As such maternity is perhaps the defining trait of Gileadean Paper

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As such, maternity is perhaps the defining trait of Gileadean women, fundamental to others’ perception of them, and to their sense of self-worth. It is arguable that Atwood exaggerates elements such as fertility within the novel due to its didactic stance as a form of predictive fiction which aims to inspire change. However, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ also suggests the reduction of the female to the maternal role, despite its entirely different autobiographical genre. Throughout the novel, women are completely dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their only path to an accepted social status. This is what they are born for, to conceive. They are a mere object of production and this is acknowledged in the novel. For instance, Giti and Hasina, Laila’s friends once told her, “By the time we’re twenty, Giti and I we’ll have pushed out four, five kids each. But you, Laila, you’ll make us two dummies proud. You’re going to be somebody. I know one day I’ll pick up a newspaper and find your picture on the front page.” However, Hosseini sets up pregnancy as a symbol of hope for the women in the novel. Mariam’s pregnancies each offer her an opportunity to be hopeful for the future despite her bleak living situation and Laila’s pregnancy with Aziza allows her to remain positive after she learns about Tariq’s death. Aziza and Zalmai consequently act as symbols of light and joy in a story that is otherwise bleak and dark.
The position of the woman as ‘predicted’ and ‘controlled’ can also be contemplated in terms of the restriction of female self-expression. In, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, it is revealed at the novel’s end that the narrative has been reconstructed by two male history professors. Consequently, Offred is deprived of narrative initiative on two counts. Not only is her story not composed in the way she intended, but by positioning this revelation at the close of the novel, that part which leaves a lasting impression upon the reader, Atwood radically shifts the novel’s raison d’etre from consideration of female oppression to, as Howells simply states, how Offred’s voice is “drowned out” by that patriarchal tradition. This idea is corroborated in Alcoff’s feminist assertion that “every source of knowledge about women has been contaminated with misogyny and sexism”, and evidenced Atwood’s use of conditional clauses, “if the author is telling the truth” and questions, “Why did she not make her story public…?” which has the effect of diminishing Offred’s narrative by provoking the reader’s doubt as to its credibility. In this way Offred is rendered passive in her own narrative, subject to male authority and secondary to the ultimate goal of demystifying patriarchal intent.
The concept of passivity is extended by Freibert’s critical assertions as to Atwood’s employment of a “low-keyed” voice, which acts to “approximate the limited scope of Offred’s life”. Freibert’s suggestions of narrative timidity imply Offred’s passive submission to patriarchal oppression, an idea directly contradicted by Deer’s insistence that Offred is, “an authoritative storyteller, one who manipulates the reader as she tells her story”. Offred’s superiority in the narrator-reader relationship is apparent in Atwood’s rhetorical skill. Her use of anadiplosis and anaphora deftly impresses upon the reader the horror of the Gileadean institution of execution and the connections she purposefully employs before guilefully casting aside suggest a concealed narrative intent. This conflict between the innocent, victimised aspect of Offred and the powerful, purposeful aspect that manipulates the narrative embodies the struggle of an intelligent woman to realise self-expression in an oppressive, misogynistic world.
Despite this depiction of women as controlled elements due to the limitation of their self-expression, defiance of patriarchal control is also evident in both texts. Offred’s mother, for example, is a staunch feminist. Her revolutionary act – burning pornography, protesting for abortion – render her a product of the radical feminism of the 70s with which contemporary readers of the 80s novel would have been familiar, thus injecting the novel with potent overtones of resistance and defiance rooted in reality. This feminist mantle is sustained by Moira in the Gileadean era, most prominently in her homosexuality, which flagrantly defies dependence on, and subjugation to, the male. As such even her resignation to sexual slavery at Jezebel’s later in the novel becomes subversive in her exploitation of the situation as a “Butch paradise”. This has particular relevance to the populist conservative movement of the New Right that enjoyed unprecedented growth in the late 1970s. The Christian Right saw the sexual depravity plaguing society as excessively dangerous, something that would result in the destruction of the country. These movements became “the self-appointed conscience of American Society”, and lent strong support to right-wing Christian political factions, which enjoyed increasing influence in the 1980s, espousing socially conservative policies including the regulation of pornography, anti-abortion legislation and the virtues of faithfulness and loyalty in sexual partnerships.
Similarly, in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, Laila is shown to be bold and prone to risk-taking on numerous occasions. Her willingness to pawn her wedding ring is particularly defiant as, when the Taliban came to power in 1996, a system of gender apartheid was instituted which put women in a state of constant house arrest unless accompanied by a male relative. This resistance to strict patriarchal purdah regulations is also evident at the novel’s climax, when Mariam makes a calculated decision to kill Rasheed as he is in the act of murdering Laila, she is able to resist not only his brutal force but her own revulsion of violent action to save Laila. As such, both women powerfully rebel against male control and “survive not just physically but also emotionally by putting their faith in each other” as put by Natasha Walter.
