Teaching Students About the Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel by Margaret Atwood, is a crucial piece of literature that has become increasingly relevant in today’s society. Set in the dystopian society of Gilead, the story follows Offred, a handmaid forced into a life of servitude and sexual slavery. Understanding this novel is crucial for students to analyze themes such as gender inequality, effects of political extremism, and resistance in oppressive societies. This article aims to provide educators with guidance on teaching The Handmaid’s Tale effectively.
Contextualizing The Handmaid’s Tale
Before delving into the novel itself, it’s essential for educators to provide students with historical context to fully comprehend Atwood’s work. Teachers should touch upon the political upheaval and feminist movements of the 1970s and 1980s, which greatly influenced Atwood. Discussing these events will help students understand the real-world consequences that inspired the novel.
Introducing Themes and Discussion Topics
Teachers should encourage students to think critically about major themes within The Handmaid’s Tale such as:
1. Gender Inequality: Analyze how Gilead imposes strict gender roles and confines women to specific social classes. Students should discuss how this fictional dystopian society mirrors real-life instances of sexism and misogyny.
2. Power Dynamics: Examine how those in power wield their authority as a means of control over subjugated individuals and groups in Gilead. Students can draw comparisons to historical events or contemporary societies where similar power dynamics exist.
3. Resistance: Discuss how various characters in The Handmaid’s Tale resist their oppressive circumstances. Encourage students to consider different forms of resistance that they have learned about or witnessed throughout history.
The Handmaid’s Tale is rich with symbols that carry significant meaning throughout the narrative. Educators can guide students in decoding these symbols and evaluating their importance, such as:
1. The Handmaid’s Uniform: Analyze the uniform’s red color, which symbolizes fertility and sexuality, as well as its function as a means of control and a constant reminder of the handmaid’s dehumanized status.
2. The Eye: Explore how the omnipresent symbol of The Eye embodies the oppressive surveillance and fear that permeates Gileadean society.
3. Flowers: Investigate how flowers appear throughout the novel as symbols of both female fertility and the commodification of women in Gilead.
To further enrich students’ understanding of The Handmaid’s Tale, educators can incorporate various multimedia resources such as:
1. Interviews with Margaret Atwood discussing her inspiration for the novel, as well as her reflections on its continued significance.
2. Video clips from Hulu’s television adaptation to visualize key scenes for analysis, discussion, or compare-contrast exercises.
3. Documentary films or articles exploring real-life occurrences that parallel aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale, such as forced marriages, human trafficking, or restricted reproductive rights.