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  • trish 10:53 am on August 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale, Sections I-IV, Discussion 2 

    Sorry I’m a little late getting this posted!

    I read all the comments to the previous discussion thread, and I want to play a little devil’s advocate.

    In talking about freedom from, isn’t there a certain amount of comfort in that? Certainly, freedom from can have its benefits. For example, some people who go to prison want to stay in prison partly for the freedom from. And isn’t that one of the benefits of a burqa? Freedom from leering men? So before we dismiss the time during The Handmaid’s Tale as undesirable, let’s talk about the benefits of freedom from.

    The other thing I wanted to explore more is whether censorship is okay. The women in The Handmaid’s Tale were burning pornography, something that is often talked about as repressive. I’m sure when the women burned the magazines, they felt freer. If censoring makes you feel freer, how do you know when/if it’s wrong?

    You could combine the two questions and ask why might more restrictions would make people feel freer.

    • Daenel 9:12 pm on August 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think “freedom from” can be liberating. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the women knew they were going to be protected (no rape, no leering, etc). There wasn’t the fear of walking down a dark alley, there was also liberation from idealized beauty. No magazines pushing the image of tall, skinny blonde as beautiful, etc.

      As far as censorship, I don’t like hate speech and wish that could be banned. If we could eliminate hate speech, wouldn’t that bring about a certain degree of freedom?

    • Alyce 10:54 am on August 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think that rules in general give people a sense of comfort in knowing what to expect. The more rules you have, the less chance there is that you will be surprised by something unpleasant, and of course this gets taken to extremes in most dystopian books.

      With censorship, it seems to be a matter of degrees. Complete freedom from censorship would mean that anyone could be exploited – men, women and children. Yet once censorship takes place, there has to be a line drawn, and I think in this day and age the line gets drawn in a place that we see as protective – mainly protecting those who are underage and can’t protect themselves from being exploited.

      So, yes I can see how the members of the society in The Handmaid’s Tale could see that freedom from as an extra protection – a way of keeping the people from being exploited at the cost of their personal freedom. It still makes me uncomfortable though.

    • Michele@A Reader's Respite 9:52 am on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Censorship is akin to legislating morality. I don’t think it’s possible. Example: like Daenel, I have huge problems with any kind of hate speech. But if it were censored, who would decide what constitutes “hate speech”? What if their definition differed from mine? And would it stop people who engage in hate speech from doing so? I doubt it. So in the end, we all are less free.

      I think restrictions simply make people feel safer. A world full of rules is a structured one in which one knows what to expect. People/societies censor what scares them. So censorship gives a false sense of security….they perceive that living in a society where things that that scare them are forbidden means that those things do not exist.

    • Heather 8:17 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Wow Trish, you know how to ask tough questions! I agree with Daenel. “Freedom from” can be liberating. I can’t imagine allowing my children to play outside with out someone out there with them, something I did practically every day at their age. I don’t like to go into the city at night. The world of THT does make me very uncomfortable though!

      As for censorship, as a mother, I do think it has it’s place. But ONLY in that I have the right to censor material that I do not think my children are ready for. When they are ready however, I would not keep it from them. However, I certainly do not think I have the power, nor do I want it!, to censor material for anyone else.

    • Lisa 8:21 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think the idea that “freedom from” is something that has a certain appeal is part of what makes dystopian literature so frightening. It’s easier to imagine something could happen if you can see the at least some of the benefits of a government that oversees everything.

      I can remember when the fight about labeling music was raging. “”Censorship” the critics argued. I didn’t have children at the time and was livid that some bureaucracy was going to make decisions that might effect what young people could listen to. Boy did my opinion change once I had children–I loved having labels on movies, music and video games that would allow me to decide what I wanted my children to watch, play or listen to. Now I don’t really consider that censorship–but I know there are still people that do.

    • trish 8:27 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      That’s exactly it, Lisa. Freedom from definitely has an appeal. When I read they were burning pornography, I could see that happening and being something that people found reasonable. That’s what makes books like THT so scary, that you see that people allow things to be taken away that are easy to let go, not realizing it’s a slippery slope.

