4 Horrific, True Events That Inspired Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Dystopian novels often criticise aspects of our current society by providing a possible future in which that specific aspect is allowed to spiral out of control. Huxley’s Brave New World, Collins’ The Hunger Games and Orwell’s 1984 are all novels which fall under this genre. Although these all present possible futures with advanced technologies, which also classifies it under the genre of science fiction, which partially neglects the criticisms that the texts hold.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale is different though; Atwood herself describes it as a piece of, ‘speculative fiction’. The novel contains no references to any technologies that haven’t been invented, it’s almost as if you could go to bed tonight and wake up in Gilead tomorrow morning. Even today, there are massive debates discussing reproductive rights, with Commander President Trump trying to ban abortion in the united states, claiming that allowing abortion, “weakens the protection of human life”, which is the exact same reason that allowed the leaders of Gilead to justify their treatment of the Handmaid’s. The novels continual relevance gives it power that few other dystopian texts can claim to hold.

 

What many readers don’t realise is that the novel is inspired by real world events. In a 2012 article written for The Guardian Atwood admits that, ‘I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some place or time’. The more astounding thing is that a majority of these events took place in Atwood’s lifetime. This recent historical context adds an aura of hysteria and reality that enforces the dystopian qualities of the novel.

 

The Nuclear Gulag

 

The events of The Handmaids Tale take place after a large scale nuclear disaster. As a consequence, the people who are ‘unfit’ to live in Gilead, whether that be due to age, religious beliefs, or infertility, are forced to work in the colonies cleaning up toxic waste until the die of radiation poisoning. Surely something as sinister as this has never occurred in our recent history. If you give humans enough power and time, they’ll accomplish some truly disturbing things, and the Nuclear Gulags are quite possibly the quintessential example of human cruelty.

 

Prisoners of War in the Soviet Union, commonly known as the Gulag, were forced to mine uranium for the Soviet’s nuclear weapons, most prisoners died within two years of labour and if they refused then guards, “smashed their skulls in with hammers”. During that time they were secretly experimented on in an attempt to learn more about the effects of nuclear weapons. 7 prisoners committed suicide by blowing themselves up, countless others were shot trying to escape, and an estimated 5000 prisoners died of radiation poisoning.

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Remains of a Gulag mining site in the Kodar Mountains – rferl.org

Sound familiar at all?

 

Unlike the other examples, Atwood herself hasn’t confirmed this link, however, even if she didn’t know of it, it is one that we, as readers, can make ourselves. After all, a readers interpretation of a text is entirely based on their context. I believe Atwood draws from this event in her creation of the colonies, which makes the setting appear as more of an alternate reality than a fiction.

 

In the novel, people living in the colonies are made to clean the nuclear spills and toxic dumps resulting from the war. The colonies consist mostly of older, infertile women and people who refuse to conform to the new, ‘Gilead-ian’ ways. Even still, the overarching theme of patriarchy holds true, in which there are only, “a quarter men in the colonies”. This means that women are much more likely to be rejected by the new society, and instead of simply executing them (like the men who are hung on the wall), they are sent to work in the colonies to die a slow, painful death from radiation poisoning. Moira describes the cruelness when retelling a story of Offred’s mother working in the colonies, “she might as well be [dead]…you should wish it for her”, which again implies that a simple execution is better than anything the colonies have to offer.

 

Additionally, the suicide allusion occurs inside Gilead itself in the form of the oppressed Handmaid’s. The Handmaid’s are imperative to the survival of Gilead, yet they are placed in submissive, subservient position; so they must be kept around, but they cannot be allowed any power. Offred mentions that despite the Commander’s best attempts at preventing escapes and restricting power, there are always, “other escapes…ones you can open in yourself”, which is of course referring to suicide, which Waterford’s previous Handmaid used to escape a life misery.

 

The relationship between the Gulag miners and Atwood’s depiction of the colonies is more that just a coincidence. It’s that sense of reality, knowing that similar events have happened before, that give the colonies such a threatening quality, and makes the reader question the plausibility of a similar situation occurring today.

 

The People of Hope

 

Founded in New Jersey during 1975, the People of the House Of Prayer Experience (HOPE) are a religious sect that describe themselves as, “charismatic catholics”. It was founded by Robert Gallic with the purpose of actively, “fighting the empire of evil”.

 

All of that information was taken directly from their website. What they don’t tell you is that:

 

  • The leaders, a group of 14 men, claim to be anointed by God and use religious passages to justify their heinous actions
  • Women are subservient, they are not allowed to date and all marriages are arranged
  • Large groups attend public prayer sessions in which they are, quote unquote, brainwashed
  • Important women are known as Handmaidens, who are forced to control the less powerful women

 

So basically, it’s a theocratic cult that manipulates their lesser citizens to enforce the power of their leaders.

 

In her research for the novel, Atwood happened to come across and article about The People of Hope, in which the word Handmaiden is highlighted, this word, or to be more precise it’s modern counterpart Handmaid, originally meant nothing more than a female servant, but today carries connotations of women’s rights and totalitarian patriarchies.

 

All of that began here.

 

Atwood draws inspiration from this story to create the fundamental theocratic beliefs on which Gilead is based upon. Much like the people of Hope, Gilead supplies bibles which have been altered by the powerful to justify their status. Specifically, in Gilead, they quote from the story of Rachel and Jacob from Genesis, in which we are told that Rachel had upset God and in turn was not allowed to have children, which drove her so mad that she ended up dying.

 

That isn’t the true story however. In reality, Rachel and Jacob were madly in love, so much so that Jacob was told he could only marry her if he worked 14 years for her father. Unfortunately, Rachel seemed to be barren, only producing two children (in time when 12 were the norm). Upon her death, Jacob proclaims the importance of love and its ability to transcend death.

 

So how did Gilead get it so terribly wrong?

 

Gilead, like any other cult, uses propaganda to brainwash it’s citizens. In fact, before the story has even begun, Atwood acclimatises us to this way of thinking by quoting Rachel proclaiming, “give me children or else I die”. These quotes are used throughout the book to constantly remind the Handmaid’s of their place.

 

Also present are group weddings and prayer sessions, referred to as “Prayvaganza’s”. In these sessions, Commanders indoctrinate the women through bible verses to justify that they are better off in Gilead, without love or romance or desire. The speaker at the Prayvangza touches on the image of beauty and self belief, and how women go to extreme lengths to impress men. On the other hand, much like the adaptation of the bible stories, the Commanders have neglected the positive aspects and choose to focus on the extreme, negative examples. They use mechanical sounding terms to dehumanise the women’s actions and make the ideas sound as undesirable as possible. The use of this rhetoric describes women who, “pumped their breasts full of silicone”, and, “ had their noses cut off”, which are quite extreme ways of describing simple medical procedures, and is done to make these action seem unpleasant and unnecessary, and as such, justify their actions.

 

Furthermore, the most important thing about Prayvaganza’s are that they are group wedding ceremonies. Men returning from military service are allocated a woman, some as young as fourteen, which gives a whole new definition to the term ‘trophy wife’.

 

While all of these events appear to have been inspired by the People of Hope, I don’t necessarily think that the idea of cults strike much fear into the audience, since they’ve become more of a common idea thanks to popular culture and films. Although, I do think that Atwood draws likenesses from the cult in her creation of Gilead’s fundamental values and attitudes. The shear scale of Gilead’s power and the mass of people who are enslaved to it is what is truely scary as a reader. It opens the question of, how easily could a Government take over really be? Because they made it seem pretty damn easy in the book.

 

Romanian Decree 770 – 1966

 

In 1966, Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist group came into power, he noticed that Romanian birth rates had been constantly decreasing. From a marxist perspective, this is really bad, because population growth is needed to fuel the developing economy. To counteract this issue, Ceaușescu made abortions practically impossible to a majority of people. To be specific, to qualify for an abortion you had to either:

 

  • Be over 45
  • Have already borne 4 children
  • Have a serious medical complication
  • Have been impregnated through rape
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Decree 770 resulted in an overload on Romanian orphanages –thewholehealthlife.com

Over the next few years, birthrates doubled, but the rate of increase was slowing down. In response to this the Government made all childless people pay an extra monthly tax, and banned contraception entirely. Romania became much more strict over these years, the issue became priority number one for their secret police, the Securitate, who imprisoned doctors offering abortions and mother who didn’t take an examination every three months.

 

These events get a direct reference in the novel, Professor Pieixoto claims in his speech that Romania, “had anticipated Gilead…by banning all forms and birth control, imposing compulsory pregnancy tests on the female population, and linking promotion and wage increases to fertility”. This means that Atwood was well aware of these events while writing the novel, and has encourage the reader to consciously compare the events in Romania and Gilead.

 

“The Wall”, is a motif throughout the book, it’s a place where people in Gilead are hung if they don’t agree with their values. In it’s introduction, we see six men wearing white coats, with placards of human foetuses hung around their necks. Offred infers that these men are doctors who specialised in abortion. However, since it’s become illegal, it appears as if the anti-abortion laws are retroactive, which, in law is called ‘ex post facto’ and is illegal in most countries. What this says is that instead of merely outlawing abortions, they’ve gone to extreme lengths to kill anyone capable of performing them, or in marxist terms, they’ve limited the means of production.

Showing us this image doesn’t only establish Gilead’s laws on abortions, it shows the power that they have and the lengths that they’re willing to go to to keep their laws strictly adhered to.

 

Additionally, districts in Gilead hold birthdays, but these aren’t the birthdays you’re thinking of (they were abolished years ago of course), these are celebration for the wives and Handmaid’s who are about to give birth. It’s actually more a reward though, it’s one of the few times the Handmaid’s are able to talk to each other and do things they wouldn’t be allowed otherwise, as shown when they start wrongfully drinking alcohol, Offred remarks, “they’ll turn a blind eye. We too need our orgies”.

 

The reward for the Handmaid in birth is even greater. Normally, they are given three attempts to procreate before being declared an, “unwoman”, and getting sent to the colonies. Once you give birth you are no longer able to be declared barren and are at no risk of being sent away, you are ensured your life. Whether or not that’s a reward is debatable, but what isn’t is that it’s definitely power, and in a world where you’re constantly dehumanised and oppressed, you should, “be thankful for small mercies”.

 

Atwood makes it quite clear that the Handmaid’s are always being watched. Gilead employ their own special forces called, “eyes”, to prevent terrorist actions, unfortunately, what Gilead consider terrorist actions are reading, talking out of line, and the idea of thoughtcrimes from 1984, just to name a few. At the end of the book, Offred’s partner Ofglen is accused conspiracy, to which Offred is told, “she hanged herself…she saw the van coming for her. It was better”. Now, it’s never explained what the punishment for terrorist actions are, but there are very few things that are worse than hanging yourself.

 

Essentially, what Atwood has done is taken the Romanian rules to the extreme. Instead of merely a tax increase for not giving birth, it’s now death. Instead of contraception being banned, it’s been completely abolished. She basically employs a logical device called ‘reductio ad absurdum’, which means reduced to absurdity, to highlight the errors in the reproductive freedoms of both Gilead and Romania.

 

The interesting thing is that the declining population rates were actually found to be due to women entering the workforce, and forcing them to have children actually lowered the rate of economic growth from their projected levels. So maybe the leaders have to get off their high horses every once in a while and view things for what they are, in the words of Professor Malcolm, “life finds a way”.

 

Nazi Prostitution Rings – WWII

 

When I was researching and came across the Nazi’s, I knew I was in for some pretty heavy stuff, but I never expected this.

 

Over the course of the second world war, the German military commanders set up a series of 500 brothels in German-occupied Europe, containing over 34,000 women. Some of these women volunteered to escape the harsh conditions of the labour camps, but most of them were literally kidnapped from the street and forced into prostitution. It was suggested that all young soldiers should visit weekly to prevent, “sexual excesses”.

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Women leaving Auschwitz to work in Brothels – dailymail.co.uk

As much as I hate to say this, as far as Nazi Germany goes, the women in brothels were treated somewhat nicely. The prostitutes received more food and water than others, and they only had to work two hours at night. They were given frequent medical examinations and ensured that the soldier weren’t carrying STI’s beforehand.

 

This immediately makes me think of Jezebel’s, a secret brothel in Gilead for Commanders and Officers, named after a Queen of Israel from the bible, Jezebel, who has become an archetype of the ‘wicked woman’ figure. In there we are reunited with Moira, who is employed as a prostitute, and describes that, just like in WWII, “the foods not bad, and there’s drinks and drugs…and we only work nights”. Funnily enough, Jezebel’s is mostly populated by commanders, who are breaking the very laws that they enforce on everyone else. When Offred confronts her Commander about this he replies, “ everyone’s human after all…you can’t cheat nature”, a really vague, kind of nothing answer, which implies that he doesn’t have any reason other than he knows the rules are bad and is happy enforcing them on everyone else.

