Margaret Atwood, a contemporary Canadian author, has been classified as one of this centurys’ most feminist, and near dystopian novelists. Her works illustrate how feminism has caused the downfall of contemporary society. Margaret Atwood, a prominent feminist author of the twentieth century, is driven by her sense of social reform and her realistic view of a disturbed society to produce works such as The Handmaids Tale. Atwood was born on November 18, 1943 in Ottawa, Ontario. In her earlier years as a child, she lived in the Canadian wilderness where her father was an entomologist. He studied and observed insects.
Atwood is the second of three children of Margaret Dorothy Kilam and Dr. Carl Edmund Atwood (Brimrose 3). Her parents were both strong and independent minded parents who wanted their children to be the same (3). The Atwoods were a mile, by water, to the nearest village. There was no radio, television, movie theater, or children, other than her brother who was two years older. She attributes her outsiders eye to this unconventional childhood (Bedell 2). When Atwood finally go to venture into the city, all social groups seemed to her equally bizarre, all artefacts and habits peculiar and strange ( 2).
A childhood divided between summers in the woodlands of Quebec, and winters in many different Canadian cities, is what Atwood credits her lust for reading, thus a love for writing, to (Brimrose 2). She used reading as a means of entertainment. Atwood centered her reading on Grimms Fairy Tales and George Orwells Animal Farm, both of which created a dark prototype of victim and victimizer (Rice 37). In speech in 1995, Atwood said that her literary career began at age sixteen when she crossed the schoolyard on her way home.
I was scuttling along in my usual furtive way; suspecting no ill, when a large thumb descended from the sky and pressed down on the top of my head. A poem formed (Casciato 2). At the age of six, Atwood was writing poems, mortality plays, comic books, and an unfinished novel about an ant (Rice 3). Ten years later Atwood decided her goal in life is to write. She wanted to live a double life; to go places I havent been; to examine people in ways, and at depths, that are otherwise impossible; to be surprisedto give back something of what [I have] received (3).
Since the majority of her childhood was spent in the Canadian wilderness, finding her way through anything, canoeing, and hunting, Atwood developed a great deal of self-confidence (Brimrose 3) This self regard is recognized profoundly in her writing. By the time Atwood left high school she had decided she wanted to write. Her high school yearbook quote had stated that her goal was to write the great Canadian novel (Bedell 3). Soon after she graduated from high school, in 1961, Atwood published her first book of poetry entitled Double Persephone (Brimrose 3).
Publishing was a goal for Atwood that she had now successfully achieved. Atwood figures writing poetry and hopefully publishing a few books would be sufficient for her. Her education was more important to herself as well as her parents. Atwood moved on to attend the University of Toronto, Victoria College majoring in English. Around this time, according to her English friend Xandra Bingley, she spent a summer vactiondelivering census forms in a run down, poverty-stricken area of Quebec, and decided that though she wanted to be a writer, she definitely didnt want to be poor (Bedell 3).
After graduation from Victoria College, the young poet was at the beginning of her literary career. She was now publishing in Canadian literary magazines including the critically acclaimed Mcleans magazine (Hubbard 3). Various poems and short stories game her some recognition, but Atwood decided it wasnt enough. She wanted to yet further her education and discover if writing was really the right career path she was destined for. Even though she loved writing, the influence of her parents, as well as her experiences in Quebec, had put a damper on her dreams.
Atwoods parents were wary about her desire to write because they didnt want her to starve to death (Rice 3). Her parents were set on the idea that she should be a biologist because not only was it in the family but a female writer had always been looked down upon. Again, Atwood wanted to acquire personal success but didnt want to be poor. When Atwood began her formative years at Radcliffe, the all women university at Harvard, she realized she didnt care about starving, she only wanted to write (Rice 3). Not only was Atwood sure about her career she also discovered what she wanted to write about, feminism.
The intensely chauvinistic atmosphere mortified her: among other things female student were not allowed to access the universitys modern poetry collection in the Lamont Library (Brimrose 2). Atwood lived her childhood in fairness and equality. She was raised to be independent. The environment in which she grew up was not one of unfairness and inequality. In the Atwood household Mrs. Atwood ruled the roost (Brimrose 4). So coming to the United States, and witnessing the unfair treatment of women was an enormous culture shock for her.