    • Frankie 9:27 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I can’t seem to wrap my mind around rules and restrictions giving me/people freedom from. For example, religion. They all come with an extensive list of rules and practices. But it’s a rare individual who keeps all the rules. Why? because we don’t like them, they are too rigid etc…
      Now I do see where censorship could make a person safer/freer but like you say Trish, it’s a slippery slope

    • Jo-Jo 8:04 am on August 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      That’s a great question Trish, and I wouldn’t have thought of it myself but you are so right in that there is definitely a freedom ‘from’. We are given so many freedoms, through choices and decisions that we make on a daily basis that we sometimes commit ourselves in ways that we don’t find enjoyable. Our society in general is overextended financially because many of us spend money we don’t have, in turn having to work extra hours or jobs. With everything being so technologically advanced many individuals believe they can have anything they want right now, not giving us the chance to make a sound decision. So it seems to me that we have a double-edged sword, with more freedoms we allow ourselves more commitments, which in the end results in less freedom when it comes to time and money.

    • Katy 2:07 pm on August 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I have a hard time with censoring and restrictions–especially since we can institute our own restrictions and censoring without the action of the government. I’d much rather see people take personal action in their own lives than expect the government to legislate morality and dictate to us what is acceptable and what is not. As Michele mentioned, what if the people in charge have a much different concept of what is acceptable than I do? I feel like it’s better to have very little censorship to prevent going down a slippery slope toward overzealousness.

    • Jeanne 7:04 pm on August 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      One of the many games I see Atwood playing with her readers is putting an Orwellian phrase like “freedom from” in her character’s (Aunt Lydia’s) mouth. Of course it’s comforting to be protected from some things, but that’s not really freedom. The character is twisting the idea by misusing the word.

  • trish 11:25 pm on August 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Handmaid’s Tale, Sections I-IV, Discussion 1 

    Welcome! I hope you all are enjoying The Handmaid’s Tale. I was a little worried that my love for it was an anomaly, but I read this first section in one sitting (I had to empty the bath and add hotter water, but I did it!), which is a big achievement for me these days! I’m really looking forward to discussing this. I don’t think a page went by that I didn’t mark something.

    These first few questions come from Jeanne from Necromancy Never Pays. She’s taught this book quite a few times and had some great suggestions for questions.

    Aunt Lydia says, “In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.” (24).  Freedom from what?

    Why didn’t people protest more when their rights were taken away?

    Why does Offred tell the interpreter for the group of Japanese tourists that she is very happy as a handmaid?

    Is any symbolism jumping out at you yet?

    Did anyone else look up ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’? What do you think it means?

    What did you think of the scene where the mom takes the daughter to the book burning for the pornography? Is it ever okay to censor?

    More questions will be forthcoming on Thursday, August 26th.

    • Heather 7:30 am on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Firstly, I must say as I was the one so terrified of reading Margaret Atwood, that I surprisingly LOVE this book. Jen casually asked me yesterday if I had started it yet and, well, no, I hadn’t! I kept putting it off. So, like you Trish!, I got in the bathtub with it. Next thing I knew MY water was cold and I’d killed 6 chapters. However, I got out, but I kept reading. It’s just so good!

      Freedoms… Freedom from decision? Freedom from control? It seems that all of Offred’s decisions are made for her. She knows what is expected of her and she does it. She has no choice; it’s either obey or die.

      I think they didn’t protest because they were afraid. There are daily reminders of what will happen to them if they step out of line with the hangings and the men with guns. For this same reason, Offred tells the interpreter’s she’s happy. She says that the interpreters are often Eyes, so she has to say she’s happy for fear of it getting back to whomever that she said she wasn’t.

      Not yet, but I’ve never been very good at picking up symbolism in a first reading.

      I looked up that phrase and found a website that says it is Dog Latin, and it means “Do not let the bastards grind you down.” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Margaret_Atwood

      I am horrified by that scene! While I can understand censoring material inappropriate for children (but only until they are old enough to understand it and feel that is my job as a mother) I cannot abide censoring material for other people OR allowing children to see such a thing.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:22 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Good point on an Eye being the interpreter — I forgot about that! That would make perfect sense on why she answered that way!

        I’m also really excited to read this book — I’ve been meaning to read Margaret Atwood for years, but this is my first time reading her, so it has become a real treat!

      • Daenel 10:08 am on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I love this book and I’ve tried to read other Margaret Atwood’s but I think the symbolism was over my head or I was just too young to get it. I will try again once I’m finished with this one.