 

There was this one line from an article that really grabbed my attention though, it was a quote from one of the German prostitutes, who said, “sometimes the men just wanted to talk”. This was really interesting because the thought process of the soldiers is almost identical to that of the Offred’s Commander, who specially invites her up to his to, “play a game of scrabble”, which is an act punishable by death in Gilead.

 

In a dictatorship based on forced surrogacy and prostitution, any powerful man could really have as much sex as he wants, but it’s something more that. The commander wants compassion, he wants praise, he wants to feel loved. He asks Offred to, “kiss me…as if you mean it”, as kissing is a thing that no one is allowed to do anymore. What links these two dictatorships together is their negligence of human behaviour, they think that humans act like any other animal, that they’re driven by food and sex, but they’re not. Human are driven by understanding and by fitting in, which is exactly what both Jezebel’s and the German brothels allow, a place where all men fit in.

 

There you go, some truly terrifying events that inspired Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. You’re probably hoping for some uplifting ending to this, about how humanity braves adversity and how things are always get better, but researching this really just made me realise the terror that people are capable of.

 

Just like Offred, I’d like to be able to tell you a story of heroics, of good triumphing, and wrong-doers being punished, but the truth is that life isn’t kind of story. It’s a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation and deception, all those things that humans hold close to their hearts.

 

Atwood is currently in the process of finishing The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, and she had some interesting things to say about it’s conception:

 

“Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in”.

 

by C.S.

 

 

 

 

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: A Study of Manipulation and Misogyny

Gender equality, patriarchy, repression, liberalism. These days you probably hear so much about such topics that they become very easy to ignore. It might make you think of those annoying social justice warriors or radical feminists who have, arguably, made these issues harder to debate because of their haughty, overconfident virtue signalling and seemingly deliberate provocation. Don’t worry, logical discussion of these ideas can still be had, and it is still important to do so, so that we don’t forget what they mean and how they can, and have, affected our culture over the years.

Literature is one of the best mediums for this, as it lets us understand how issues were considered and confronted in the past, also giving us the chance to acknowledge the progress of the society we live in today, and how we must act in order to prevent movement in the wrong direction. The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, gives example of this, often interpreted as a criticism of patriarchal values and politics of the time. As one of Atwood’s most influential and thought-provoking works, it provides insight on manipulation and oppression of totalitarian government, and the issue of misogyny in our culture.

Manipulation

The Handmaid’s Tale presents us with the Republic of Gilead – a theocracy run by the upper class, consisting of a social hierarchy based on function and rank. The citizens are given their roles without choice, and in order to survive, are required to fill these roles without resistance or complaint. Set post-nuclear disaster, fertile women are rare in Gilead, and those who are able to bear children are forced to do so and labelled as Handmaids. The protagonist, Offred, is one of these, her sole purpose in life determined by her ability to breed.

The Handmaids are taught how they should behave by “Aunts,” who indoctrinate them with Gileadean attitudes towards sex and gender, which are highly influenced by religious input. When Offred’s close friend, Moira, escapes the Red Center where this takes place, she describes her as, “an elevator with open sides,” placing her to symbolise liberty and demonstrating how the others had become accustomed to living without it. The Handmaids had become used to their new lives, already “losing the taste for freedom,” and feeling safer in simply conforming to the rules of the Gilead. They are forced into this position not only because of fear of punishment, but also because they know their purpose within the society better than what may await them outside of it, and are willing to sacrifice dignity and independence for the former.

Fear and punishment are other factors that controls the lives in Gilead. People who have spoken out against, or broken the rules of, the establishment, even if they had done so before it became law, were executed at “Salvagings,” and hung on the wall to be seen by everyone else. They are placed with bags over their heads and placards around their necks with symbols to show why they have been executed. On one occasion, Offred sees six dead bodies hung from the wall with a “drawing of a human foetus,” implying that they had been killed because they were doctors, and had practiced abortions before it had become illegal. The Gilead punishes this, meaning to reinforce the notion that any actions or thought deviating from what they had permitted or encouraged would be punished, allowing them to control the citizens and making them conform to Gileadean ideologies and practices.

These examples show how the ruling class were able to manipulate and control others, moulding them into their roles to perform their necessary functions for the society and keeping it from being criticised or fought against. They are given little and stripped of many freedoms, their best choice being to act out their duties and continue on without complaint. These elements of Gilead hold many parallels with totalitarian regimes of the past, such as that of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or Pol Pot’s Kampuchea, as well as that of today’s North Korea, showing widespread government restriction and enforcement. The Handmaid’s Tale shows how tyranny exists across all levels of a totalitarian state, with fear and submission of the people manipulated by and contributing to the ruling government’s power.

Misogyny

The novel is often read with feminist views, focusing on the objectification and oppression of women shown throughout the story. This can be linked to ideas of gender inequality and female repression that are often discussed today, promoting women’s rights and criticising establishments of power that favour men.

The Handmaid’s lose their old identities, their names replaced with their Commander’s name preceded by “Of,” and are forced to bear children for them. Offred describes herself as a, “two-legged womb,” showing the possessive objectification of Handmaid’s, seen simply as means for reproduction, detaching them from their individuality. They have no identity, and are prevented from being seen as anything else by any of the men in Gilead. When Offred is examined by a doctor, a sheet is suspended from the ceiling, “so the doctor will never see [her] face.” Her body and identity are divided, she is merely a vessel for breeding, stripped of any dialectical value. The Handmaid’s uniforms, red gowns and “wings” to cover their faces, add to this idea, also showing how Gileadean beliefs inhibit their freedom.

Not just the Handmaids, but other women in Gilead are also defined by their purpose within the society, symbolised by the colour of the clothes they wear. Handmaids wear red, Marthas wear green, and Wives wear blue. A Martha’s main job is to cook for the rest of the household, and like Handmaids, they abide by the rules and have limited power. Wives of the commanders have a lot more power than Handmaids and Marthas, though not as much as the Commanders, who take their place as “the head of the household,” with more power and freedom than any of the women. This social hierarchy not only demonstrates a male-female power imbalance, but also shows how separated women are, despite collectively being at a disadvantage. Throughout the novel, we see a lot of animosity towards Offred from Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, particularly during the religious “ceremony” in which Offred is made to have sex with the Commander while Serena holds her raised hands. At the end of it, Offred asks “Which of [them] has it worse,” showing that Gileadean practices and rules were painful for all women, but also that they prevented union between them. The women could not automatically feel loyalty or connection for one another, and the positions they were put in added to the hostility and aversion towards eachother. This part of the novel can be related to identity politics and collectivism, pointing out the flaws of such ideas and showing that expecting a group to unify against their oppressors is much easier said than done.

In a 2017 interview Atwood stated that while writing The Handmaid’s Tale, she made sure not to include anything that “human beings had not already done.” She drew from real life, and although the novel was published over 30 years ago, present-day connections can still be made to the oppressions shown in Gilead. Not so much in our lives, as liberal democracies of today, such as Australia and America, are probably right now the furthest away from this fictional dystopia. Gilead is run as a theocratic totalitarian government in which religious institution is the source of rule and law, which in this case is the Bible. This can be related to the Islamic States, in which the Quran is the central fundamental text of their religion, and Sharia law regulates both public and private behaviour. Many women in these parts of the world, such as Pakistan or Iran, are required to wear a hijab, with similarity to the wings and gowns worn by the Handmaid’s in the novel. They are restricted in their travel, work, and study, and they cannot get custody of their children if they are divorced, they must surrender their children to their father or his family, again resembling the attitudes present in the fictional Gilead. By forming these connections, The Handmaid’s Tale presents us with the atrocities of real life, warning us of the dangers of patriarchy and theocracy taken to the extreme.

Conclusion

A society that takes away freedom is one destined to fail. The Handmaids’ Tale shows us the harmful effects of manipulation and misogyny in a theocratic totalitarian state, presented by the fictional Republic of Gilead. And although it isn’t real, the actions and beliefs acted out in it share the oppressive nature of many real life establishments of both the past and present. By exploring these ideas and issues, we are able to recognize the freedoms and rights that we are granted in our lives, as well as identifying the prevalence of these problems in other societies and furthering our knowledge on them.

C.R.

3 Similarities Between Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Nazi Germany

Everyone’s heard the old saying, “history repeats itself”, but have you ever really put much thought into it? Like reallyyy deep thought? Because it’s clear that Margaret Atwood has. She plays on this saying throughout the entirety of her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, claiming that “nothing went into it that had not happened in real life”. It is clear that this is true when examining the novel side by side with the events that occurred in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. Differing from most other dystopian texts such as 1984, Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in more of an alternate present, rather than a distant future. The lack of advanced technology transforms the book into more of a ‘speculative fiction’, as opposed to a ‘science fiction’, making it all the more terrifying. The knowledge that this world could actually exist at some point forces the audience to have a long, hard think about where humanity will be heading if repeats of horrific events from the past occur. To get your long, hard thinking started, here are 3 aspects in which The Handmaid’s Tale is extremely similar to Nazi Germany.

How the Society Came to Be

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale gets you wondering about how a society like that comes to be. What spiral of events could possibly lead to a something as terrifying as Gilead? Like, surely people would’ve tried to put a stop to this at the first signs of it happening. Wouldn’t there have been uprisings? Rebellions? Protests? People wouldn’t just stand by and watch their rights be stripped away.

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Perhaps if the change occurred so quickly that they didn’t have time to question it, or possibly even realise what was going on right before their eyes, a new way of life would be implemented before they could do anything about it. But how can the government make a change in such a short amount of time, I hear you asking? Well, all you need is a terrorist attack and basically all hell breaks loose. Heaps of totalitarian and fascist societies have actually begun this way, using the chaos of a bombing or a shooting to take control over the people and instate and enforce ridiculous laws that would not have passed during times of peace. This is exactly what happens in The Handmaid’s Tale. Extreme laws were put in place quickly and women’s rights were eroded before their very eyes after a terrorist attack shook the nation. In one of her many flashbacks, Offred explains to the reader that everything begun “when they shot the President and machine-gunned the Congress”. The attack threw the country into a state of emergency in which the government suspended the Constitution. Atwood repeatedly chooses to use vague words in phrases such as, “they blamed it on the Islamic fanatics”, “it was for security reasons they said”, and “the thing to do, they said, was to continue on as usual”, to describe the people and organisations in control. Refusing to attach names or faces to these figures manipulates the reader into thinking it wasn’t so much a specific leader making all of the bad stuff happen, but rather the society as a whole. Soon after the onslaught, the government began targeting women; their bank accounts were frozen, they were no longer allowed to hold property, and they were fired from their jobs. The placement of power in male figures led to an almost immediate patriarchal shift in society, as Offred notices, “already [Nick’s] starting to patronize me”. Reflecting on the situation she was put in, Offred states “[she] thought [she] should do something, take steps; but [she] didn’t know what steps [she] could take”. This gives the audience a sense of how quickly things happened and how useless and vulnerable people feel in these scenarios. As each of these events happened, “we didn’t wake up,” Offred says, and in the blink of an eye, women’s rights were eradicated.

 

Is this series of events still sounding a bit far-fetched to be realistic? I hate to break it to you, but almost the exact same chain of occurrences took place in Germany in 1938.

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On November 7, 1938, German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, was assassinated. Nazi Germans used this attack, which was carried out by a 17-year-old Polish Jew, to fuel anti-semitic fervour, claiming that the terrorist was a part of a wider Jewish conspiracy. This led to a horrific event, now known as Kristallnacht, happening two days later, in which rioters burned over 500 synagogues, trashed and looted 7000 Jewish businesses, and ransacked Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes. In the span of 48 hours almost every single right was taken away from the Jewish people, ultimately dehumanising them and alienating them from society.

Uniforms and Colour Symbolism

The German invasion of Poland in 1939 saw the introduction of yellow badges; a mandatory distinctive symbol that was to be worn by Jews out in public. The purpose of these badges, which usually had a Star of David on them, was to mark Jews as religious outsiders, serving as reminders that they had no rights under German Law. Similarly, women in The Handmaid’s Tale, are forced to wear outfits which are symbolic of their role within society, and hence, the rights (or lack thereof) that they are entitled to. The Handmaids are dressed in red, “the colour of blood, which defines [them]”. This connection between the colour red and blood causes the reader to associate the Handmaids’ clothing with menstruation, a process which ultimately represents the ability to bear children, hence making it a very fitting colour. Red can also be interpreted as a biblical allusion to Mary Magdalene, who was essentially a prostitute. This is then contrasted by the wives of the Commanders, who wear blue. Often associated with blue is Virgin Mary, and therefore the wearing of the colour blue symbolises how the wives cannot have children.

