Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Barren Bitches Book Brigade: The Handmaid's Tale

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about The Handmaid's Tale? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade by visiting the master list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #9 (The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler with author participation!) and all are welcome to join along . All you need is a book and blog.

I have always gotten a sick enjoyment from a good dystopian novel or short story. I think on some level I enjoy that horrible internal discomfort such a book brings up. So, I found this book quite fascinating. Like many others, I find it hard to really see it happening here, though the frog in a slowly warming pot comparison is apt, and it's hard to say how any of us would really respond to gradual change, or when we would finally decide to draw the line, especially when those with whom we disagree control the police, the army, and the guns.

As a side note, one of the weirdest parts of this book for me was my immediate recognition of the setting. The minute Offred and Ofglen walked outside and Offred described their walk, I knew where they were, since I lived there myself. At first I thought I was just being self-centered, but it turned out it really was Cambridge.

On to the questions:

2. People very often cope with death or uncomfortable situations by resorting to euphemisms. In The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood quite deliberately chooses instead to refer to infants with disabilities, or infants that have died, through the use of a dysphemism (an unpleasant or derogatory word or expression substituted for a pleasant or inoffensive one) - "shredder." How did this term affect you? Did you even take note of it? Why might Atwood have chosen such a word? How does it reflect or not reflect the contemporary discourse around pregnancy loss, still birth, and infant death as you may have experienced it?

Yeah, I took note of it. I have had difficulty myself with finding the right language to express my feelings, as sometimes it seems like none of the words I know really express the depth and breadth of the actual emotions I feel. There are times when I am overwhelmed with sadness, and in those moments I tend to use gentle euphemisms, or vague expressions that say little at all. In those moments, I went through a rough period, where things didn't go the way I planned. But other times, I am angry, pissed off, bitter, and in those moments the dysphemisms pop out, or, more often, I use the blunt, frank, real words I know. Those are the moments when my baby died. The reality is, I had a miscarriage never really seems right to me. Because to the extent people talk about miscarriage, which isn't really much at all, they tend to minimize it, and my feelings have been anything but minimal.

4.
On p. 73, Atwood writes, "Each month I watch for blood, fearfully, for when it comes it means failure. I have failed once again to fulfill the expectations of others, which have become my own." Do you believe the narrator wants a child because she knows not having a child will literally be her death, or do you believe the narrator mourns her lack of fertility because she misses her daughter, having a child, being a mother? Becoming pregnant is the only way to get that back--even just for 9 months.

As I suspect was true for many, these lines stood out to me. I think for many of us in this universe, blood has come to symbolize failure. And the moment you see it is the moment you know the failure is complete. I definitely felt that last week. Offred's line about failing to fulfill the expectations of others, expectations which have become her own, rang true as well. Sometimes I wonder where my overwhelming desire for a child comes from -- it seems foreign to me at the same time as it seems to be so integral to who I am right now. As I mentioned here before, I was never that little girl whose principal goal in adulthood was to become a mommy. I liked dolls as a kid, but I was more partial to stuffed animals. I am a bit horrified to have just realized that, when growing up, while I liked kids, on some level they always seemed more like a project or an experiment than like something you wanted because you loved them. There was something almost competitive about it -- the end goal was to figure out how to have as the end product the most perfect kid, the one who was happiest and most well-adjusted, or at least the one who actually grew up to like you. I fear I learned this model of parenting from my mom. And I think it's why I ended up studying child psychology in college. And now, the adult self I have become seems more like someone I might have known, or observed from afar, than someone I could have imagined myself being. It's weird what happens as you get older and the maternal instinct kicks in.

As for Offred, I suspect her desire for a child stems from a number of sources -- her desire for literal self-preservation, her missing her daughter, her desire for something that feels somehow normal. In a world in which everything is new and bad, there is something safe about the familiar.

11.
On pg. 112, during the birth day while Ofwarren is in labor, Offred is thinking about the baby that is about to be born. At this time she also talks about the unborn babies and the fact that they had no way of telling until birth what type of baby would be born. She states: There's no telling. They could tell once, with machines, but that is now outlawed. What would be the point of knowing, anyway? You can't have them taken out; whatever it is must be carried to term. While reading this, I found myself thinking back to my first pregnancy where I wound up with conjoined twins. Then and even now, I wonder if I would've been better off not knowing. I miscarried, so I did not have to make a choice, but in light of that, ignorance may very well have been bliss. How do you feel about the abundance of technology when it comes to reproduction and pregnancy? Do you think that sometimes not knowing so much can be a good thing?

My doctor told me that if/when I am fortunate enough to find myself pregnant again, she wants me to come in right away to have bloodwork done and regular scans. I'm giving some serious thought to declining. I am not sure if it'll do any good.
If things are good, it's no real reassurance. Last time, bloodwork would likely have shown things were moving along just fine. And if things aren't good, there isn't really anything that can be done to change it. I'll just know sooner that I have to live in limbo, waiting to bleed, like back in September. So I definitely get the sentiment that maybe it's better not to know.

6 comments:

The Town Criers said...

I knew the location too! I could even picture the ice cream store on the corner outside the square (and therefore, near the Wall). Was it Toscanini's? That's where I pictured it :)

I thought your third answer was so interesting. I wonder if the lack of information would alleviate the tension because you wouldn't be waiting for information to be coming in...

Bea said...

On your third answer - I think the amount of information you should get is largely personal. There are measurements which are extremely advisable - these are the ones where you can act based on the results - but if there's nothing you can do, then you just need to decide what will cause the least worry.

But I wanted to comment on the second answer. Parenthood does seem like such a "project" for some people. I guess it's easy to get caught up in the "mummy game". It's healthy to take a step back as often as possible, whatever stage you're at (trying, expecting, raising kids) and look at what's important.

Bea

Lori said...

Your thoughts on your first question make me wonder if "miscarriage" itself is a euphemism, if it somehow minimizes the enormity of the loss.

(And I'm sorry for your loss.)

loribeth said...

I hear you on the "competitive" aspect of parenting. Sometimes, when I read in the media about "helicopter parents," the elaborate birthday parties, etc.,
I doubt my ability to have cut it as a parent, and am (almost) glad I don't have to deal with any of that.

Great points all round!

Ms. Infertile said...

On the third answer for myself I think that less information could be a good thing. If I am ever pregnant again I have said that I do not want betas and early ultrasounds. For what? There is nothing at that point I can change. I also think that because I had betas that rose normally, and ultrasounds where I saw by baby's heartbeat prior to my loss, it may have made my experience more difficult than if I had not had those things.

Great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Drowned Girl said...

I understand your answer to the third question. Early tests and scans are like slow torture. In my case, it was usually bad news creeping in by increments. I suspect a gentle let down can be easiest.

But really, when we have a test, we just wnat good news, we haven't thought ahead to if it's bad.

And I'm aware there are tragic circumstances where the tests never show a problem.

Horrible painful limbo, in all cases.