    • Frankie 2:09 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Oh good heavens! It’s still summer and my brain has to work.
      I am enjoying this book so far in a WTF way.

      1. I took Aunt Lydia’s reference to “time of anarchy” as a time when they had a goverment that was”by the people, for the people.” A time when they chose what to read,what career they wanted and who they wished to have sex with. Freedom to make decisions for themselves. Even unpopular, or wrong decisions. Now they don’t have to make those decisions. They are free from those decisions.

      2. I think people do protest for their rights. They choose their battles and their methods. Passive aggression goes along way.

      3. Survival. If Offred tells the truth who is going to help her? The girl needs a plan first before she speaks the truth.

      4. Symbolism? Red for menstrual blood?

      5. The mother and daughter scene reminded me of Nazi Germany. In the end nothing good comes from censorship. It’s the job of a parent to censor with explanations and reason while a child is young but not the job of a gov.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:26 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        “…in a WTF way.” LOL – I am, too! I can’t even believe what I’m reading!

        You are so spot on about the passive aggression going a long way — truly, sitting back and not saying anything (maybe hoping someone else will?), makes a person so complacent. I mean, it’s kind of like that part where it’s mentioned that everyone becomes usual, and even right now, the world that Offred lives in, is just “normal” to them now. Being passive-aggressive can certainly “change” the world — at leas in the sense that no one does anything when they see something wrong, even in the smallest sense of the word.

      • Daenel 10:12 am on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        “…in a WTF way.” Priceless! LOL

        As a librarian and veteran the whole idea of censorship worries me. Whether you agree with the idea, book, thought, whatever, censorship is wrong.

        Both of you are so dead on when you talk about passive aggressiveness and complacency, that is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany when good people sat back and waited for someone else to do/say something.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 8:57 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Exactly — making sure to speak up to even the tiniest of transgressions may seem embarrassing to some people, but it really is the only way to make sure that the “ultimate” line, whatever that may be, isn’t eventually crossed by the small steps that can sometimes be taken every day.

    • Karen 2:41 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I am so glad I chose to pick this book up again. I’ve mentioned this before – I have been completely intimiated by this book several times. This time was totally different! I could have probably read the whole book in one sitting – I restrained myself to participate in the discussion. I attribute this to having the read-a-long and knowing we would discuss the book a bit at a time. Makes all the difference in the world! Anyways, here are my thoughts so far:

      1. I agree with Frankie and would add that I think Aunt Lydia is implying that women (or perhaps society?) sort of ‘blew’ their chance at free thinking – like free- thinking led to anarchy so now we’ve all lost the ability to think for ourselves – someone governs our thoughs for us now. The phrase coming to mind is “You want to act like a baby, I’ll treat you like one!” And Aunt Lydia has obviously been taught (brainwashed) into believing that it’s better for society all the way around.

      2. Do we really know how much they did protest? I didn’t get a good feel for that – perhaps more of the ‘anarchy’ times will be revealed in further chapters?

      3. Again, I agree with Frankie – lying to the Japanese tourists was about survival. It may be as simple as there is punishment for speaking against this lifestyle.

      4. I am terrible at symbolism! I did notice some references to ‘views’ – view from her window, view of the wife’s feet, view restricted by the wings of her head covering…If I had to take that as symbolic – it would be that her view of the world is being controlled for her.

      5. I had to look up the actual definition of censor: : to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable . I agree with a parent’s right to censor on behalf of their children, but I do not agree with the government censoring on behalf of it’s people.

      Whew…I’ve restrained myself for long enough – now I can read the next part!

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:29 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I’ve never done a read-along, so this is definitely fun! Although I am trying not to read further than I want to — it’s such a good book!!

        I agree with you, I don’t think we got a good sense of any protesting that actually occurred, at least as far as formal and organized protests go. Was there a champion for this movement? I haven’t seen it yet, but maybe it goes into it later?

    • bookaliciouspam 2:52 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      The first part of the book shows that women are more repressed than men for sure, but I always wondered unless you were one of the Generals or someone important enough to have a haindmaid do you have any read freedoms? Everyone in this society is oppressed in some way. It reminds me a lot of the abolished caste system in India but way more regulated and consequences for actions are verily much more notable and organized.