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Marthas are assigned the colour of “dull green, like a surgeon’s gown of the time before”. The comparison to a surgeon’s gown represents the role of a Martha within the household; they are required to take care of the house and everyone inside, fixing anything that becomes broken. Green can often a symbol of jealousy, which correlates to the envy that some Marthas feel towards the Handmaid’s, as evident when Cora states, “if I hadn’t got my tubes tied, it could’ve been me”.

All women of Gilead are forced to wear their colour, even if they didn’t enjoy it. Early in the novel, Offred expresses her disinterest in the colour, stating simply that she, “never looked good in red”. Yet, she must put on the dress, shoes, and gloves every day in order to survive in the world she is enduring, just as the Jews would put on their yellow badges despite the fact they were badges of shame.

Dehumanisation and Mistreatment

The women of Gilead are treated in a very similar way to how the Jews were during the Holocaust. First of all, tests (which were often very invasive) were carried out on Jews to determine whether they were fit to work in the ghettos. If they were found to be unfit, they would be sent to concentration camps in which they would almost certainly die, not before being treated literally like the dirt on the bottom of the guards’ shoes. This is much like how the women in The Handmaid’s Tale are tested to determine whether or not they are fertile. Atwood creates a disturbing setting in which Offred is tested, describing what she feels as “a cold finger, rubber-clad and jellied, slides into [her]”, and she is “poked and prodded”. The purpose of this imagery is to make to reader feel uncomfortable and view the situation as undesirable and inhumane. And if that’s how they’re feeling reading about it in a (mostly) fictional book, can you imagine how the Jews felt while similar things were actually happening to them? Women in Gilead who were found to be unable to bear children were declared “un-women” and were sent away to the colonies to die slowly of radiation-poisoning. Sound familiar?

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Another similarity arises with the loss of identity. In concentration camps during the Holocaust, Jews were stripped of their right to a name and were instead labelled with numbers tattooed on their arms. In the Gileadean society, Handmaids have their real names taken away from them, replaced with the name of their Commanders with the prefix ‘Of-’ added. The purpose of this is to show that the Handmaids belong to their respective Commanders; they are their property. Handmaid’s are indoctrinated to accept this as a lifestyle by other women given the title of “Aunts”. These women are some of the highest-ranking females within society and hold a great deal of power over the Handmaids, shown through the imagery of the “electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts,” as they patrolled the training centre at night. This is similar to the way in which the Jews were kept in line by guards during the Holocaust. Prisoners of the camps were flogged or even killed for the smallest of wrong-doings and were forced to adhere to all rules out of fear of extreme punishment. The only difference between these two societies is the fact that the lives of the Handmaids of Gilead were valued as their bodies were precious, life-giving machines, whereas Jews were treated as if they were not even a little bit human.

 

Feeling worried about the world’s humanity yet? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Margaret Atwood is clearly very skilled at pointing out the numerous flaws in both past and present societies, instilling fear into her readers and forcing them to question where we are heading and what is to come. The Handmaid’s Tale serves as an influential piece of literature that should be valued as a possible insight into what could happen to our world if the people of today (that’s us) are not careful with their actions.

Why Colours are so Important in The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985.

The novel is revolutionary for its brutal honesty in portraying detailed rape, death and violent misogyny as simple facts of life. An imperative part of its success lends to its excruciating detail, the book a poetic blend of innovative imagery and creative symbolism that mix to invent a novel that in the years to come would become a cult classic.

Atwood’s clever decision to construct the classes of The Handmaid’s Tale through using colours is a choice that proves successful, the symbolism associated with the colours and their classes adding further depth to the narrative and linking something so simple with something so critical to their society.

Since colours already have cultural, social and political implications, it gets the audience thinking, providing them with feelings before they have even searched further into the novel’s meanings.

 

So why are colours so important within The Handmaid’s Tale?

 

1. Red:

-Social Connotations: Anger, passion, stop

-Nature Connotations: Danger, menstrual blood

-Gilead’s Connotations: Visibility, objectification

Let’s start with the most obvious use of colour in The Handmaid’s Tale, the Handmaids themselves, decked in a vibrant red. The robes the Handmaid’s are forced to wear are continually compared to blood, whether that be vein-blood or blood from other places, their vivid dresses are held as a direct representation of that ‘juice of life.’

The symbolism of red is incredibly important within The Handmaid’s Tale, adding a layer of importance to the story that delivers a powerful feeling behind every convoluted metaphor and over-detailed explanation.

Let’s take a look into the meanings for red within the real world.

The first word that may spring to mind when discussing the colour red is ‘anger,’ or ‘stop.’ It’s a bold colour used readily within our society to represent something negative, whether that be a feeling that consumes us until we feel sick or if it is a instruction that tells us to halt what we’re doing. It’s a universal sign, ‘anger,’ ‘passion’ and ‘energy’ a few of its many conceived meanings.

It’s likely our society derives the meaning of red from its original source within nature, where red means ‘Danger! Stop right there, I’m poisonous/venomous and will probably kill you!’

At first thought, this doesn’t seem to line up with our ideas of the Handmaid’s within the novel, for they aren’t considered dangerous within the book’s society. Their rights are stripped from them, the basic rights to their body pulled from them in an attempt to normalise rape and a society built on the roles of women, although they have no choices. When we look further though, we can see how the colour red and the Handmaid’s could be related.

The Handmaids are seen as dangerous, but not for their ability to kill or maim, they are seen as dangerous for the temptation they represent.

In Gilead, the society within The Handmaid’s Tale, religion is a factor that controls the society’s values and how it runs. Sex is not seen as a gift of pleasure, but seen as a means for creating children and continuing to populate the society.

The Handmaids are seen as a ‘temptation of the flesh,’ and a symbol of high-status within Gilead.

The temptation they possess is one of the few ‘powers,’ the Handmaid’s have left, and our main character Offred sees it as something she can control.

A statement from the book:

‘As we walk away I know they’re watching, those two men who aren’t yet permitted to touch women. They touch with their eyes instead and I move my hips a little, feeling the full red skirt sway around me. It’s like thumbing your nose from behind a fence or teasing a dog with a bone held out of reach, and I’m ashamed of myself for doing it, because none of this is the fault of these men, they’re too young. Then I find I’m not ashamed after all. I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there. I hope they get hard at the sight of us and have to rub themselves against the painted barriers,’ and ‘They will suffer, later, at night, in their regimented beds. They have no outlets now except themselves, and that’s a sacrilege.’

The Handmaids are inherently sexualised, for even though the act of sex itself is seen as a sin, the Handmaids only role is to provide sex in order to create children, and they have been dehumanised to suit that job. This sexualisation is the ‘dangerous’ temptation, symbolised with the red they wear.

This link between colour and symbolism encourages readers to keep a look out for further connections, this combined with the elaborate, distinctive descriptions within the novel create a layer of depth to the story that while easy to uncover when reading, adds a feeling of unease.

The Handmaid’s Tale and its – imagery create this unease and keep the reader on their toes, always feeling unsettled or apprehensive.

This is why colour is so important within The Handmaid’s Tale, as the symbolism leads the reader to this eerie feeling, while giving them to opportunity to unravel meanings just hidden from view.

Another meaning readers can derive from the Handmaid’s red attire is how the colour relates to menstrual blood, and the links that can be connected from that connotation.

Since the Handmaid’s only job is to provide children, the appearance of menstrual blood and other symptoms comes with great significance, and an intense personal feeling of failure for the Handmaid’s. There is such deep-rooted self-hatred for a process that is entirely natural, which clues the audience in into how messed up the society is.

Offred mentions quickly within the novel ‘ Each month I watch for blood, fearfully, for when it comes it means failure. I have failed once again to fulfil the expectations of others, which have become my own.’

This clearly indicates just how quickly the society has managed to change her attitude about her natural body functions, changing the significance behind her period into a reminder of her failure, of her inability to perform her one role within Gilead. To add insult to injury, they are constantly decked in red clothes, as if constantly surrounding their bodies in the colour serves as a notification? of how they have failed, or could fail.

The readers of The Handmaid’s Tale may not automatically have expectations surrounding the colour red in relation to menstrual blood, but since the connection between red and normal blood is so strong it won’t be difficult for the readers to make this further connection, adding meaning to the symbolism behind the Handmaid’s outfits that goes beyond how it links into the reader’s modern view.

Another connection between the colour red and audience expectation, is the visibility it offers to the Handmaid’s. Since red is such a bold, eye-catching colour, dressing the Handmaid’s in red is an instant way to make them stand out. While this is obviously more visible within the TV show directed by Reed Morano, the novel itself also purposefully chooses adjectives and clever phrasing to indicate just how much the Handmaid’s stand out in a crowd.

Red is heavily tied into advertising in a westernised society, so audiences already expect red to be eye-catching and important. The novel has illustrated this use of red in order to further solidify the class system. When adorned with such bold clothing, it offers the Handmaid’s no privacy, no way of hiding. This ensures someone always has their eye on a Handmaid, and further pushes the idea that they really are just property to the Commander’s and a society as a whole. To add further to this, while everyone can see the Handmaids, the Handmaids have restricted vision, adding to the restriction of their rights. This easy objectification is horrifying, the dehumanisation of the Handmaids made clear through the novel’s clever usage of the colour red and it’s attached meanings and symbolism.

So, to summarise more informally, the Handmaid’s are robed in red in order to appeal to the audience’s expectations of the colour’s connotations, not allowing the novel’s symbolism to be overlooked. This symbolism represents anger, passion, danger and visibility.

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2. Green

-Social Connotations: Medical

-Nature Connotations: Environmental, camouflage

 

 

Let’s move on the next class higher within The Handmaid’s Tale, to unpack why the colour green is so important to the novel and its storytelling. The Marthas, named after the Martha in the Bible, are essentially what would be considered the maids in our modern society. They cook, clean and take care of chores for the household, pretty much ensuring the house runs smoothly and effectively.

They are also dressed in robes similar to the Handmaids, however theirs are in green. Not just any green though, ‘dull green, like a surgeon’s gown of the time before‘ as the novel describes it.

A social connotation the audience may derive from this immediately (essentially because it’s within the quote) is the concept of medical scrubs. This green links into someone who is professional but empathetic, analytical but nurturing. Seemingly an occupation for people who personally want to help, by acting impersonal. These are the thoughts we associate with this medical green, and it seems to fit the Marthas we know pretty well.

The two Marthas within Offred’s household, the ones we see throughout the novel, are named Rita and Cora. It is unclear to both the audience and Offred where she stands with Rita and Cora, on one hand she is delighted to converse with them, to share human interaction, on the other hand she also doesn’t want to become too friendly with the Marthas, thinking it better for everyone. Rita and Cora seemingly also don’t know how to act around Offred, they resent her for her ‘easy’ life and continually gossip about her behind her back, but they are still somewhat eager to talk to her and have her keep them company while working.

It’s this juxtaposition of feelings that we can link back to the medical green, as the Martha’s have an urge to be caring and social but when confronted with their own oppression they would rather shame their fellow victims than their male oppressors.

The whole society of Gilead is based on this concept, of having women care just enough to keep the households running, but to overshadow that care with resentment for their other women and their roles within the society.

Through bringing attention to what the audience excepts of green, and then how that links back to the Marthas, the visual storytelling is exemplified.

We can also take a look into how medicine is viewed within the society of Gilead itself. The subject of health and treatment, especially for the Handmaids, is one regarded as compulsory. This strips further rights away from its citizens. The Marthas are much the same, they are a necessity in every household, forced there to help everyone else.

 

Green is a soothing colour, it can be lively and energetic or peaceful and calm. The colour has strong connections with nature, the environment, and camouflage.

Within nature we generally associate green with plants and trees. I find it easy to connect the Marthas to the same concepts. If we imagine each household in Gilead as a tree, the Marthas would exist as the roots, eternally supporting the household, acting as the foundation for everything to grow and survive. The Marthas cook and clean for everyone in the house, they run like clockwork to make sure everything is done efficiently and much like tree roots their main function is to invisibly exist for the survival of their household.

This idea of just being there, silent and unnoticeable but completely reliable is how we can tie the concept of camouflage into the meaning.

