The Importance of Memory in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale.
For this essay I aim to show the importance of memory and of remembering the past in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale is a ‘speculative fiction’ first published in 1985 but set in the early 2000s. The novel was in response to changes in US politics with the emergence of Christian fundamentalism, the New Right. Atwood believed that society was going wrong and wrote this savage satire, similar to Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’, depicting a dystopia which she uses as a mirror to hold up to society. I will be focusing on the main character and narrator, Offred, “a handmaid who mingles memories of her life before the revolution with her rebellious activities under the new regime” (book group corner), as she
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She thinks back on Luke and remembers love and what it meant to be loved. The memory pains her but also keeps her strong. “Falling in love, we said; I fell for him. We were falling women. We believed in it, this downward motion: so lovely, like flying, and yet at the same time so dire, so extreme, so unlikely. God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.
And sometimes it happened, for a time. That kind of love comes and goes and is hard to remember afterwards, like pain. You would look at the man one day and you would think, I loved you, and the tense would be past, and you would be filled with a sense of wonder, because it was such an amazing and precarious and dumb thing to have done; and you would know too why your friends had been evasive about it, at the time.
There is a good deal of comfort, now, in remembering this.” (237,38)
Offred was different to most handmaids as she did not give up hope on a better future. She clasped onto her memories as a form of escape but also as a tool to stay focused and being prepared for when the regime would crumble. During her courtship with Nick, the memories of Luke plagued her and she constantly battled with herself