      • jendevourerofbooks 2:54 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I think that’s a really interesting point, Pam. We don’t see a lot about what it is like to be a man in this society (other than being told that the men have Salvagings too), since it is all from Offred’s point of view, and she isn’t allowed much contact with men, and certainly not anything candid with anyone but the Commander.

      • ibeeeg 3:03 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        You know what, I wondered about the men as well. The ones with lower rank, did they really have any freedom? I think they still had more freedom than women but still. Also, I was also very curious as to why the commander and his wife followed the protocol within their home. It was interesting to note that. I don’t know, maybe there were spies everywhere so one would not even try to bend the rules even behind their closed doors.

        • Jeanne 7:19 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          ibeeeg, you’re right in your guesses. All of you are; men have no more freedom in this society than women do. You find out more about that as you continue to read. There’s a wonderful satire on “gender treachery” that is unfortunately not dated enough since this novel was published in the 1980s.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:31 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Remember when she is looking at the Guardians that are letting her pass through, and she talks about how maybe if they’re lucky one day, they’ll be able to work up to having a wife, and even a handmaid? And that although it’s mean, she’s got a little bit of control still as she walks away because she knows they’re watching her? I actually felt pretty bad for the guys at that point because they definitely have no control on just meeting someone on their own, starting a relationship. Those lower ranking guys seemed just as powerless as the women, at least in that moment, you know?

          • Jeanne 8:04 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

            Even the higher ranking guys aren’t as powerful as they think, which is revealed by Offred’s Commander’s behavior and one of the points of the “Historical Notes” at the end.

            • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:43 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink

              It makes me wonder who has the ultimate authority and the power? I can’t wait to finish this book!

      • Daenel 10:16 am on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I thought the repression/oppression of the men was pointed out pretty well because they are not free to choose their wives if they are of a lower “caste.” And the ones who do have wives have Econo-wives.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 8:58 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          Yes, I am feeling the same way as I read this — and I felt bad for them as well. It doesn’t seem like life is very…happy? I shudder at what this world would be like.

    • ibeeeg 2:59 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      This was great book. I fully intended to just read each section by the schedule, but I could not help myself, I had to read it all…Now!

      Why did the people not protest? well, first off, things were taken away sublty. A litte here,and a little there. People did not question the changes that were made because on the surface they did not seem like a bad idea. What they failed to do was question each change. They failed to question whether it would good in the long run, and how much of their rights were truly being taken away. To me, that is the scariest part of the book – how easily the government became what it did and the people followed along. Those who did not follow rebelled, many killed, and many living in exile. Scary stuff that could easily happen in today’s world.
      Once they were in the midst of it all, how could you protest when that would lead to immediate execution…no question. I like how the people did, however, put together an underground society to try and fix things.

      Did I pick up any symbolism? none that I can recall. If I get the chance, I am going to go through the sections before our next discussion to see if I see any, but usually it takes a complete re-read for me to start getting the symbolism stuff.

      I did not look up ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’. I tend to not look stuff up that I do not understand because more times than not a book will explain stuff in its time.

      The book burning scene immediately reminded me of Tipper Gore and her protest against certain rock albums. I think that took place in the early 80’s. I don’t clearly remember it but I remember it being a huge deal.
      I wasn’t bothered by it because usually these type of intense groups do not make a huge dent in the society. However, that is true because there usually is another group who opposes it…almost as vocally…a counterbalance. That is the key with this book, there wound up being no counterbalance to laws and regualtions that were put into place…too much authority for only one group.

      Ahh..wait…I was just reading Frankie’s reply and yes, I was thinking that the color red was signifcant…it stood for a females reproductive cycle…bleeding goes with menstruation as well as with birth.

      • jennygirl 5:49 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Ah Tipper Gore. I was young but I remember my mom and dad making a big deal out of it.

        Wonderful thoguhts.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:35 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        You definitely did what I wanted to do! I wanted to read the whole thing right away (since I’m picking up Mockingjay and all today…!). It was too good to simply just close the book at page 75 and just wait!

        There’s a great quote in the book about people’s rights being taken away subtly — how something like “nothing changes subtly and that you’d be boiled in a bathtub without even realizing it was getting to that point if the heat just was increased little by bit.” And before the people knew it, they were suddenly just a repressed society, new order and rule, and no say. Can you imagine? Frightens the heck out of me.