Within nature fauna use clever disguises, patterns and colours to blend in with their surroundings for an increased chance of survival, often adopting green colouring to better camouflage with flora. The Marthas, widely considered the least important class within Gilead’s society, are dressed in green to assist them with blending in. They don’t need to stand out, so the society would rather treat them as if they are invisible, not really there.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale has once again used an audience’s expectations of colour in order to impact the readers with deeper understandings of the society’s workings and how important symbolism is within literature.

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3. Black

– Social Connotations: Death, power, evil

– Nature Connotations: Anger, defence, testosterone

 

Finally, if we move on to the highest rank within Gilead’s everyday society, the Commanders, they are defined as ‘married leaders’ and often consist of older men who have served Gilead in some way. The Commander we see throughout the novel is ‘Commander Fred,’ and he, like other Commanders, is dressed in black.

 

The colour, or rather, shade, of black, comes with many social connotations an audience would link to immediately. The first one that may come to mind is ‘death.’ We wear black to grieve, to mourn, because bright colours feel insulting. The Commander, may represent a form of death. The passing of a time perhaps, or the loss of Offred’s hope, the demise of a society gone. Every time Offred sees the Commander she’s forced to remember her past life, and the things she’s lost, the things that have died.

Death is a recurring idea that’s impossible to ignore in the novel, if the Handmaid’s cant complete their duties they are sent to die, if citizens in Gilead are caught breaking the laws they are hung for the public to see, wives visibly mourn dead foetuses in the streets. Akin to how ‘in the face’ death is around Gilead’s streets, the Commander is equally as impossible to ignore. He’s a heavy presence within the house, weighing on Offred’s mind constantly.

 

Another connotation linked with black is power. It’s a strong, commanding colour fit for the ‘leader’ of the house. This concept within itself feels pretty self-explanatory. You only need to look at a classic villain of a movie to find them draped in black, supposedly as powerful as they are evil.

An audience can’t help but think of ‘evil’ when they see anyone dressed in black, it’s supposed to represent mystery and dominance and it has been ingrained that these factors generally equate to evil or misguided intentions.

This works for the Commander, for the audience and Offred never really know where we stand with him, will he be an evil power-hungry man who sadistically enjoys the pain and suffering of those beneath him? Or is he a lonely, naive individual who means no harm but has twisted morals?

 

Within nature, the colour black also has rather negative connotations. For one, it can easily be linked to anger and defence. Creatures who change colours, like the chameleon for example, often do so based on temperature and mood, not for camouflage. When a chameleon is angry, it turns black, highlighting its fury for all to see. Similarly, angered canines and felines and reptiles will bare teeth, often flashing black gums as a warning. Black is dangerous, but more in the representation of power and strength and the willingness to attack, not like the danger represented by red which is the insinuation the creature has some sort of hidden venom or poison.

The Commanders are at the peak of the social hierarchy within Gilead, if the need arises they can attack, or cause serious damage to another person’s life within the society.

In fact, Commander Fred is continually compared to a dangerous animal throughout the novel, although often in relation to Offred herself also feeling animal-like, ‘the signals animals give one another: lowered blue eyelids, ears laid back, raised hackles. A flash of bared teeth.’

 

Black within nature is also often representative of higher levels of testosterone, the lions and wolves with darker coats seen as more powerful and dominant within their prides and packs. This leans in to the idea that the Commanders are of higher-status than the rest of the males within Gilead, regarded as worthy and powerful in their black suits.

Some irony can be drawn here, for although the Commanders are older and are likely the ones who are sterile, the society only regards women with the ability to be fertile or infertile. Natural creatures with darker coats are generally considered more healthy themselves, and this can be linked to how the Commanders have been considered not possible for sterility, as if when they put on their black suits they are claiming to the world that the issue couldn’t possibly be their own.

 

The audience may not automatically draw all these links and conclusions, but the ideal thing about using colours to communicate class and symbolism is that each individual reader is going to make connotations with colour and narrative based on their own personal life experiences.

 

 

 

So there we have it, why colour is so important in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It creates in-depth symbolism that allows readers to have a unique experience when reading the book. It’s over-detailed descriptions and gross imagery lend to the unsettled, uneasy feeling we gain while reading, linking everyday concept and ideas based on audience expectation with colours in order to construct individualised, deeper meanings.

 

 

By C.H.

5 Reasons You Should Be Reading the Handmaid’s Tale

Gilead. A totalitarian, theocratic, dystopian society, built on the foundations of what once was the United States of America, but is now a reincarnation of puritan ideologies and regimes, brought upon its citizens by the infertility of women and declining birth rates caused by modernisation and industrialisation. Women now have no rights, and the few fertile women left are forced to conceive children for the Commanders and their barren wives, through means of institutionalised rape. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it? You might be thinking, why would anyone want to read a story like this, and what’s it got to do with me? Well, read on, because you might be surprised.

With the rising popularity of the new hit TV series, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, many viewers are left to pose the question, is the 1985 novel that the series is based on written by Margaret Atwood worth reading? I’m sure a handful of you are thinking, with a time gap of around 30 years, surely the ideas Atwood presented are no longer relevant, especially with the novel being set during the 1980s, not in the distant future like the majority of dystopian texts. Well I’m here to explain to you all the reasons you SHOULD be reading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, because over the course of 30 years, you would be surprised how little has changed.

 

1. The society in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is entirely plausible

 

“Anything can happen anywhere, depending on the circumstances,” – Margaret Atwood

 

I know what you’re thinking, that the plot of this novel is so creative and farfetched how could this possibly be relevant to our society, or even the society in which the text was written, in the 1980s? Well, if history and human nature is any indicator at all, it may not be quite as farfetched as you might think. For starters, Atwood likes to refer to her novel as “speculative fiction” meaning that the novel represents a possible future that, based on the past or current actions of a society, could potentially take place. But since the word of the author doesn’t seem to be enough to convince most people on the internet nowadays, why don’t we discuss the fact that the novel actually takes place within a modern (at the time) society, without an advance of technology, or an uprising of superhuman radioactive people or aliens or whatever is happening in the latest season of ‘Doctor Who’. Atwood emphasises the fact that we as humans haven’t really progressed technologically at all in her dystopian society of Gilead, choosing to use words such as “compubite”, “compudoc”, “compucount”, and “compubank”, all just to describe what we can only guess is a computer, which clearly demonstrates that the advancement or knowledge of technology isn’t required to place ourselves into a situation resembling that of the Republic of Gilead. So what is required? Atwood once stated that, “Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already,” hence the strong references to and influences of puritanism as a basis for the laws and guidelines of Gilead, as these seemingly random and bizarre ideologies actually existed once upon a time in the early beginnings of what we now call ‘the land of the free.’ Due to the foundations of the United States being centred on the union of church and state, the likelihood of a theocratic hierarchy being blanketed over a modern day society is much more likely in America. But come on, that was in the eighties, and something this extreme could never exist in today’s society. Right? …Wrong.

 

2. Certain aspects of Gilead’s society is reflected within today’s society

 

“For some, in some ways, things haven’t changed that much.” – Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale

Think for a moment about everything that is wrong with today’s society. Everything we know about the modern world is fed to us by censored or easily corrupted media, humans discriminate against other humans as if the characteristics of one’s physical self indicates superiority, and there is an actual debate about whether women are allowed to take action over their own bodies. Sound familiar? If you’ve read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, you might be thinking that I described some of what we believe to be the major issues within Gilead, being censored propaganda delivered via fake news and actors, women being categorised by their ability to bear children, and then, if able, being forced to do so only to then have to gift their baby to someone else in a higher ranking position than themselves. If you haven’t read the book however, you might be thinking about the so called ‘news’ presented in social media and tabloids from companies seeking to create drama in order to attract more customers, discrimination such as racism and sexism, and the debate on women’s abortion rights. These parallels between our society and that of Gilead’s emphasises the relevance of the ideas presented within the novel, and the actions described to us that were designed to create a ‘better’ society are to serve as a warning for a possible future that we could create for ourselves. We’d like to think that we have progressed beyond the need to fight for basic rights and decencies towards minorities, so then why are the feminist marches that take place within ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ still taking place today? Why are we so reliant on what we are told by the media, which is described in the novel as, “People stayed at home at night, watching television, looking for some direction.” With recent events such as the increase in acts of violence immediately blamed on Middle-Eastern terrorist attacks, and the election of a US President with totalitarian and dictatorial qualities who acts to abolish abortion rights, Donald Trump, how can we definitively say that we are a progressive society? It can be claimed that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ provides criticism as to what can be viewed as the more controversial issues within a modern society, such as the trends in casual dating being described in a judgemental tone as, “At the time men and women tried each other on, casually, like suits, rejecting whatever did not fit,” indicating a lack of perhaps the more ‘old fashioned’ values of commitment and modesty. Throughout the text, Offred constantly refers to the “old ways” when comparing the supposed solution for the aspects that were believed to be undesirable in regards to the progression of society, suggesting that the negatives that we focus on could have a worse alternative, emphasising the importance of choice and democracy, so that a common desire can be established and progressed towards, rather than repeating past mistakes and trying to undo the progress that has already been made. Let ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ serve as a warning to sway us from making the same mistakes as the citizens of Gilead, instead of letting it foreshadow our inevitable destination if we continue down this path of self-destruction.

 

3. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is one big history lesson

 

“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.” – Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale

It’s often said that we learn by making mistakes, that we adapt and modify our behaviours so as to avoid repeating these mistakes, but in order to do this we must first be aware that a mistake was made. Atwood draws attention to the historical accuracy of the events that take place within the novel, stating that she, “Would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time,” These events are represented both directly and symbolically throughout the text. Direct parallels between the book and historical events include people of different statuses being separated by clothing, and being stripped of their name which is replaced by dehumanising labels, both serving as a flashback to Nazi-Germany, the prohibition on birth control and abortion representing the ban of abortion in Romania in 1966, the group hangings to eliminate those who are not welcome within society resembling the hangings of the Salem Witch Trials, and the forced surrogacy and the removal of children from their mothers and given to those in higher positons of power, reflecting the lawful removal of Indigenous children from their families in Australia, Canada, and America in what was known as the ‘Adoption Era’. Symbolic or more subtle references to mistakes made throughout history include the presentation of the wall, which holds connotations of imprisonment and the reduction of freedom, reinforced by Moira stating, “It’s you and me up against the wall, baby.” The wall within the novel could potentially reflect the rise of oppressive and disempowering walls, such as the Great Wall of China (constructed through means of forced labour under the rule of Emperor Qin Shihuang), and the Berlin Wall (built in order to separate and maintain a population forced to conform to the socialist rulings of East Germany), where Atwood herself began writing the novel. Walls are so disempowering towards those on the ‘wrong side’ that even Trump wants one, in order to fuel his tyrannical ideologies and to prove his supposed superiority over the entire population of his neighbouring country, so it only seems natural that the wall constructed in The Handmaid’s Tale be used for displaying the gruesome bodies of those who did not conform to the ideologies set by the theocratic government of Gilead. Even the repressive theocracy displayed in Gilead represents a controversial historical time, sharing similarities to the values and attitudes of puritanism, down to the resemblance of the clothing worn by the handmaid’s to the appropriate clothing of puritan times, described by the main character Offred as, “long sombre dresses” and “white caps”. This resemblance to their ancestors signifies the extent of the consequences of the union of church and state in society, further emphasising the possibility of past mistakes potentially being repeated. We, as humans, have committed these and many more atrocious acts throughout history, so what’s to stop us from committing them again and creating a society similar to that of Gilead? Like I said, to avoid repeating mistakes, we must first be aware that a mistake has been made. So educate yourself on our gruesome and horrific history, you never know, it could save our society as we know it.

