Due 3/21 by 11:59pm
Both Herland and The Handmaid’s Tale prompt readers to reconsider how our society creates and reinforces ideas about what it means to be a woman, a mother, a man, a spouse, a parent, and even a member of a society in the broadest sense. In each novel there are stories of an American society we might recognize contrasted with characters’ experiences in a world that can seem profoundly strange to us. In this essay, you will examine how one character experiences the opportunities, responsibilities, and limitations of their gender before they encounter this strange new world and once they are within it. Having identified points of similarity or contrast, offer a hypothesis about how this character’s story could challenge ideas about gender categories in the US at the time of the novel’s publication and now.
In their home world of the 20th century US, each of the three explorers in Herland has an understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman in his society but encountering the Herlanders turns everything upside down. Choose one character and examine how he thinks about his own role ‘before’ arriving in this foreign place of women and ‘after’ he sees their society for himself.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale offers views – sometimes only glimpses – into the distinct, gendered roles of the society of Gilead. Select one character and contrast their experiences before the rise of Gilead and after its establishment. How did this person understand their own rights, opportunities, responsibilities, and limitations because of the gender and social categories they belonged to? What has changed and how do they think and feel about that change?
Offred stands out as a particularly rich example but consider other characters as well. What do we know about Janine’s life before Gilead and within it? What has changed for her and what hasn’t? What about Moira? Aunt Lydia? Serena Joy? Nick? The Commander? We don’t know as much about their lives before Gilead but the narrative shows at least some of their efforts to adapt to or simply survive their new role in a newly-established society.
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