        • ibeeeg 2:10 pm on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          You are right, it is a frightening thought that things change in such a way that before you know it you are being boiled. That really can happen which is why this story is so mind blowing.

    • jennygirl 4:29 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Absolutley loving this book and I can’t believe I waited this long to read it.

      1.) Freedom from: for me it means freedom from thinking and making any choices. Apparently you people couldn’t do it correctly before so now you are free from making any further mistakes. We know what is right or wrong and will do it for you.

      2.) Why didn’t people protest more? I am not sure about this. As someone else suggested maybe the freedoms were taken away gradually so no one noticed. (Remind you of anything currently?) By the time anyone noticed it was too late. I think that society was too complacent and not interested in government so that religious factions were able to slowly take over. The society was too busy trying to be cute, pretty, and reading for knowledge. Knowledge is bad, becuase it means you question others, and this crazy gvmt doesn’t like that.

      3.) Offred said that to fit in and blend in. She had to or else risk of being banished or beaten I presume. I don’t believe she truly meant it.

      4.) Symbolism: the only thing for me is the red. Sorry! They like to say the red is for being handmaid and special but I think it is also meant to be like the Scarlett Letter. They are dirty girls because they have had or will have sex. This is very oppressed society. The Wives are dressed like nuns or virgin Marys becasue of the blue. The Officers remind me of German soldiers. Sorry to say it but I think gestapo when they describe the Eyes, the officers and the guards. Plus under Hitler there were no questions asked and they controlled the media, just like this society. The simulated sex, means that sex is dirty, bad, and shameful.

      5.) Didn’t look up the words but Heather said it translates to “Do not let the bastards grind you down.” So in essence hang in there sister. You are not alone in this tradegy. Some sort of resistance must be in play.

      6.) Religion has become an even bigger part of society with more impact. I thought it was sad that books are being burned because it implies that one segment of society feels it knows best for all. That is not the case in my opinion. If you don’t want your child to read or learn something, then it is up to you to censor your child. Not the children of your neighbors. If you don’t like the community you live in, then move. Censorship never leads to good things.

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:46 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        What a great point on the color red meaning being a dirty girl — I only thought about life’s cycle and then anger — but the Scarlett Letter piece, being considered a dirty girl, that’s way interesting and I hadn’t thought of that!

        • ibeeeg 2:14 pm on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          The dirty girl is an interesting thought, and i am sure those who are higher in status do look upon the handmaid as such.

    • Lisa 7:26 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m in agreement: I think we’ll learn more about why the people didn’t protest more as their rights were restricted. But here’s what I’m thinking at this point: we’ve been having our rights curbed back ever since 9/11 in the name of national security and, for the most part, we’ve been more than willing to allow it. It’s now possible that you will be asked to go through a machine in the airport that may all but see you naked. People have grumbled but if you want to fly you’ll be willing to do it.

      As for symbolism, the red I would agree symbolizes the menstrual blood and the idea of all of the different references to “view” have do with the Handmaid’s view, in all respects, being controlled.

      Censorship? Can’t stand it and abhor the idea of inculcating children into the idea. Here’s the thing–if you tell children/young people something is bad for them, doesn’t that just make them aware of something they might not even have been aware of? It’s always been my experience that if you tell people that something is forbidden, they’ll want it all the more.

      • Jeanne 7:03 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Lisa, I think what you say about rights being curbed since 9/11 is one of the important issues to discuss when thinking about why people didn’t protest more. There’s a famous essay by Bruno Bettelheim entitled “The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank” about the Frank family’s belief that their life could go on as before while the Nazi laws got more and more stringent. The same kind of thing happens in

        • Jeanne 7:14 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          the Handmaid’s Tale, culminating with the images in Chapter 28. (As some of you have noted, there are lots of Nazi references, plus a good many to American Slavery, like how the women can’t be allowed to read.)

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 7:38 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        You know, you’re right — I travel for business frequently, and it amazes me to think of how flight travel was 10 years ago before 9/11 and what it is like today. I mean, people could drop you off at the airport and walk with you directly to the gate! And now, with events even in the past 5 years as well, we have to take everything out of our suitcase at security, take our shoes off…it is just a little bit at a time, sort of like this book, and now that machine that literally makes you naked, shows everything about what you look like with no clothes on! And, not to mention, airport security could actually save the picture into their database! What a great point you made, and it really makes me think!