 

4. The rising popularity of dystopian fiction

“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”  – Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale

The construction of a dystopian society is most often the result of a hierarchy designed to embody a Utopian-like dream; however, the concept of someone’s utopia will always be another’s dystopia. Put simply, if I may paraphrase slightly (as Aunt Lydia often does throughout the novel in order to preach what she believes to be appropriate behaviour), one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. Atwood incorporates this concept into ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by detailing the poor luck of the handmaids throughout the novel, whilst those in the most prominent position of power, the Commanders, thrive. But this isn’t the only convention of dystopian genre that is included within the novel, as can be seen by comparison to popular dystopian fiction written both before and after the publishing of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ The dystopian genre prior to Atwood’s work was not a well-established one. In fact, it can be said that her work was highly influential in regards to the establishment of dystopian literature. Atwood draws inspiration from some of the still most popular dystopian novels today, such as George Orwell’s ‘1984’ with the in-text motif of eyes and a lack of privacy, displayed by quotations such as, “She thinks I have some of what we used to call privacy left.” We can also see resemblances to Ray Bradley’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ with powerless, oppressed protagonists, and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ in regards to strict governmental control and regimes, which combine to assist in shaping the genre into one that can be said to be one of the most popular genres for young readers today. Notable conventions used throughout ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ now characterise the genre and are highly prominent in popular modern dystopian novels such as ‘The Hunger Games’ (2008), ‘Divergent’ (2011), and ‘The Giver’ (1993). This includes the implementation of propaganda to coerce the population into conforming to the regimes of the new society, which is the entire purpose of the Rachel and Leah centre, the dehumanisation of the general population, allowing those above them to feel a sense of superiority and importance, such as the Handmaid’s being objectified for their fertility displayed by the generalisation, “We are for breeding purposes…We are two-legged wombs, that’s all,” and the construction of the lower class despising those that either benefit from the hierarchal scheme or those who control it, which often leads to the manipulation of those in power, just as Offred chooses to fulfil the Commander’s desires in exchange for her own benefits, such as hand cream. These and other conventions implemented by Atwood combine to present a highly influential piece of literature that sculpt the dystopian genre as we know it.

 

5. The handmaids reveal a lot about the roles and perceptions of women in our society

“You wanted a women’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies.” – Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale

 

Close your eyes. Imagine a world where you were a female valued purely on the capabilities of your body. If you carry the ability to have children, that is the only quality about you that matters. Everything else is disregarded. Your name, your family, including any children that you already had, your individuality, and your free will. All of it, gone. If you’re one of the many who are unable to bear children, you aren’t much better off. Your rights to vote, to own property or money, to have a career, even your rights to read, are all stripped from you so that you rely completely on the males in your society. Sounds like a nightmare, right? For a woman in the society of Gilead, this is her reality. How could this possibly happen, you ask? From the foundations of our own society, how can all of the rights that women fought so hard to gain be taken away so quickly? Well, it starts with the fact that women had to fight for their fundamental rights to being with. This likely stems from interpreted understandings of the Bible, which is reflected through the literal interpretations in the novel pertaining to the Rachel and Leah story, which was engineered to result in fertile women having to conceive a child through natural conception for a Commander and his wife. This forced surrogacy assists in the objectification of the handmaid’s, along with the tattoos on their ankles, effectively dehumanising them as if they were branded cattle. Despite being objectified as, “a national resource,” the handmaid’s are still expected to be grateful for their treatment, being told, “Yours is a position of honour.” This is still relevant in today’s society, with women being valued for a different aspect of their bodies – their beauty. Instead of being rewarded or appreciated for intelligence or individuality, women are ranked and categorised and even awarded for their looks, and are expected to strive towards a unanimous perception of beauty. The desire for being appreciated for individuality is emphasised by the Commander stating, “Women can’t add… for them, one and one and one and one don’t make four,” implying that women’s abilities differ from men’s in that women are able to recognise something or someone as an individual rather than a part of a group. Nevertheless, these abilities are still demoted to, “Women can’t add,” placing pressure upon women to be capable of performing the same abilities as men. The extent of these pressures placed upon women in society is embodied by the characters within the novel that reject the standard feminine qualities, Offred’s mother and Moira. Moira can be regarded as a character who challenges the traditional expectations of gender in society by expressing her individuality rather than conforming to the social norms, described by Offred when she sees Moira after some period of time, “Her hair was short, she’d defied fashion as usual.” This core character trait of defiance is diminished by the takeover of Gilead’s regimes, as she can be seen to be conforming to the expectations of a handmaid enforced by the Aunts when she enters the Red Centre in the quotation, “She turned away, she already knew what was safe.” We see Offred’s mother as a heavily opinionated woman who is willing to fight for what she believes to be fair, displayed by her interest in feminist marches and human rights campaigns, such as the porn and abortion riots mentioned by Offred. Interestingly enough, Offred views the actions of her mother to be unnecessary, believing that she exists in a state of gender equality, which is brought into question when a law is established that women can no longer have a job or own or control finances. The resulting subservience of women in this new society becomes the new state of normality, which soon becomes adapted to, even by the handmaid’s, as demonstrated by Offred’s thoughts of seeing female tourists: “We are fascinated, but also repelled. They seem undressed. It has taken so little time to change our minds, about things like this.” The same thoughts are not projected towards the male tourists, highlighting the imbalance of gender equality in this new society, where women are subservient in every way, including medically and scientifically. The progression of scientific research and evidence is completely disregarded in order to establish the superiority of men within the law, which has been constructed to express that, “There is no such thing as a sterile man any more, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.” This amendment to the law conveys the full extent of the consequences of women being regarded as inferior to men within society. I guess it might make you think twice about disregarding the feminist movement, because if men and women were created and treated equally, we would not live in a society where the events in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ represent a potential reality for our society.

B.DG.

3 Reasons Why The Handmaid’s Tale Is a Reflection of Our Inevitable Future

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” – Marx, Karl, 1818-1883. The Communist Manifesto.

Equality. It’s a key point of discussion in modern politics, it’s the vision of many historical figures, it has eight letters, and it is near non-existent in The Handmaid’s Tale.

To achieve equality – or really any form of mass political change – an immense amount of power is needed. You know Hitler. You know Stalin. How’d that turn out?

Karl Marx, the German philosopher responsible for creating Marxism, believed that the overthrow of Capitalism by a socialist revolution in a contemporary society is inevitable. I’m here to tell you why (as sweet as it sounds) no falser words have been spoken.

 

1. Socialism Doesn’t Work

Socialism is like the Adelaide Crows Football Club – on paper it looks flawless… but unless everyone is perfectly cooperative, shortly after putting it to action you start thinking maybe death doesn’t sound so bad after all. It’s also a major factor in the Marxist theory.

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Marxism is the criticism of politics and economics based on socialist and dialectic theories. Put simply, it’s a progressive way of looking at the world which is summarised in a quote by Karl Marx himself – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” In the dystopia of Gilead, politics and economics are easily criticised due to the extent to which they are flawed and unable to provide any form of equal opportunity. The role of an individual is fixed at birth, and to disagree with Gilead’s totalitarian state theocracy is nothing less than choosing to have a bath with your favourite toaster.

These roles and the class associated with them are defined through colour:

  • Red Handmaids wear long red dresses, symbolic of “the colour of blood, which defines us”.
  • WhiteDaughters wear white until marriage, symbolic of innocence and purity.
  • BlueWives wear blue, symbolic of their roles as mothers and biblical figure Virgin Mary
  • Green Marthas wear green, symbolic of nature, cleanliness and health. Guardians of faith wear green to symbolise their role in the protection of Gilead.
  • BlackCommanders and Eyes wear black. Eyes drive black vans. This is symbolic of power and death.
  • Grey Men and women in the colonies wear grey to symbolise lack of importance.

 

This attention to detail is professional, and it doesn’t stop there. Members of the proletariat are described with a somewhat negative aura to them, promoting Marxist ideology through the way Capitalist and class-based society is perceived as undesirable and dehumanising for those in the proletariat. Description of the old gymnasium as having the “pungent smell of sweat”, with “army-issue blankets”, and “army cots…set up in rows”, provides an imagery filled insight into dystopian path the world is inescapably travelling on. The idea that “your social circumstance determines much, if not all, of your life”, (Hans Bertens) supports this, and is evident through the military lifestyle and depressing, solitary lodgings of the gymnasium chosen for the Handmaids strictly due to their social rankings as lower-class women. The lack of care and importance for the Handmaids – if not already evident through the way they are forced to sleep “in rows, with spaces so we could not talk” – is exaggerated in the roles of Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth, who, although as fellow women, clearly have power over the Handmaids as shown by their possession of “electric cattle prods”, presumably used to discipline the Handmaids. This dismisses the notion that The Handmaids Tale is a feminist text, instead reinforcing that the variable responsible for the lifestyle of an individual is class rather than sex.

Literature reflects social institutions from which it originates – in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Thatcher had just risen to power, and the Cold War had its unique icy grip on the world as Margaret Atwood was writing the novel. Is this coincidental? I don’t know. However, what I do know is that…

2. Religion is More Influential Than You Think

Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one, and it’s fine to be proud of it, but don’t go whipping it out and waving it around in public.

Instead, use it as a tool to manipulate classes within society.

As a form of government which realises no difference between the state and religion, the totalitarian state theocracy ruling Gilead has plenty of biblical references to go around. These include:

  • Marthas – Infertile working-class women in The Handmaid’s Tale, and the sister of Mary who served Jesus in the Bible.
  • Commanders of the Faithful – High status men
  • Guardians of the Faith – Members of the police force
  • Angels – Soldiers used to fight wars against other religions
  • Eyes of the Lord – A secret police unit used to maintain order
  • The Handmaid’s Education Centre = Rachel and Leah Centre
  • Bakery / Butchers = “All Flesh” / “Milk and Honey”
  • Vehicles = Behemoth / Chariot / Whirlwind

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Using religious names to define people, positions and places in Gilead creates an ever-present notice that the bourgeoisie see no difference between everyday life, politics and religion; it’s as if they are trying to create their own form of heaven, or utopia. If anything, religion ‘completes the puzzle’ of political control over the proletariat, as the bourgeoisie have what they believe is moral high ground, which they then use to create principles that negate the rights of the proletariat.

“From each… according to her ability, to each according to his need”, is a quote by Offred, which she believes is a bible excerpt. It is, in fact, a variation of Karl Marx’s quote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” By changing the pronoun Atwood parodically exaggerates the extent to which religion has manipulated the world, as what was formally a quote promoting Marxism now promotes the idea of female subservience and the biblical role of women – providing children.

Some people say love is a drug.

Karl Marx says religion is “the opium of the people”.

 

3. You Are Easily Controlled

The totalitarian state theocracy of Gilead has methods by which their ideologies are spread with willing compliance from the people. This is known as the ‘Ideological State Apparatus’ – a “method by which organisations propagate ideology”, and is a concept coined by French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. Roles which serve as ideological state apparatuses in Gilead include:

  • Eyes
  • Wives
  • Angels
  • Soldiers
  • Aunts
  • Commanders
  • Econowives

The Aunts are a noteworthy class. As moral supervisors who are also part of the bourgeoisie, they preach their ideas to other members of society as a form of intimidation and control. They have a significantly greater workload and societal responsibility than Commanders yet are still inferior in terms of political power. Aunt Lydia’s view on life that “If you have a lot of things, you get too attached to this material world and you forget about spiritual values. You must cultivate poverty of spirit. Blessed are the meek.”, is an example of the process of dehumanisation required to control the population.  She is claimed to be “based on the history of imperialisms” by Atwood herself, representing the notion that to control a group you must grant some of them a slight amount of power so that they can control the others.

“There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimpy, that mark the women of the poorer men. Econowives, they’re called…You don’t see the Commanders’ Wives on the sidewalks. Only in cars.”

If one resists indoctrination, there are four major categories of control to ensure all stays in line.

Punishment, rules and routines, rewriting the past, and control of relationships.

Punishment refers to the mass executions in the forms of Salvaging and Particicution, exile to the colonies, and ‘disappearance’. This, along with the constant threat of cattle prods carried by Aunts and guns carried by Angels is a suitable form of control.

Rules and routines refers to the structured life of a member of Gilead, including compulsory attendance to Birth Days and Prayvaganzas.

Rewriting the past refers to the removal of written history that does not support current governmental ideologies. This is shown through reference to ‘the time before’. “There is more than one kind of freedom. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

Control of Relationships refers to the emphasis of relationships in Gilead being procreation rather than affection. Having a homosexual relationship is punishable by death, and Handmaids are not permitted to have relationships, including friendships, with other social groups.

To recap, the 3 reasons why The Handmaid’s Tale reflects our inevitable future are the difficulty to reach socialism, the influence of religion, and ease of societal control. The future is closer with every second that passes. How will you change it?

B.N

4 Facts About Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale That’ll Keep You Up At Night

Have you ever read one of those books that is just freaky? A book that makes you too scared to close your eyes?

 

I’m not talking about the Goosebumps series; some things are scarier than the boogeyman. Take The Handmaid’s Tale for example. There is some seriously scary stuff in there. Don’t believe me? Read on.

