Download our FREE smartphone app today!
English Literature Summer Assignment
- You should read A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. It would be helpful to read any other plays by Williams or Arthur Miller.
You should also read Othello by William Shakespeare
Read the following extract from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Annotate the extract, identifying language and structural features which shape meaning. Answer the questions beneath it:
Extract - The Handmaid's Tale Chapter 6
The Handmaid's Tale comes from a genre called “Speculative Fiction”. Similar to Science Fiction, It is set in the near future, in a dystopian environment. In The Handmaid's Tale, part of the USA has been taken over by a totalitarian, right wing religious group. Women are no longer allowed to have jobs, money of their own, or even allowed to read or write . For reasons which are not entirely clear, most women are now infertile, but those women who are still able to bear children are forced to become Handmaids - women who will act as surrogates for the infertile leaders and their wives.
In this extract, the narrator Offred, and her companion Ofglen are Handmaids, returning from a shopping trip together- all Handmaids are only allowed to go out in pairs.
A group of people is coming towards us. They’re tourists, from Japan it looks like, a trade delegation perhaps, on a tour of the historic landmarks or out for local color. They’re diminutive and neatly turned out; each has his or her camera, his or her smile. They look around, bright- eyed, cocking their heads to one side like robins, their very cheerfulness aggressive, and I can’t help staring. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen skirts that short on women. The skirts reach just below the knee and the legs come out from beneath them, nearly naked in their thin stockings,
blatant, the high-heeled shoes with their straps attached to the feet like delicate instruments of torture.
The women teeter on their spiked feet as if on stilts, but off balance; their backs arch at the waist, thrusting the buttocks out. Their heads are uncovered and their hair too is exposed, in all its darkness and sexuality. They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before. I stop walking. Ofglen stops beside me and I know that she too cannot take her eyes off these women. We are fascinated, but also repelled. They seem undressed. It has taken so little time to change our minds, about thing like this.
Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom.
Westernized, they used to call it.
The Japanese tourists come towards us, twittering, and we turn our heads away too late: our faces have been seen. There’s an interpreter, in the standard blue suit and red-patterned tie, with the winged-eye tie pin. He’s the one who steps forward, out of the group, in front of us, blocking our way. The tourists bunch behind him; one of them raises a camera.
“Excuse me,” he says to both of us, politely enough. “They’re asking if they can take your picture.”
I look down at the sidewalk, shake my head for no. What they must see is the white wings only, a scrap of face, my chin and part of my mouth. Not the eyes. I know better than to look the inter- preter in the face. Most of the interpreters are Eyes, or so it’s said. I also know better than to say yes. Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it. To be seen—to be seen—is to be—her voice trembled—penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable. She called us girls.
Beside me, Ofglen is also silent. She’s tucked her red-gloved hands up into her sleeves, to hide them.
The interpreter turns back to the group, chatters at them in staccato. I know what he’ll be saying, I know the line. He’ll be telling them that the women here have different customs, that to stare at them through the lens of a camera is, for them, an experience of violation.
I’m looking down, at the sidewalk, mesmerized by the women’s feet. One of them is wearing open-toed sandals, the toenails painted pink. I remember the smell of nail polish, the way it wrinkled if you put the second coat on too soon, the satiny brushing of sheer pantyhose against the skin, the way the toes felt, pushed towards the opening in the shoe by the whole weight of the body. The woman with painted toes shifts from one foot to the other. I can feel her shoes, on my own feet. The smell of nail polish has made me hungry.
“Excuse me,” says the interpreter again, to catch our attention. I nod, to show I’ve heard him. “He asks, are you happy,” says the interpreter. I can imagine it, their curiosity: Are they happy? How can they be happy? I can feel their bright black eyes on us, the
way they lean a little forward to catch our answers, the women especially, but the men too: we are secret, forbidden, we excite them.
Ofglen says nothing. There is a silence. But sometimes it’s as dangerous not to speak.
“Yes, we are very happy,” I murmur. I have to say something.
What else can I say?
How does Atwood use language build a sense of unease in this extract?
How does Atwood use imagery to engage the reader?
How does Atwood present gender in this extract?
How might a modern day relate this extract to the real world? What connections to real life events or situations might a reader make?
You should write a paragraph in answer to each question. Please bring your annotated copy of the extract and your written answers to your first English lesson.