      • Karen 12:21 pm on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Lisa – I just had to look up inculcating (to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions). I’d never heard that word before! Good one!

    • Coffee and a Book Chick 9:09 pm on August 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      “Aunt Lydia says, “In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from.” (24). Freedom from what?”
      Sometimes the freedom of choices brings about the stress of not knowing which choice to select and thus feeling stagnant and helpless — ultimately forcing you to procrastinate. Limiting your choices, to the point of no choice at all, only one that is provided for you provides the freedom of knowing that you do not have to pick, think or do anything but follow. Frightening, isn’t it?

      “Why didn’t people protest more when their rights were taken away?”
      I’m still wondering why people didn’t react and stand up for themselves as much as I think people would — but then I think of the stories that they’ve all been told, of the women being murdered in the woods. The silence of the real boogeyman come to life and thrashing away to change society. The combination of Serena Joy being the angelic voice of the new cause for women to stay at home. Could people have become so swept up in the excitement of something new and different that they couldn’t see past the initial thrill to the reality of it all?

      “Why does Offred tell the interpreter for the group of Japanese tourists that she is very happy as a handmaid?”
      Society is a weight upon all residents — there are no freedoms in this world that Offred lives in, and how can she can do anything else but risk speaking so that she can relay that she is happy? It’s the only way to not invite a backlash in her world, fear of death, punishment, exile. It’s pure protection.

      “Is any symbolism jumping out at you yet?”
      The colors associated with the women’s roles — particularly red. Red is the perfect color in representing women because of the cycle of life and menstruation. Not to mention that red also represents anger, which has me interested to see if that plays out in the book.

      “Did anyone else look up ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’? What do you think it means?”
      I haven’t looked it up yet because I wasn’t sure if it would be revealed throughout the book in a pivotal moment. I’m figuring it’s a nice, big middle finger being given to the oppressive state of the world by one individual woman in the face of it all. And I liked it!

      “What did you think of the scene where the mom takes the daughter to the book burning for the pornography? Is it ever okay to censor?”
      I don’t ever think it’s okay to censor, but then I get worried when I say something like that because I think of all the things that I wouldn’t want my nieces or nephews to ever know about, EVER. It’s such a frightening thing to think of a government censoring and then not knowing where the line is and having them cross over the line to the full extent of oppression and fear.

      I am so thrilled that I am participating in this read-along! This is my first Margaret Atwood novel, and I know it won’t be my last! Looking forward to the section next week with everyone!

      • Jeanne 7:24 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        What a good way to put it about why Offred says she is happy–“pure protection”! Atwood has said in interviews that there isn’t anything in this novel that wasn’t taken from her file of newspaper clippings from the time. The really unfortunate thing about that scene is that it’s still going on in many middle eastern countries. A reporter goes up to a woman in a burqa and asks if it’s her choice to dress modestly. Yes, she says, yes.

        • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:50 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          My parents actually lived in Saudi Arabia for about 8 years in the ’90s (my Dad was an engineer and the American company he was with at the time transferred him over there). Our family is so used to traveling and living overseas for work, but I was worried about them simply because of how much they would have to adapt to this very different culture, and my mother covering herself in public, etc. I always feel bad for those that are covering themselves up over there — whether for religion, whether for pressure to do so, etc. I do question why, and wonder the value of it, no matter how many times I get into a discussion on why it’s thought to be okay, you know?

    • 1girl2manybooks 5:13 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I am loving this book so far – just read the whole section in one go and I really want to keep going! It drew me in right from the start! I also think that they are being given freedom from -choice-. Clearly the ruling class now thinks that the choices being made were bad ones – promiscuity, drinking, smoking, lack of modesty. Even though I think she states it’s been 3 years since the ‘before’ so many things from that time are a distant memory now. The way things are now have been implemented so forcefully, so swiftly, so completely that it seems like protesting/resisting wasn’t even an option. And to resist now certainly seems to mean being hung on the Wall or riddled with bullets like the Martha. They know this and accept it and I think it was that surety that led her to tell the Japanese interpreter that she was happy being a Handmaiden.

      As for symbolism, I find the colours interesting! Red, as people have mentioned, for menstrual blood, and life. Blue is often considered the colour of royalty and it’s the colour the Virgin Mary wore, and this is the colour the Wives wear. Green seems practical, earthy for the Martha’s. The daughters wear white, which reflects purity and innocence. I also find the repetitiveness of what she can see, or often, can’t see meaningful as even that is controlled.