  1. The Whole Society is Based on Institutionalised Rape…

In the novel, women are forced to live in the Republic of Gilead. This is an institutional republic where the Commander’s wives are infertile and they have different women for different roles in society. The Handmaids are fertile and are the surrogate mothers of the Commander’s Wives’ children. However, this isn’t done in the ‘normal’ way of a women’s fertilised egg being injected into the other woman, the Handmaids are forced to have sexual intercourse with the Commander. This is why The Handmaid’s Tale revolves around institutionalised rape. The women have no control of this occurring as it happens through a “ceremony” where a biblical passage is read that has been altered to agree with Gilead ideologies and you can think of the rest yourself. The other reason as to why this is an institution revolving around rape is because if you don’t allow the ‘ceremony’ to happen, then you are sent to the Colonies. The Colonies are a place you are sent in order to receive punishment such as being fertile but not wanting to be a Handmaid. This gives the women a choice of death or rape. Which in my eyes is a little unfair and is shown in the institution of Gilead as the women don’t get a choice in this matter. The whole idea of this institution is so the state can benefit and become better however; “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some”, and in this case, unfortunately the Handmaids don’t benefit. It is discussed within the novel that the Handmaids have no way out of Gilead and if they try well, death was upon them. They would be shot whilst trying to run to the border of Gilead and Canada or they would be sent to The Colonies. So, there is only one choice for Offred and her gang of Handmaids and that is to “Keep your head down…and see it through”, if that means faking it and fitting in then that’s exactly what they’ve got to do. Don’t draw attention to yourself or the thought of the rape within Gilead and you have to “believe” in the ideals just to stay alive. This can also be strengthened further in Chapter 1 when the women suggest that the only way out of these institutionalised circumstances is with their bodies and using them in order to escape, “some deal made, some trade-off, we still had our bodies”, the women are willing to objectify themselves in order to escape the unfortunate situations they are placed in.

 

  1. For a Society Revolved Around Women, Their Rights are More Restricted Than In Reality…

If we look at The Handmaid’s Tale in a modern perspective, the women most definitely have no freedoms what so ever. In society today we’ve fought against domestic violence, gender pay gap, etc. In the novel, the women aren’t even allowed to read or write. Why? Well the entire republic of Gilead is in favour of men being better than women and they are only there to raise the children. That’s right isn’t it? We aren’t worthy of anything else? Not even the right to read or write or not have sex with unfamiliar men? The novel explores this through the protagonist. Offred begins to break these rules with her Commander as she plays Scrabble. Obviously, this is not allowed as it’s reading and using brain capacity that they aren’t allowed to use. As this is set in the future the rights have been stripped away from the handmaids that they had beforehand. But do they accept this? Not all of them, but most of them because “This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary”, allows an insight into how they’ve accepted and continued with the policies of Gilead. Their policies do include the restrictions on women that cause protests in other time periods but for this one, it is brushed aside, well as we know of anyway. However, there is a group of women within the novel acting against these polices and rebelling calling their group Mayday, an underground coordination of Handmaid’s that aren’t agreeing with the treatment of women. This gives hope to Offred when she hears about the rebellion, she begins to do small acts against Gilead’s rules such as playing scrabble wth the Commander. Unfortunately, this allows women to be portrayed as sneaky and uncontrollable in certain circumstances. When Offred talks about scrabble she talks about it being “kinky in the extreme” allowing this  of women being sneaky and uncontrollable to break through the surface. Women are dehumanised in the novel. Their right for identity is even taken away from them. The women aren’t allowed to share names as their names become of their Commander; Offred, Ofglen, Ofwarren, etc. However, the women manage to tell each other their names in the red centre “We learned to lip read… in this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June”, this allows us to see that they also don’t agree with the restrictions given but they live with it because they have to.

  1. Colours Actually Have Meaning In This Novel…

In most novels that people read they don’t take a notice of colours. But you always have that one English teacher that tries to explain why the curtain is blue in a room when the author will literally just want them to blue. That’s not the case in this novel. This book wants you to take into account the colours as a sense of class and power. Red for the Handmaids, green for the Marthas, blue the Commander’s Wives, black for the Commander and grey for the Econowives. The largest contrast in colour is the red and the blue of the Handmaids and the Commander’s Wives. This is because as they live in the same household and both do “wifely” duties as stated previously but have complete different colours. This is strengthened with the imagery of the variety of book covers and the TV show giving it a little extra oomph. The entire novel of The Handmaid Tale is full of biblical allusions. This is present in colour too. The Commanders wife is in blue. Blue is used in the bible in a symbolic way of presenting purity and virginity, meaning no way of having children. This is also supported in religious artwork through the art of the Virgin Mary where she is usually in the colour blue. This differentiates from the Handmaids as they are dressed in red which is used in the bible to portray evilness and prostitution and the act of trying to arouse men. This is evident in artworks of Mary Magdalene a biblical sinner. These two women in the bible are complete opposites in terms of popularity etc. This is similar to The Handmaids Tale and we all know that lots of writers like to give a shoutout to things we all know and understand. This is exactly one of them.

The Virgin Mary in blue.                                Mary Magdalene in red.

Other colours such as the green for the Marthas contrasts with the red. The green isn’t classed as an attractive colour as “nobody much cares who sees the face of a Martha”, this is usually because they’re old and barren themselves but lived in the “margins of the page”, having no meaning in society apart from the cooking and the cleaning. Every household has an unattractive Martha so they’re faces don’t have to be covered as they aren’t what people enjoy viewing. Unlike the young Handmaids that everyone stares at.

 

  1. All Events In The Handmaids Tale Have Happened Before…

Yes, you read it correctly. Unfortunately, every event in The Handmaids Tale has happened before. Hangings, stoning, death sentences, objectivisation of women. It’s all happened in the past societies of the world. So, let’s get into some details…

 

Until the 1890s hangings were the dominant punishment for all states in America. After 1890 most states abolished hangings apart from Delaware and Washington where they continued until 1996. Public hangings were mainly performed on witches in the 1800s and those who were homosexual, etc. This is evident in the novel through “The Wall”. The wall is where bodies are hung in a way to frighten and threaten the citizens of Gilead to remind them of the power the government have. This is their death sentence. This is mainly men who have been accused of rape, practicing abortion or being homosexual. They are placed there to “make the men look like dolls…like scarecrows”, to frighten the Handmaid into following the rules and stop them from being hanged themselves. Hangings are also show in the opening scene of season 2 of the T.V show. Spoiler alert. Hangings are used as punishment on the Handmaids as well. Confessing of crimes causes a hanging for them, “I’ll confess to any crime, I’ll end up hanging from a hook on the Wall”, if any scream or cry from the Handmaids is done they face the fear of this.

 

Stoning was very similar to the hangings in the way they were done. They were performed in front of the public and were mainly done on men. This is similar to the Handmaids tale as the exact same thing is done with a man who they consider a rapist. This is announced in front of the handmaids at the “salvaging” which is when all the women are gathered and forced to do the punishment on the so called ‘criminal’. The salvaging were cruel within the novel of the Handmaid with Atwood having a whole section named after it to intensify the violence within a salvaging. The last chapter in this section of the book uses maximalism to communicate the setting and the punishment done.

 

Women have always struggled wth rights and objectification with the world being in different waves of feminism. The first wave was during the 60s where women wanted the right to vote and women suffrage occurred. They were sick of staying home and not having a say in the world so they wanted to do something about it. The second wave occurred in World War 2 with women wanting social and economic justice. The third was in the 90s following the failure of the second. This was influenced by academic criticism, post-modern views and the queer theory of the 90s. The fourth wave differed from the third as its focus was domestic violence, sexual assault and the act of the “slutwalks”. Of course, feminism is still continuing. We see this in the novel through Offred’s mother and the flashbacks that include her. She was what we call a “hippie” and believed in equal favours, “Mother, I think. Wherever you may be. Can you hear me? You wanted a women’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies”, Offred allows us to see that there is not going to be another wave. Her mother wanted change for women but not the kind of change that occurred for them. The “women’s culture” took a turn for the worse in this case and causes Offred to envy her mother’s thoughts and wherever she is.

 

 

 

So here we conclude this amazing blog post that has officially blown your mind. If you didn’t know these facts already

 

So, if you’re staying up late thinking about this novel maybe read another. And let’s hope this time you don’t say…

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by A.H.

3 Truths Revealed In Nick Enright’s “Blackrock” That Will Make You Want To Scream “Wake Up, Jeff!”

Every Australian knows that Jeff the Wiggle is a notoriously deep sleeper. No matter how loud you blast “Hot Potato” or “Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car” Jeff just never seems to wake from his slumber. However, after you read Nick Enright’s “Blackrock” and have had your epiphany as to the true nature of Australian culture, Jeff won’t ever sleep again as all you’ll want to do is scream “Wake up, Jeff!” and tell him how our whole identity is underpinned by an inherent and pervasive darkness that glorifies toxic masculinity, misogyny, alcoholism and other super dark shit; after all, in the words of Diane, “How [could] you sleep after hearing a thing like that?”

Here’s 3 truths about Australian society/culture revealed in the 1995 play “Blackrock” that will make you want to scream “Wake Up, Jeff!” at the top of your lungs:

1. Australia has a real drinking problem:

The Wiggles make a concerted effort to promote healthy eating and living habits to young Australians in their formative years. In the hit songs “Fruit Salad” and “Vegetable Soup”, the crew tell the audience how yummy “melon” and “tomato” can be and remind them just how delicious healthy food is. Furthermore, in their song “Getting Strong!”, the gang promotes healthy exercise habits including “running on the spot” and “skipping with a rope”. Clearly, the Wiggles are firm believers in the notion that the body is a temple and probably run their own wellness blog that spouts dodgy pseudoscience about re-aligning your chakras and carrot juice enemas.

By contrast, if the Wiggles treat their bodies like temples, the characters in “Blackrock” treat their bodies like dingy country pubs. What’s made obvious by Enright is just how much Australian youths like to drink, and I’m not talking spinach acai smoothies. We’re talking alcohol, and in very large volumes.

The first reference to alcohol in the play is made within the initial scene as Toby describes his planned 18th birthday party as a “keg show down the surf club”. Clearly, the amount of alcohol available to be consumed at the party will be excessive as “[kegs]” traditionally hold over 50 litres of liquid each. Furthermore, Toby suggests the alcohol consumption will result in spectacular drunken behaviour, a “show” of sorts. The quote also highlights the link between youth culture and alcoholism. Given the amount of alcohol available, it seems that in the eyes of Toby and his mates, the party will only be a success if it is a true piss up; this indicates that the youths’ in Blackrock have been conditioned to perceive excessive alcohol consumption (read binge drinking) as a normal and acceptable part of celebrations. Also, the “surf club” can be seen as a bastion of Australian youth culture and its carefree, beach bum attitude, hence by holding his 18th at the club, Toby inadvertently reinforces the link between Aussie youth culture and alcoholism. Given Toby’s plan to drink himself silly at his 18th, there’s really no doubting what the Wiggle’s Reaction would be; “Oh No!”.

Enright further reinforces the link between youths and alcohol through Glenys’ reaction to Cherie’s claim that she’ll be responsible at Toby’s party; “I’ll be ok. I won’t drink.” Glenys reads right through her smokescreen and asks her what she’ll do instead, “stand and watch?”. Here, Enright strengthens the link between drinking and partying; “stand and watch” suggests that Cherie would be a lone teetotaller spectating a night of drunken debauchery. Furthermore, Glenys’ attitude indicates that the adults of “Blackrock” are well aware of their kids tendency towards binge drinking, and rather than challenge or punish such behaviours, either turn a blind eye or actively encourage it (Glenys practically challenges Cherie to get drunk at the party). Again, another “Oh No!” in the coloured crew’s book.
Ricko is depicted as the ultimate boozer in the play by Enright. His drinking habits rub off quickly on Jared, who after one night with him “came home well after midnight, [fell] through the front door and [spent] half the night throwing up.” What Jared displays is the effect of excessive short term alcohol consumption (a state of “stupor” and a BAC between 0.25%0.40%) which his mum Diane blames solely on Ricko’s return. Furthermore, Ricko’s alcoholic influence also threatens Jared greater life and prospects including “school [and] work”. Ricko is seemingly an alcoholic, given that his preferred mode of emotional comfort is a bottle of Tennessee’s finest. In search of Jared to ensure his commitment to their big lie, “Ricko appears [at the beach], holding a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels.” In response to the realisation of the gravity of the situation he finds himself in, Ricko turns to alcohol to soothe his worries. This in turn causes him to partake in risky behaviour (inferred drink driving as his “van [pulls] up” before he emerges drunk) and become increasingly aggressive towards Jared; first through intimidation him by asking “where the fuck have you been?” and eventually through violence as he “[raises the trophy] to strike Jared”. Here, Ricko’s boozing is presented as a negative facet of his character that contributes to the failure of his once strong relationship with Jared but also as something that feeds his excessive machismo (which resulted in him murdering Tracy earlier in the play). Through Ricko, Enright depicts the antisocial effects of excessive alcohol consumption and how it eventually leads to the destruction of character (by bringing out their worst traits).

