The use of the gym as the accommodation for these people is quite revealing. Large buildings are used to house people in many situations, maybe after a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, but here I am sure that the link is with a prison. This would tie in perfectly, the regime at the gymnasium, the Aunts patrolling, the barbed wire fencing, the Angles guarding the perimeter, there actions controlled, its very similar to the conditions in prisons, this immediately sets up a scene of people here who don’t particularly want to be, a risk of escape from an unpleasant experience.
As the setting is rather jail and military like, it is guarded. This is where the Aunts and Angles come into play. The Aunts role is really to make sure the residents do not behave in a manner contradictory to the expected behavior. There is a sense that they are there for guidance and to steer the people in the right direction, but any hint of a kind deed such as this is immediately stamped out by the authoritarian image of the Aunts. They carry cattle prods with them, to sort any one out, they keep the lights low so they can be watched, and talking is forbidden as is touch, two basic human needs.
The fact they are called Aunts suggests they would have a position of caring for the residents, a sort of tie with them, this, however, is contradicted by how cold they are, so cold they never could be their relatives. The Angles are another guard at this gym, they are there to prevent escapees, and to maintain order should need be. They are distanced from the handmaids as they stain around the chain link fences with their backs to the handmaids.
They represent fear to the handmaids, “they were objects of fear to us” but there is also the vulnerability, the chink in their armor, the handmaids are aware that these Angels must have had another life, must have once been normal. Like them. The name Angel is another of the strong biblical themes in the story, an indication of the hierarchical system in Gilead, where angles are before god; these angels are before people such as chancellors. The atmosphere of the chapter tells us a fair amount about the conditions if Gilead. The emotions are evocative, sad and very reminiscent.
The narrator looks back on her time almost as if she longs to be there again, it’s a clever usage, the narrator telling her experience tells you exactly what to expect the present handmaids conditions are without actually quoting the past. There is the yearning, the longing, the wanting to touch and speak, fear and a sense of sticking-together-ship. “We learned to lip-read; in this way we exchanged names from bed to bed, Alma, Janine, Dolores, Moira, June”. I get a feeling that these women in the gym are trying o resist the regime, not actively, more passively.
Simply by defying a rule they are rebelling, only in a minor way but they are. No speaking, no touching, these rules are disobeyed virtually instantaneously. “We could stretch our arms out, when the aunts weren’t looking and touch each others hands across the space”. Conclusion. I think that the opening chapter is extremely effective. By using a narrator who is reflecting on her past, we immediately know the sense of oppression, and rule and order, the conditions they were in, prison like. I think it’s a very clever way of giving us an insight to the breeding clinic without using the present residents.
The key themes that are very apparent in the opening chapter of the book are fear, yearning, fright, authority, hierarchy, which is a lot from two pages in an opening chapter. I particularly like the use of imagery in this first chapter. The way in which she describes the feelings she felt about her surroundings to conjour up our own thoughts and impressions of the gymnasium and what happened there, she doesn’t specifically say people had sex there, but she does say “there was old sex there” much more evoking.
The sense of loneliness in the gym, that there was insatiability in the air “how did we learn it? That talent for insatiability, it was in the air, and it was still in the air” it makes the reader think about what the room must have been like. The opening chapter informs the reader of the narrator’s past life. The fact they had not always been in this new place of Gilead. You know this because she knew what the gymnasium had been used for, rather than only thinking what is was used as.
This tells the reader that the women presently in Gilead, in the rest of the novel once had normal lives, which were not dissimilar to our own. This is one major aspect of the novel. The point to the inkling of once normal lives is Margaret Atwood is attempting to show how this place of Gilead, and the breeding clinic, could happen to any one of us, at any time in our lives, its attempting to instill a fear in our minds that we can never be sure of the future and that our destiny is never completely in our own hands. This narrative sets up a major theme, the tone and this mood of unknown things and fear.