      I do and I don’t agree with censoring, in that I’m also a mother of a young child and there are definitely things I wouldn’t allow him to see. Would I burn things? No, and definitely not in front of him. But I would certainly exercise some sort of control over what he could view until I thought he was of such an age that he could choose for himself. It’s hard to know what that age is though!

      Loving all the discussion 🙂 This is the first read-a-long I’ve ever done and I think it’ll really enhance a book like this one. Looking forward to the next section!

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 10:51 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        This is my first read-along, too, and am loving it as well — what a great book for us to start with, huh? I’ve never read any of Atwood’s novels before, so this is turning into a real treat!

      • Frankie 4:36 pm on August 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Yesterday, after finishing the 2nd section, I had an Ah Ha moment about the colors the women wear. Then read comments from 1girl2many books and jennygirl. They got it before me. Red has always been a color that referred to prostitutes,(Scarlette O’Hara had to wear it for a kiss, Sting sang that Roxanne didn’t have to put on the red light.”) Or even for a show-off. How many of us have attended a high-school reunion/party/wedding and there is a woman in red. She looks great and is having a grand time but somebody(usually a woman) sitting at a table is “dissing” her for being showy!. But a man is thinking,”she is hot”. Blue is cool and a calming color. Green is organic,earthy,vegetables. How about the name Martha. In the bible she was sister to Mary and Lazarus. I googled her name and she is referred to as the perfect hostess .
        Now I have to admit I won’t have all these thoughts if I were reading this on my own. I’m very glad to be part of this 🙂

    • Jeanne 7:28 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      As you continue to read, look for examples of ignoring and ignorance, like “it isn’t the sort of thing you ask questions about, because the answers are not usually answers you want to know.”

    • Jo-Jo 8:11 am on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m so glad I decided to read this book with you all because I’m sure this is one that my regular book club would not be interested in, even though it has so much to offer! This is my first time to read this book and I’m loving it.

      I agree with what all of you have to say about freedoms. I guess I will stop complaining about all of the choices I have to make!

      As far as why they didn’t protest I agree with what both Lisa and Ibeeeg have to say. It actually reminds me a bit of Hitler and the Holocaust too. Peoples rights are taken away just a little at a time and before you know what’s happened everything has changed. The following I think is a good excerpt that was on page 56 of the edition that I am reading that I think sums up this question rather well:
      ‘Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women and the men who did such things were other men.’

      I am also horrible with spotting symbolisms, but I do agree with what a few of you have to say about red and the menstrual blood.

      As far as censoring goes, I do believe that every parent has the right to censor according to their beliefs. But government sponsored book burning is crossing the line. It kind of goes back to having your rights taken away and as Frankie mentioned, also reminds me of Nazi Germany.

      It will be interesting to see as we read on what kind of rights the women that are actually not handmaids really have, along with the men.

    • Alyce 8:51 pm on August 26, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m just stopping by to say that I am reading this book, and plan to participate more in the upcoming discussions. I just got back from a trip and am still kind of on vacation for one more day. The first 80+ pages were so compelling that I didn’t want to stop reading. I look forward to participating more in the rest of the discussions!

      • Coffee and a Book Chick 9:00 pm on August 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Alyce, I am right there with you! I read the first 75 pages and then went on vacation, so I am hurrying to read the next section by tomorrow!

    • Melissa 11:45 am on September 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Sorry I’m late to the discussion. I just got back from vacation, but I’m catching up!

      I’m really enjoying the book. I’ve read a bit of Atwood, but this has always been the book of her’s that people say is a must read, so I’m thrilled to finally pick it up.

      The world Offred lives in seems so innocuous at first, but as soon as the truth begins to unfold it becomes disturbing in a hurry. A world where your decisions are taken away from you is absolutely terrifying to me. The fact that women aren’t allowed to read anymore also stood out as horrific to me. Taking away a person’s right to read and communicate through writing is so debilitating. You’re trapping them in ignorance.

      The other thing that I found a bit shocking is the fact that it’s only been three years since “before.” Imagine our society becoming like this by 2013.

      p.s. Huge thanks to Jeanne for her great questions and sharing her expertise on the book with us and to Trish for hosting this read along!

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