By highlighting the relationship between Australian youth culture and alcohol consumption and focussing on the destructive nature of alcoholism within his play “Blackrock”, Enright questions the place/role of alcohol within Australian culture. The depictions within the play paint alcohol as central to Australian culture, and given the negative portrayal, it can be inferred Enright is critical of this facet of our culture.

A country built on slabs of tinnies and populated by legless hoons whose lifeblood is the amber Eau de VB… Definitely a problem. Jeff’s certainly not sleeping through this revelation.

2. Misogyny is alive and well:

Respecting women is the Wiggle’s middle name. They’ve proven time and time again that they support gender equality and strive to promote it to young Australians. Dorothy the Dinosaur, arguably the most well renowned female Australian kids TV supporting character, was the first character of the Wiggles to be introduced when it aired in 1991. From there she’s gone on to star in over 7 solo spin off series and cemented her position as the most prominent Wiggles side character. The Wiggles also proved resolute in their decision to replace Greg (the yellow one) with Emma despite vocal backlash, stating that the change would make the Wiggles relevant “into the next generation”. After becoming part of the crew in 2013, critics were quickly silenced as Emma consistently ranked the most popular of the new Wiggles. However, if you delve a little deeper, another more concerning reality comes to light that challenges what I’ve said above. The female characters in the Wiggles stick pretty hard to traditional gender stereotypes; Dorothy isn’t some kick ass man eating t-rex but a subdued, lady-like tutu-donning “rosasaur” (a dino that eats roses duh!) whose favourite activities are “eating roses, gardening, singing and making rosy tea”. Sadly, the same is the case for Emma, who wears a skirt and big bow ties and is frequently dancing or playing a mum or queen whilst the guys get to do the big-boy jobs (by that I mean firefighting, piloting or driving the Big Red Car).

This hidden unfairness is prevalent in Australian society and manifests itself in even more concerning ways than the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. These manifestations include the acceptance of an increasingly toxic perception of masculinity and most concerningly, Australia’s disproportionately high rates of domestic violence. Whilst it may seem to most an invisible issue, Enright foregrounds the misogynistic behaviours
perpetrated against Blackrock’s female characters and how these are widely perpetuated and accepted in its greater society.

The audience is hit by the rank smell of misogyny within the first scene of the play. When Jared tells his friends that girls can’t surf because they have the “wrong centre of gravity”, local girl Cherie interjects by challenging his claim through a local female surfing “legend” Wendy Botha. Jared writes this challenge off by claiming her prowess is due to her nonfeminine physicality, “[she’s] built like a guy”. Clearly, Jared demonstrates a negative perception of females, evident by the way he diminishes the achievements of a female by attributing her success to her “masculinity” (as if success is only achievable for males). The notion of femininity as being specific to stereotypical physique is confirmed later on in the scene as the boys “froth” over supermodel “Elle Macpherson”; her success is not challenged by Jared as it is considered acceptable because it is derived from her excessive stereotypical femininity (read physical attractiveness).

Misogyny also takes the form of double standards and the preferential treatment of males within “Blackrock”. Enright first introduces this when Rachel blames the preferential treatment her brother Toby receives from their parents as boiling down to the fact that “[he’s] got a dick”. Her parents claim that the “big difference” is their age, yet amongst themselves they ask if “[they’re] being too protective.” Stewart, Rachel’s dad, again purports double standards when he scolds Rachel for probing Toby about his involvement in Tracy’s rape. He claims she’s asking more than questions and rather “[frontally attacking]” him; in stark contrast, Stewart suggests for Toby to “[frontally] attack” his mum to convince her to green light his party. From this it can be inferred that Stewart believes that males “[frontally attacking]” females is perfectly socially acceptable whilst the converse is taboo; a perfect example of double standards that oppress women. Double standards are again addressed when Tiffany reveals to Jared that “the rest of [Jared’s friends] call [her] a slut and then try to sleaze on to [her] when [Ricko’s] head’s turned”. Here, the double standards are in regards to perceived promiscuity; the boys do not recognize their own “[slutty]” behaviour in ceaselessly trying to convince Tiffany to have sex yet call her a slut for no reason other than that she is a female engaged in a sexual relationship. Furthermore, their attempts are inferred to be forceful and unpleasant given “[sleazy]” is defined as “sordid, corrupt or immoral”.

Most notably, however, is the way Enright depicts sexual violence in the play. Firstly, Enright highlights the normalisation of violence perpetrated against women amongst the male youth of “Blackrock”. In the first scene of the play, Jared tells Cherie the only reason he’ll help her to surf is because “any other guy’d smack you in the mouth”. You’d think this would stop the conversation, but no, it’s casually brushed off by the pair; clearly, brutal violence against women is a non-topic in Blackrock. This normalisation worryingly encompass victim blaming too; multiple instances of this occur in the play. As news of Tracy’s murder travels across town, questions are raised regarding her virginity, her behaviour at the party and clothing. Furthermore, the town cannot comprehend that its culture could be so toxic so as to produce a rapist/murderer that their initial reaction is to blame an “out of [towner]” with “VIC plates”. As it becomes apparent that the perpetrator was homegrown, the town’s attitude sours against Tracy; Cherie sums this up in her clap back to Glenys, “you’se all think she raped herself, she killed herself.”

In the same way the Wiggle’s unwittingly purports traditional female stereotypes and gender roles, the town of Blackrock is completely oblivious to the rot of misogyny at the centre of their culture; a rot that culminates in the rape and murder of an innocent teen.

Is Jeff actually a misogynistic pig? The only way to find out is by waking him up and asking.

3. Australian society isn’t equal:

Australia considers itself the “lucky country”, thanks in part to its relatively equal wealth distribution and low income inequality. When combined with the vast welfare state, strong public education system and universal health care, you’d be pretty hard pressed to point out obvious flaws in the net that could let people slip through (besides Indigenous Australians, but that’s a whole other issue). Yet there is a fairly obvious socio-economic divide across Australia, firstly between metropolitan and rural areas, and then between cities and their outer suburbs.The Wiggles are a fairly good example of the difference class makes in Australia; all of the founding members grew up in privileged households (eg. Anthony attended a prestigious boys school and Jeff was the son of wealthy Chinese immigrants), were exposed to “higher” culture at a young age (Murray was the child of prominent Sydney musicians) and became extremely successful in life. Their “lucky” upbringings without a doubt contributed to the profound success of The Wiggles; I highly doubt that if the gang were all raised in lower-middle class, blue collar households that they would still grow up to be Australia’s most prominent children’s performers (a generalisation, sure, but a fair one).

Although it may not be the focus of the play, socio-economic divides are certainly present within Enright’s “Blackrock” through the depiction of two obviously different socio-economic groups within the fictional town of Blackrock. Enright himself stated that plays should be “anchored in a very particular place”, and when combined with knowledge of the coastal city (Stockton/Newcastle) that provided basis for the setting of “Blackrock”, it is inferred that Blackrock is likely a blue collar dominated, post industrial satellite town somewhere along the NSW central coast.The poorer socio-economic group are the “[blackos]”, as they are affectionately referred to, who inhabit Blackrock itself. On the other hand there is the Aussie bourgeoisie that live on the “hill”. The way each of these groups is constructed by Enright highlights the gulf in Australian society between the lower-middle class battlers and the upper class tall poppies.

Let’s start with the “blackos”. Enright makes it quite obvious throughout the play that the majority of characters are of lower-middle class socio-economic group, all except the Acklands. The disproportionate representation reflects the makeup of Blackrock’s society and is bound in traditional hierarchical structure; the wealthy elite constitute a minority of the population whilst the lower class represents a vast majority but controls only small amounts of the wealth. These socio-economic conditions are perpetuated by the behaviours of the characters in the play. Most evident is the positive perception of prison time amongst “blacko” youths. Davo describes his brother’s prison stint as an entirely positive experience as he “worked out twice a day” and gained “cred” as it “told the older guys [he] could handle himself”. Despite it being intended to punish, for the blackos, prison is seen as an opportunity to build a more successful self whilst gaining acceptance from greater society. This cycle of prison time is not only positively reinforced but a product of intergenerational perpetuation, reflected in the way Toby asks Ricko whether he’ll “follow daddy” into prison. Perpetuation is also reflected in regards to the treatment of women. Len, Jared’s dad is described as being estranged from his family as he “[pissed] off” after “[smacking] [Diane]one time too many.” Through dialogue, Enright reveals that Jared had grown up in an underprivileged, abusive household. Jared later perpetuates his Dad’s abusive behaviour towards intimate partners when he “grabs” Rachel and refers to her as a “bitch”. Enright also reveals that the “blackos” are perceived negatively by those on the hill as Stewart refers to Blackrock as “hoontown”. Stewart places the connotations of “hoon” onto the populace of Blackrock, hence comparing them to “louts or hooligans”. The perception of “blackos” as uncultured and primitive is reinforced by Stewart and his wife Marian who believe the only reason to be in Blackrock after “sunset” is either to “fuck” or get into “a punch up”; this not only reflects the overt machismo and misogyny that is depicted as being rife amongst “blacko” culture but also paints them as primitive given reproduction and strength are key
primal functions. Enright alludes to the exclusivity of the “hill” through Ricko when he makes guesses as to Toby’s father’s profession as either “a doctor” or “lawyer”; two elite/high salary jobs that require stringent higher education. This also serves to contrast against the jobs the “blackos” in the play hold, whether it be Jared who works at “safeway”, Tiffany who wears an “apron” to work (implied blue collar/customer service) or Len who is a boxing coach. Ultimately, the juxtaposition of employment between those on the hill and the “blackos” only serves to highlight the gulf in terms of income inequality between the two socio-economic groups. The privilege of the Ackland’s is also signified through their response to Tracey. Whilst the “blacko” youths are left to fend for themselves by either committing perjury (in the case of Ricko, Scott and Davo) or finding their own emotional outlets (Cherie and her tape deck), Rachel and Toby receive the “best professional help” and a “solicitor” respectively. Again, Enright juxtaposes the privileged position of the Ackland family against the “blackos” to highlight their high socio-economic standing.

Enright’s juxtaposition of the Acklands on the “hill” and the people of Blackrock itself serves to reflect the greater socio-economic divide between Australia’s lower-middle and upper classes. Furthermore, through the juxtaposition, Enright foregrounds the attitudes, perceptions and privileges of the two socio-economic groups thus also highlighting the cultural disparity between them.

It’s safe to say that the Wiggles grew up on the “hill” and that the “hill” certainly contributed to their success. Does Jeff know that his privileged, wealthy upbringing gave him a massive comparative advantage over thousands of other Australians and was a huge factor in helping him win at life? Probably.

Should we still wake him from his narcoleptic slumber by shouting really loudly the entirety of the Communist Manifesto directly into his ear? Definitely.

 

T.G.

The Hidden Truth Of Nick Enright’s BlackRock You Wouldn’t Believe!

 

Don’t you remember the time in high school, having mad Chats with the mates, busting out those assignments while whipping and nae-nae-ing? and reading a book about a girl getting raped and murdered over in East Australia? So do I! Nick Enright’s BlackRock was a controversial playwright that has been studied since its presentation in 1996 for its portrayal of a series of events that follows the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl named Tracy while attending a beach party where everyone’s getting on the piss, hosted by Toby, a 16-year-old fella that Tracy knew. People were lying, not speaking out, and even helped with the rape! Worst thing its based on a true story of misogyny and violence. That’s the hidden truth that you’ll now get to know.

 

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Just so you know, the murder that BlackRock, written by Nick Enright in 1996, is based off what happens to be the abuse, rape, and murder of Leigh Leigh. A 14-year-old girl who got gangraped by a 3 of 18-year-old men while attending a party in Stockton Surf Club, New South Wales, with minimum adult supervision, where she got physically abused for refusing to have sex with Guy Wilson after having non-consensual sex with an unnamed 15 year old boy played as “Toby”…. SO, on that serious note. Lets first have a look at the truth of Leigh Leigh’s story that BlackRock portrays.

