood and Carter go against the stereotypical narrator, by creating a female narrator, showing that women are empowered by giving them voices. We become aware of women being exploited as soon as we are introduced to The Handmaids who are used for nothing more than their “national resources.” They have been degraded to a fertile womb whose purpose is only to give birth. Equally, the wife in the Bloody Chamber is degraded to the status of a sex object and the husband undresses her as if she is an item he has bought. 

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This shows that the women are the victims in society as they are forced to only use their stereotypical functions. Critics insist that Offred is merely a victim and the novel is about power held by the commanders over the handmaids. However, Atwood presents the fact that this is Offred’s tale as she uses humour to present herself as a person, rather than simply a passive victim. The Commander’s status is ironically reduced during the ceremony. He is merely part of a physical process, and the rhythms of his movements are a “regular two-four marching stroke” as if on a parade march. The simile “like a tap dripping”, also to describe his rhythm, is amusing, revealing Offred’s irritation with him and the situation in which she finds herself. 

Offred feels empowered by mocking the commander and belittling him. Similarly, although the protagonist in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ remains nameless, she is not entirely positioned as a victim. Eventhough, Offred has her name removed but she still is powerful in the sense that she dictates the tapes, controlling our view of events. Initially, the narrator in the ‘Bloody chamber’ may seem more vulnerable. She is described as a “thin white face”, “only a little girl” and “like a lilly.” The use of the word “Lilly” symbolises virginity and purity, it is often depicted as a religious symbol in conjunction with the virgin Mary. 

This compared to the “little girl” implies that now she is married her purity is put in danger by the Marquis, as he “looks at me with lust”. This is reminiscent of the way the commander looks at Offed, as the novel progresses, he initiates a relationship, playing scrabble. In ‘The Bloody Chamber’, the castle is described as a “floating garland of light”, emphasising the narrator’s innocence and her naivety as this how the narrator views the castle rather than facing the true reality of it. 

The narrator establishes that the castle is a “garland of light” but ignores the watchful gargoyles and the spiked gates all of which are considerable traditional gothic characteristics. Similarly, in The Tiger’s Bride takes place in a gothic setting that suitably matches the melancholy, bestial atmosphere. The landscape is “melancholy, introspective…sunless, featureless…cruel”. This could almost fairy tales were originally moral tales for the young, but Carter uses ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ to explore “the labyrinth of female desire”. It is important to see the fairy tale story as part of a grand tradition, but in Carter’s hands the message is feminised and redirected to a more modern and politicised audience. 

This story follows classic elements of the Gothic, set in a foreign ‘sunless’ and ‘treacherous’ place far away, allowing us to suspend our disbelief and accept the magical happenings of the story. The Beast’s home is also a classic Gothic, ‘ruined’ setting; with ‘infinite complexity’ and ‘broken windows’, the palace seems ‘uninhabited’, the place almost seems dream like, again allowing a suspension of our disbelief of the story, in comparison the modern, city setting of London in the previous story, which makes our suspension of disbelief less likely. 

Without a name the heroine is structurally disempowered because names hold great powers in literature and her not getting one, she seems powerless compared to the Marquis. On the other hand, leaving the heroine nameless, Carter universalises her struggle so that she represents all women. This shows that Carter has used the narrator’s voice as a tool to empower the heroine. The heroine narrates the story from her point of view which differs from the typical 3rd person narrative story that is usually found in a fairy tales. 

This is empowering because she is taking control of her own narrative. This could be linked to the heroine’s mother, who can be seen as a feminist hero because her husband died at war, leaving her to raise the heroine on her own, showing she is a strong independent woman. One of the main pieces of evidence that proves this is a feminist text as the mother subverts the typical male role in the original bluebeard fairy-tale. In the traditional tale the heroine’s brother saves the heroine from being beheaded rather than the mother. Thus, showing she is adopting the masculine role in the text. 

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