Essay about The Palimpsest: Freedom's Dual Nature

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From the very beginning of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood constructs the world of Gilead around a central metaphor: the palimpsest. By enforcing rigid controls, Gilead has wiped away almost all forms of female freedom—reproductive rights, independence, and the choice of when and how to die—with considerable success. However, like the faint outlines of older texts on a palimpsest, hints of all these constructs and desires linger on. Atwood uses the extended metaphor of a palimpsest to illustrate freedom’s dual nature: while it can be easily eroded by fear and exploitation, it cannot be truly eradicated from the human spirit or society. Atwood sets up the extended metaphor of palimpsest in the book’s first pages, laying the …show more content…

In an effort to produce a child, Serena sends Offred to Nick where they both attain more than robotic sexual intercourse, but less than love. Undertones of and yearning for attraction, passion, and freedom in sex cut across characters, even the supposedly pious, showing that not even the horrific controls Gilead imposes can completely stifle humanity’s need for them. As the novel continues, the narrator paints a picture, emerging in small recollections of how Gilead slowly choked off the old world and put itself in its place, showing the relative ease with which women’s freedoms were given up and taken away, and how simple it was to remake the United States’ society. Women, including Offred’s mother, helped the process by burning pornography and, eventually, becoming Aunts in exchange for a little power or being spared the Colonies. The old United States died with the President’s Day massacre, where the Gileadean revolution is said to have simply, “shot the President and machine-gunned the Congress” (174). Gilead uses fear of death, of torture, and of reprisals as its main weapon, as Offred faces either reckoning or salvation at the hands of the Eyes, “They can do what they want with me. I am abject. I feel for the first time, their true power” (286). Atwood attributes a sense of vulnerability and fragility to

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