Lets start off with a summary of BlackRock’s plot. A character named Tracy – representing Leigh Leigh – harmlessly rocking up to Toby’s 16th birthday beach party and smashing back the drinks. Having a good time. Buuuut the male characters were calling her and girl characters alike “bush pigs” and demanded that they “put out” in motivation of characters like Jacob. Tracey was then allegedly found naked within the sand dunes with head wounds from blood-forced trauma caused by the impact of a rock. The characters are then degrading in their emotional and social state. Jacob stopped attending school and lashed out at his mother and cousin, Cherie demonised all other characters for not “caring enough” for Tracy’s death, and Ricko becomes unstable, attempts to physically abuse the character Rachal, and finally reveals that he raped/murdered Tracy after she was gangraped by Toby, Craig and Scott, wanting Jacob to be his alibi. All the culprits were comprehended, however, the pressure of mateship still loomed over Jacob and he seek advice for what to do and his guilt for seeing the crime but not acting.

Okay, although BlackRock’s an interesting approach to the Leigh Leigh’s murder, written in a way to make the story more palatable to the broad reader while putting the meaning across of what the possible source of such an atrocity was. So, the specifics of the true story were really watered down. DON’T WORRY I won’t destroy your innocence with the details, however, Leigh Leigh was raped at a 16-year old’s party while drunk. The event of her being physically abused by 20 odd men in front of a crowd of school mates was left out (for obvious reasons). Likely represented through Jacko instead as he was a bystander who saw the events, with his turmoil reflecting the writer’s opinion of the social impact that such behaviour reinforces – self destruction – the rock used for Leigh Leigh’s murder was accurate along with Ricko, whom was Charlie Webster, the bouncer of the Stockton party. The actual murder itself was A LOT more gruesome and I’m for one am grateful that it wasn’t included because there would be no possibility of the story hitting mainstream media and covering the social issue. The attitude of the Stockton residence was also reflected, as just like in BlackRock, no one that witnessed Leigh Leigh’s abuse said anything to help the case out of either mateship or fear for their own safety

Now that’s sorted, lets have a little gander at the hidden meanings of dramatic conventions within BlackRock intended for the audience.

When it comes to symbolising the primal misogynistic behaviour of men, BlackRock has it down pat. Ricko’s description of his “accidental” murder of Tracy describing a “rock in one hand and a earring in the other” this is BlackRock’s Ego, Super Ego and Id, the Ricko’s conscious ego to do good and assist Tracy through her Trauma (represented by the earring) being won over by the primal desire for sex despite the risks (represented by the rock) and is shown again by his aggressive behaviour towards Jacob’s friend Tiffany. This was likely Enright’s perception of the possible factor behind the true murder, or at least used the plot to highlight an important issue of Leigh Leigh’s society. A murder fuelled by a misogynistic drive within the male characters to get what they want, with the women expected to give in to those desires. This reinforced by dialogue, Toby, Davo and Scott bragging that they “went through” Tracy shown no remorse in their behaviour Cherie’s mother being told that the Cherie has “got to learn how the world works” because she’s not a boy, while Toby, Davo and Scott bragging that they “went through” Tracy shown no remorse in their behaviour, and Ricko described all the female characters as “bush pig” that “had it everywhere but [their] armpit”… I know, if that’s not belittling then I don’t know what is and the list of dialogue goes on and on, from literally every male character. this clearly reflects the position of power, specifically between the genders that Enright argues to plague the small, poor suburbs of Australia which Leigh Leigh was situated in, naturalised and not just a single behavioural anomaly.

Then there’s Ricko’s van keys. I know, who cares. But the keys had a much deeper meaning than you may think and also happens to be very quick and simple. As the van was the object that introduced Ricko within BlackRock’s plot, the van also carries the same associated meaning. Misogyny and murder. Therefore, as Ricko eventually breaks down and gets arrested, giving Jacob the van’s Keys, those keys could represent the toxic behaviour being moved on to the next generation. i.e. Jacob. By throwing the keys away (although a waste of money if you ask me) Jacob denies this, this could be what Enright is asking from us. To end this misogyny.

With that. I end it here. I’ll be back with more rad info on more literature. See you’se next time #PEACE

 

L.H.

 

 

 

Funny Title

~Summary~

The play Blackrock by Nick Enright written in 1995, based around the major aspects of a crime committed in 1989 and entails a young school girl who is raped and murdered whilst attending a surf club party that entertained a large number of underage drinkers and partygoers. Progressively through the play, the truth is slowly revealed. Both the reality of Tracy’s killer (Ricko, the cool surfer dude, murders and rapes Tracy, but ‘it just happened’ so we’ll let him off).  and also Australian culture is discovered

Although Australia’s culture is refined enough (A Bunning’s snag on the weekend and a Woolies mud cake on your birthday) Blackrock reveals some classic Australian culture embedded in our youth generation that isn’t so flattering (woops). ‘allegedly’ our major defining cultural elements of our society include misogyny, alcoholism, violence and mateship.

But how? Well…..

Alcoholism?

We all know Australia’s big on drinking, I mean, we love it, but the ‘not so fun side of alcohol’ is visible within the youth generation and by doing so reveals that one of the only and most enticing entertainment options for our bright young stars is underage drinking and sex! And they’re not messing around, their party is a full on ‘keg show’ as toby reckons, and the most important attendee of all the ‘supermarket trolley stacked with beer’. From a young age it appears our youths destined for alcoholism and they are exposed to it constantly whether it be getting a beer out the fridge for dad or the half time commercials at the footy but the youngsters in Blackrock are no different. Particularly the boys in play see drinking as a social sort of deal. After Ricko returns he states that he and his friends are all ‘going to get some beers and sit up on the rock’, this part of Australia’s culture is not talked about negatively or as a problem, we all know someone who loves to get on the ‘piss’ so to speak, but hardly anyone sees the down side and what it can cause ‘she’ll be right’ Right?… WRONG. The drunken shenanigans that took place on the night were for the most part, fuelled by alcohol. The effects of alcohol are well known to most of us, for example it can lead to long term addictions and health issues such as alcohol poisoning and liver disease, but in addition to these harmful affects alcohol also increases our chance of making bad decisions and taking risks that we wouldn’t usually. These bad decisions and risky behaviour are present in multiple ways at the party. Some of them harmless, some of them not.

 

Misogyny?

There is A LOT of misogynistic ideologies going on in Blackrock, and I mean A LOT, it’s terrible, women are degraded and discriminated against by the men in the play AND by the younger generation boys (wonder where they got that from). The play represents some very real aspects of Australian culture during the time it was written in and some aspects of our present-day Australian society. The mutilation of a women’s body is a reoccurring theme within the play and although us readers/viewers are spared the gruesome details for the most part, it is blatantly clear what went down in the sand dunes. The rape of Tracy speaks volumes about the young men’s take on women, the fact that Ricko believed that sex from Tracy was something he could just take as a payment without any consent, it’s not rocket science Ricko, no means no mate. The way in which she was murdered *this part is yucky* that the side of her head being caved in by a rock just makes it so much worse. Together these serve as the primary evidence for female mutilation in the book, genital and head disfiguration yet the theme also presents itself in two other forms one being Diane’s breast cancer. Diane undergoes a mastectomy which is literally her boob getting removed, this serves to highlight the theme. The last representation of the disfiguration of a women’s body is when Tiff brings donut for a not so deserving Ricko who, instead of appreciating them, throws them at her like the complete asshole he is, leaving her with jam all over her but symbolising so much more, you see Tiff being covered in jam looks just………….yep, blood, Ricko symbolically bloodies ANOTHER women but it probably ‘just happened’ right? At least we have Rachel though, she sticks up for us women the whole time stating that the only reason Toby is allowed to go to the Surf club party is because he’s got a dick! And she’s right. Cherie also has a very good point, she declares that everyone thinks that ‘she raped herself. She killed herself’, another bang on point because if we hit fast-forward on the play, we can see how Stewart tries to belittle the event, he tries to make it sound small and irrelevant and almost that it was her fault, he says that ‘it just happened’ like that makes it better. Marian also tries to get Toby off the rapist hook by saying that she was ‘obviously drinking’. Stewart, as if he hadn’t already done enough, also uses women’s sex appeal and exploits photos of their body’s for his body count campaign which are ‘plastered over every bus shelter’ after his advert is played in the next scene Shana runs on naked, alluding to the fact that this is how his advert also starts. Themes such as these are all present within todays society, especially with the exploitation of women’s body’s, whether it be because ‘sex sells’, because the man a women is situated around wants sex or a recently newer inequality in today’s society is within the work force of Australia, where women are underpaid in comparison to their male equivalents or the fact that companies just don’t want to hire women, misogyny is still present.

 

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Violence?

Surely our beautiful Australia isn’t built on violence? Well listen it’s not the only thing we’ve got but it’s a damn big part of it. Australia and particularly Australia’s youth constantly use violence (either towards themselves or others) as a way of expression. It is literally the only way some people can resolve a situation, instead of talking it out most just prefer to smash on, have you ever been to high school? Teenage boys and girls literally cannot control themselves and it is no different for these youngsters in Blackrock. Hormones run high and fights break out at a steady pace throughout the play, but not all of the violence in this play is necessarily bad, it could potentially be regarded as bad but it’s not all murder and killing, in fact the play also highlights the fact that Australia has parts of violence engraved into it, it’s part of our natural responses to things, even if it’s just playful bants like when Jared ‘Smacks him [Scott] round the head. They go off together, sparring, laughing.’ They are legitimately laughing and sparring, displaying the fact that Australians use little spout of violence for fun and communication. Speaking of violence for fun, Jared’s dad appears to be a coach for a boxers club, he even claims that he could make something of Jared, this is important as we realise that the kind of kids in this town are struggling or have ‘shit for brains’ as Len explains, and sometimes they can feel as if violence is their only way, it quite literally is here where some teenagers can make something of themselves. Moving on to the matter that the youths of our generation use violence for expression and as a way of resolving things, Cherie tries to trash Ricko’s van (which he definitely deserves) because her emotions are so high she cannot find any other form of release but violence. Many of the male characters will initiate a fight as a way of sorting out a problem. Another example of this is when Tiff is standing up to Ricko (finally) before His big confession, he asks her ‘you looking for a smack in the mouth’ when she is dishing out the truth on his ass, calling him an ‘animal’ and whatnot, it’s spectacular. Ricko has no other way to resolve his anger towards her that ‘he tries to pull her to the ground’. Another form of violence is strongly present within the play, this is a different kind of violence, self-violence. Although one without cause there are 2 suicides in the play. Ricko for whatever reason, be it being unable to spend time in jail, unable to live with what he has done, the loss of his mates and girlfriend or a mixture of all, he ‘tops himself off’ in terms of the book using his belt. It is unsettling to know that much of the violence that we get to see in the play is ultimately what it is like in real life, especially for boys and those left behind in the education system, those are the ones that more often than not lack the capability to deal with emotions and problem solve and so they revolt in violence towards others or themselves.

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Mateship?

Yay! A good one finally, when most people think of Australia or try to impersonate an Australia the first thing they say is ‘G’day mate’ (the second is to throw another shrimp on the Barbie, whatever shrimp are), anyways the main point is that it is a well known fact that in Australia we have mates, but mates are something different to friends entirely. A mate is a different kind of bond, a group of best mates share loyalty, they share comradery and they share the laid-back surfer vibe we see in Blackrock. Ricko and Jared’s bromance started back when Jared’s dad had left him, and he had, ironically may I add, cracked his head open at the skate park and Ricko saved him. Since then a mateship flourished, Ricko called Jared ‘Son’ a lot and when the time came to finally return the favour that Jared had indebted to Ricko or as he told Jared ‘now it’s your turn to look after me’. Jared feels a sense of obligation to look after Ricko, he tries to convince his dad and pretty much himself that lying is the right choice by proclaiming that Ricko is his ‘best mate’ …’and that means I’ve got to back him’. The sheer force of the mateship almost convincing a young man to lie for a potential murderer. When Tiff confronts Ricko he demands she have sex with the both of them because, I believe that as part of their mateship Ricko thinks that it will bond the two together, almost like a right of passage. On the topic of right of passage is initiation rites, where the boys expect Toby to do something stupid to gain respect by his fellow mates and become part of their crew. What I think is the most important quote from the play is between Jared and Diane when she exclaims that the other boys, Scott, Davo and Toby ‘were no friends of yours’ and Jared replies with ‘No. But mates’ this draws the distinct line between friendships and mateships that is so heavily present in Australian culture.

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So yeah, basically Australia’s main cultural aspects are all really sad and dark and Blackrock does indeed expose them to us, although they’re not too at least they’re ours.

E.S.