"Style upon style": The Handmaid's Tale as a palimpsest of genres Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/ws859j082

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  • This thesis undertakes an examination of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, as a layering of genres. A futuristic dystopia that imagines late twentieth-century America as having fallen into neo-Puritanism and totalitarianism following widespread infertility and violence, The Handmaid’s Tale invites contemplation of various forms of fundamentalism, radicalism, and sexual politics. Atwood’s use of palimpsestic imagery to convey a layered experience of time extends to the generic complexity of The Handmaid’s Tale. Using the image of the palimpsest as the controlling metaphor, I survey the ways in which the novel can be read as an historical novel, satire, and postmodern text, exploring the ways in which the novel embodies and extends the defining characteristics of each genre. These genres share the common trait of functioning as social commentary. Thus, an examination of the novel’s layering of genres works to provide greater insights into the ways in which Atwood is interrogating the mid-1980s cultural milieu to which she was responding and from which she was writing.
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