In this essay I am going to write about whether I feel that the first two chapters of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, was successful and effective. To me a successful beginning to a book must make the reader want to continue reading on. In order to do this the first couple of chapters must contain most of the following, the plot, the setting, introduce the main characters and main idea, set the tone, and engages the reader.
In the first chapter of “The Handmaid’s Tale” we learn about the narrator, the setting and the time when the story takes place. It is set in an old gymnasium where many handmaids including the narrator of the book live. The purpose of these handmaids is to be surrogate mothers for baron couples. The narrator and all the other handmaids clearly crave for a sense of freedom, touch and communication with others. We know this because it is mentioned many times that the handmaids are regulated in their daily activities and cannot talk at night, so they learn how to whisper to one another without attracting attention from the patrol guards. The old gym is like a jail as it’s surrounded by chain link fences topped with barbed wire. Armed guards specially chosen by the angels patrol the gym at all times. The only time the handmaids were allowed out was when the guards came in and sent them to walk around the football pitch twice daily in pairs.Order now
There is an amazing amount of detail to describe the setting of the gym. This is so that it illuminates the condition of the surroundings that the narrator is in. We can also tell that these handmaids are like prisoners and are unhappy with their situation that they would go as far as suicide to escape it. “They removed anything you could tie a rope to.” Another quote from the book relates to suicide. “I know why there is no glass.” The narrator tells us this to show the extent of the handmaid’s unhappiness. There is no glass, no mirrors because they can use it to harm themselves.
The story is set sometime in the future. I think this because the narrator mentions that they were issued with old army blankets the ones that still said U.S on them. The fact that she said “still” leads me to believe that what we know as the United States is no longer referred to as that. Another scene that makes me believe it’s set far in to the future is that she talks about looking at old photos of women’s fashions. Things that were around before she was born.
These are items like mini skirts which were worn in the 1960’s and, “One earring, and spiky green-streaked hair.” These styles were around in the 1980’s In the second chapter the scene has changed. She is now living with a Commander and his wife in a house. She describes her room and how it is filled with women’s traditional handicrafts. Again she describes the lack of glass and sharp objects in her room. There isn’t even any glass for the framed pictures, the windows do not open properly and the glass is shatterproof. There is nothing in the room from which to hang rope from and the door doesn’t shut completely.
She lives with two aunts who carry around cattle prods, this is quite ironic as the term “Aunt” is usually used to describe someone who is loving and a relative and someone who a niece or nephew can turn for help. But in this case they are just guards who remind the narrator that she should consider her circumstances to be a privilege not a prison. Another ironic term that is used often is “angels” these are not angels, as we know them to be. They are to be feared and steered clear of. They are also part of the guarding system.
When the narrator is listening to the aunt’s conversation she over hears them using the term “I hear where you’re coming from… I know what you mean.” The narrator refers to this as old peoples use of language, yet for us these phrases are used by young people. This is another clue as to the time that this story is set in. So in conclusion, the first two chapters although they are short in length, do tell us a lot about the plot, main characters, themes, and setting in great detail. It has defiantly engaged me and has made me want to read on. So I believe that Margaret Atwood has used the first two chapters to provide me with a successful and effective beginning.