Indeed, the defiance of figures such as Moira is undermined by a characterisation that essentially fulfils every facet of the radical feminist stereotype – homosexuality, resistance to authority and a kind of virility, as suggested by her masculine ‘overalls’ and assertive dialogue, “let’s go for a beer”. The stereotyping of the female has an overarching presence in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in Atwood’s careful stratification of women; ranging from ‘unwomen’ to ‘econowives’, ‘handmaids’ and commander’s wives at the top of the female hierarchy, all of whom are explicitly identified by their respective clothing. With its passion for traditional values, Gilead borrows selectively from the historical model of the Puritan forefathers of America. Many of the practices of Atwood’s Gilead, especially its attitudes to women as the inferior sex, are reminiscent of the Puritans. For example, Anne K. Kaler writes that New England Puritan women were assigned names like “Silence, Fear, Patience, Prudence, Mindwell, Comfort, Hopestill and Be Fruitful” so as to be “reminded … of their feminine destiny”, and they were not allowed to use combs or mirrors or wear anything but plain and functional clothing. This categorisation of ‘the model woman’; a personified fulfilment of the obedient housewifely traits of domesticity and submission is shown throughout ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ as Afghan women were expected to fulfil a traditional housewife role and provide for their husbands and family. Mariam is forced to marry Rasheed when Nana commits suicide; the Taliban encouraged girls under the age of 16 to enter marriage especially if they had no one to provide for them. Amnesty International reported that under Taliban rule, 80% of Afghan marriages were imposed by force. The Taliban also forbade women from having an education or leaving the house alone, so women were expected to spend each and every day cleaning and cooking meals for their husbands. Mariam always ‘does as she is told’ which conveys the power imbalance which existed in many households during the years of the Taliban. These stereotypes evidence the streamlining of the female into specific attributes, the conglomeration of which constitutes the authors’ chosen representation of the female in literature. This is exemplified in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ through the merging of various exaggerated and stereotypical figures, such as Aunt Lydia and Moira, into Offred’s discourse; achieved through Atwood’s neglect of the speech marks that would traditionally differentiate other characters’ dialogue from narrative thought, ‘Idiot, says Moira’. In this way the various, strictly defined female attributes are melded together in a single, amalgamative narrative voice.
Both Atwood and Hosseini present their female protagonists as broken and fragmented figures embodied by the fractured structure of the texts. In the ‘Historical Notes’ we discover that Offred’s text, the main portion of the novel, is simply Pieixoto’s piecing together of recorded fragments, meaning at times the narrative transitions between a more immediate present and a distant past tense with the effect of disrupting the chronology of the narrative to communicate the disjointed nature of the female. Moreover, puns, digressions, flashbacks, asides, rewordings, abound throughout the novel. Offred sometimes retells the same event in different ways, reminding us that this is a “reconstruction” or an “approximation.” Thus, Offred’s words continue the pattern of layered texts, overlapping voices within the novel. Jill LeBihan notes that this textual layering functions to problematise the Gileadean notion that there exists one truth, one officially sanctioned version of reality: “the novel constantly reiterates its uncertain, problematic relationship with the concept of a single reality, one identity, a truthful history”. Thus, several narrative conventions exist in tension with each other, challenging the notion of a seamless reality and a unified narrative voice. Similar stylistic strategies are at work in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, which employs a third person narrative with a dual focus on the viewpoints of Laila and Mariam. The chronological narrative is effective in capturing the emotion of the reader covering of a multi-generational-period of nearly forty-five-years. With this, and the extensive use of dialogue, along with what critics have called an ‘energetic narrative’, the reader is able to relate to Laila as a complex character making the violence and cruelty she suffers from Rasheed and the Taliban regime a highly distressing portrayal of female oppression.
Both novels are constructed from both reality and fiction, possessing at least some autobiographical elements; Hosseini grew up in Kabul and his family sought to seek asylum in the United States in 1980 shortly after the Soviet invasion. Hosseini returned to Afghanistan for the first time in almost thirty years just before writing ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and was moved by the stories of the women he met there. Although ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is less explicitly autobiographical, Deer’s comment that “Offred’s powerful narrative skill conflicts with the powerlessness, the innocence…(that) characterises her” suggests not only, as previously considered, the struggle of a woman to realise self-expression in a patriarchal environment, but also the emergence of Atwood’s powerful authorial rhetoric from behind the supposedly passive narrative tone of Offred. As such Atwood’s Gilead is “an amalgam of trends”, in a way that transcends the mere conglomeration of past and present events that Swale suggests – it is constructed also from its author’s being.
To conclude, both writers considered use various fictional constructs to present the woman as a controlled, passive and incoherent ‘conglomeration of attributes’; fragmented by her construction from reality and fiction and considering wholly of a series of different and at times contradictory characteristics, such as those of sensuality, purity and motherhood. Although overtones of rebellion against these constraints are evident in the controversial characterisation of various female characters, such defiance has been eroded over time by the growing acceptance and even stereotyping of the traits that make these women subversive. As such, both the contexts in which the texts were written and those in which they are received, reinforce the enduring repression of the female in society; the devastating impact of which these writers act to highlight.

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