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Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood. “The Handmaid’s Tale”: Novel Study. ENG4U1 Ms. Prince. Biography: Who is she?. Who: Margaret Eleanor Atwood Born: November 18 th , 1939 in Ottawa, ON Family: 2 nd of 3 children to parents Margaret Dorothy and Carl Edmund Atwood

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Margaret Atwood

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  1. Margaret Atwood “The Handmaid’s Tale”: Novel Study ENG4U1 Ms. Prince

  2. Biography: Who is she? • Who: Margaret Eleanor Atwood • Born: November 18th, 1939 in Ottawa, ON • Family: 2nd of 3 children to parents Margaret Dorothy and Carl Edmund Atwood • Mother was a dietitian and nutritionist, Father was an entomologist (study of insects) (Note: both well educated) • Married in 1968 but divorced in 1973 • New relationship soon after divorce with novelist Graeme Gibson, have a daughter together (moved to Alliston in 1976 but back to Toronto in 1980) • Early Life: spent most of her childhood in the backwoods of Northern Quebec and back and forth between Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Toronto • She did not attend school full-time until she was in grade 8. • She became a voracious reader of literature, Dell pocketbook mysteries, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Canadian animal stories, and comic books. • She attended Leaside High School in Leaside, Toronto, and graduated in 1957

  3. Life as an Author: Education • Atwood began writing at the age of six and decided to do it professionally at sixteen • Began studying at Victoria College in the University of Toronto in 1957 • Published poems and articles in the college literary journal • Professors included Jay Macpherson and Northrop Frye • Graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Art’s Degree in English (honours) and a minor in Philosophy and French • Late 1961 – won the E.J. Pratt Medal for her published book of poems “Double Persephone” and began graduate studies at Harvard’s Radcliffe College (with a Woodrow Wilson fellowship) • Earned her MA (master’s degree) in 1962 • Continued for another two years at Harvard • Doctor of Literature (honoris causa) from the National University of Ireland, Galway, an honorary degree from the Royal Military College of Canada, honorary degrees from several other Canadian universities, as well as Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the Sorbonne

  4. Life as an Author: Works • Best know as a novelist (14 novels) • The Edible Woman (1970), Surfacing(1973), Lady Oracle(1976) • Life Before Man(1980), Bodily Harm(1981), The Handmaid’s Tale(1985),Cat’s Eye (1989) • The Robber Bride (1993), Alias Grace (1996) • The Blind Assassin(2000), Oryx and Crake (2003), The Penelopiad (2005), The Year of the Flood (2009) • MaddAddam(2013) • Short Fiction (7 works) • Dancing Girls (1979), Murder in the Dark(1983), Bluebeard’s Egg (1983, 1985) • Wilderness Tips(1991), Good Bones (1992, 1994), The Tent (2006), Moral Disorder(2006) • Children’s books (8 works), Poetry (17 collections), Non-Fiction (10 works), Radio and Television scripts, Essays, Recordings, Edited works, …. Is there anything she doesn’t do??

  5. Life as an Author: Accolades • She has been recognized nationally and internationally for decades • 1960s – 5 awards • 1970s – 6 awards • 1980s – 27 awards (including: Companion to the Order of Canada, Governor General’s Award, Humanist of the Year, Short-listed for the Booker Prize) • 1990s – 25 awards (including: The Giller Prize, Short-listed for the Booker Prize (again), Government of France’s Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) • 2000 to 2010 – 25 awards (including: Booker Prize, short-listed for Booker Prize (3 different books), etc.) • 2010 to present – 12 awards (including: President’s Medal, Governor General’s Award) • 23 honorary degrees

  6. The Handmaid’s Tale: Science Fiction vs. Speculative Fiction • The Handmaid’s Tale received the Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987 • Award given for best science fiction novel • Atwood rejected the idea of her piece belonging to the genre of “science fiction”. She argued that nothing she included had not happened somewhere already in human history and all she did was take some commonly held ideas (regarding women, etc.) and take them to their logical conclusion. “I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can't yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth. But the terms are fluid.” "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen." http://www.theguardian.com/film/2005/jun/17/sciencefictionfantasyandhorror.margaretatwood

  7. The Handmaid’s Tale: The Basics • A dystopian novel, speculative fiction, first published in 1985 • Set in the near future, in a totalitarian Christian theocracy where far-right Christian theocrats have militarily overthrown the United States government. • Totalitarianism: ruler or ruling body has total control over all aspects of society • Theocracy: a form of government in which a country is ruled by religious leaders • “Government by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. In many theocracies, government leaders are members of the clergy, and the state's legal system is based on religious law” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theocracy) • Told from the point of view of a woman called Offred (literally Of-Fred) • Flashbacks of her old life with her husband and daughter as well as her indoctrination • Structure of Gilead’s society is described, including the different classes of women and their proscribed roles in the new theocracy

  8. The Handmaid’s Tale: Language • Pay VERY close attention to the language as you read – one of the main themes or ideas at play in this piece is that of language as a tool of power • There are three categories of language worth noting in the text: • Neologisms – words that invented or given new meaning in Gilead • Exist in today’s society too – ex. ROFL, redonkulous, etc. • Biblical Language – phrases that sound Biblical, are said to be from the Bible, or are lifted from the Bible and have become part of every day interaction (note: Aunt Lydia!) • Language Musings – words that Offred contemplates the meaning of • Remember: in a world where literacy is forbidden to her, sex isn’t illicit or tantalising – words are. • Side Note: it may prove worthwhile to look up some of the Biblical passages being quoted or used in the text and compare it to what the Bible actually says. Biblegateway.com is a fairly straight-forward site.

  9. The Handmaid’s Tale: Issues &Themes • There are many issues, themes and ideas in this text. Some to keep in mind include: • Language as a tool of power • Causes and costs of complacency • Religion as a political tool • Women’s bodies and politics • Reactionary and feminist ideals • Rape and sexual violence • Freedom to vs. Freedom from • Secret police • …there is a reason, after all, this text is an incredibly controversial one. It has been challenged and banned by many – including recently. (Find out for yourself – should it have been?)

  10. Dear Ms. Atwood: What did you mean… “Often students and curious readers write to ask questions about an interpretation of one of my books, questions such as, “This book ends ambiguously. We aren’t really told what happened to Character X. Can you tell me what really happened?” … or sometimes, “Critic X says Y about your use of Z. Do you agree?” There are two points to be made about this sort of question. First, what I think about what happened is already in the book. Secondly, I’m not comfortable giving interpretations of my work. If I were to provide one, it would become the definitive interpretation, inhibiting readers from finding their own meanings.” http://margaretatwood.ca/faqs/

  11. Quotes: What speaks to you?

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