When Atwood first decided she wanted to become a writer she was convinced she was beating a dead horse. Atwood states that: It was because of all those biographies of women writers. There was always something drastically wrong with them. Emily Dickinson lived in a cupboard, Charlotte Bronte died in childbirth. They were weird like Christina Rosetti, or they drank or committed suicide like Sylvia Plath. Writing seemed a kind of call to doom. I though I would probably get TB and live in a garret and have a terrible life (Hubbard 2).
The discriminatory acts towards females, at Radcliffe, were beginning to take a toll on Atwood. She began to think that she, being a female, would never make it as a writer. Females in the United States had few rights to anything and Atwood witnessed first hand how society was starting to fall. It wasnt until Atwood met Jay MacPherson when her future began to look brighter. Meeting at a literary study at Radcliffe, he helped her develop literary philosophies and feminism (Mary Ellen Snodgrass 238). Atwood was now ready to protest her view on the discriminatory rules that faced women.
Ironically Atwood shows this through her writing. Margaret Atwoods misogynist nightmare, published in Canada in 1885 and filmed by Cinecom in 1990, is a bold chilling dystopia that speculate on where and how contemporary society is likely to derail and destroy itself (Mary Ellen Snodgrass 245). Margaret Atwoods The Handmaids Tale is a science fiction novel based around two aspects of society, which Atwood feels, have caused the downfall of society. One aspect, which is what the majority of her works are based around, feminism.
The other aspect is religion. Atwood seems to create a way of tying the two together to produce a potential near future. The novel The Handmaids Tale targets women and how the future seems to be centralized around the use and abuse of them. This right-winged society is taking place in a futuristic world. Pollution, nuclear waste/war, and venereal disease have destroyed a civilization once known as the city of Boston, Massachusetts (Atwood 20). Now men have taken over all parts of society; religion, the economy, and most importantly, the control of women.
Gilead, the new society, has taken reproduction out of the females control. A handmaid is a fertile female who works for a man, usually of rank, for breeding purposes only. There are very few productive women left in the city. The main character in the book is Offred. She is a Handmaid to the Commander. Ironically, the Commanders name is Fred. There is no irony! Offreds’ name literally mean Of-Fred. One never learns her real name because women are give new names to correspond with their owners.
The women of Gilead are given arbitrary classifications: Wives, Widows, Daughters housemaids, amazons (Marthas), workers (Econowives), indoctrinators (Aunts), Unwomen, and Breeders (Handmaids). Aunts and breeders play the most important role in the novel. Aunts are the older women who train Handmaids for their duties. No women in the religious society may own money, or read. All the rights women worked so had to obtain, lost them to the very people who wrote them. Every female is given a specific duty and is brainwashed to obey.
The men in this tale observe the violation of women as being the way it should be. In the novel the Commander says, We’ve given them more than we’ve taken away. Think of all the trouble they had before. Don’t you rememberThink of human miseryThis way they’ve protected; they can fulfill their biological destinies in peace. With full support and encouragement (Atwood 51). Not only did men abuse the bodies of women; they desecrated religion as well. It is evident in the story that the leaders of Gilead (men) are motivated by the hunger of power rather than religious beliefs (Magill 2748).
Throughout the text there is much reference to the Bible. These references do not have to do with the Christian faith but point out designated duties for women. Men/Leaders use the Bible as a tool for enforcing discriminatory laws (Witcombe 3). Women arent permitted to read the Bible but men are. Religion is spreading the word not using the word against those who have faith. The leaders of Gilead use religion as reasoning for this surreal demeanor. Atwood shows how religion could promote sexism.
For Margaret Atwood life is a quest, and her writing–particularly her poetry is the charting of that journey. Atwoods’ journey is seldom geographical… Atwood does not dwell on location, physical presence, details of her place. Her search is instead a piercing interior exploration, driving through any personal self-consciousness into regions marked by primitive responses, both violent and beautiful. Atwood is interested in the human condition which exists independent of sex; and she plays a variety of games in order to explore that condition fully” (Discovering Authors).
Margaret Atwoods’ feministic views on a society being slain apart, is a direct reflection on her contemporary novel, The Handmaids Tale. She has embodied her competent philosophy that women are utilized for immoral purposes, and respect for them has been lost in the duel for domination. Atwood uses a near-dystopian novel to help society realize the importance of being generation next. She is trying and make a difference before the collapse of society. One may wonder if this is a practical view of the future or just a psychological realism. Ones future is what one may make of it.