Literary Context of The Handmaid’s Tale


The Handmaid’s Tale is a book that draws heavily on ideas about genre and the purpose of literature to create its style and content. One of the Assessment Objectives (AO3/Context) requires you to understand these ideas and refer to them to reach the top grades. The level of detail I go into here is unnecessary and may even be detrimental to your essay — your examiner already knows what postmodernism is! All you need is a one sentence explanation, before you link the context in to your analysis.

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Frankenstein – Context

Image © The National Theatre

As we have said before, you won’t be able to get into the higher bands on the mark scheme if you do not include context (AO3). We already have a post on context for The Handmaid’s Tale, made by Beth, so be sure to have a look at both this one and that one to ensure you have context for both texts throughout your essays. There is a lot here, so try to get at familiar with a lot of it, you will know most of it anyway, but there be more sophisticated context that you can use here 🙂

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Pearson Example Essays – PROSE

Image © Bigstock

When it comes to writing essays, it can be really hard to know how to structure them because you cannot keep the style from GCSE, it’s just not complex and sophisticated enough. You may also not know how to write a great introduction or conclusion!

You may have noticed that there are a couple of A grade sample essays that we have been set by our teacher and put up on this blog to help you. But we know that not everyone is aiming for or will be able to write at A grade so Edexcel has provided a document with example essays which were awarded various grades/levels, which not enough students know about.

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The Handmaid’s Tale – Context

Image © Stephanie Marshall

You won’t be able to get above a certain grade in the Prose exam if you don’t include context (AO3). Contextual information could be in the form of relevant historical or political information, a feature of the genre which is evident in the text, a quote from a critic or a link to the author’s own life or views, but to get the best marks for including it, you must link it to the argument in your thesis (for example, “Critic Anton Franks suggests that “Frankenstein himself [became] a kind of monster” in the act of bringing the creature to life, implying that the horror of witnessing the results of his research brought about a fundamental change in Victor’s personality, destroying his happiness and ambition, and thus dooming him as a victim of his own science.”). Examples of context for The Handmaid’s Tale include:

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Impact of Science on Relationships and Intimacy

We were asked to help on the following question by izzyjuly7…

Compare the ways in which the writers of your two chosen texts present the impact of science on relationships and intimacy.

So we must consider the science and relationships within both Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale.

The definition of science, “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:

the mathematical sciences/systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation”

The creation of Frankenstein’s monster is plainly the science in the novel, the act of galvanising a dead body. It affects many relationships and intimacy within as well…

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The Sublime – Frankenstein

How is the sublime presented by Shelley in ‘Frankenstein’? (MINI ESSAY) 

Throughout the novel of Frankenstein, Shelley presents the major gothic theme of ‘the sublime’ – that describes something both greater in size and stature of which natural beauty and power is almost impossible to comprehend for the human mind – as  a concept that inspires and alleviates the soul of both Victor and the reader. Through powerful, sensory imagery, Shelley is able to explicitly illustrate the feeling of numinosity that Frankenstein experiences. Furthermore, the generic context that surrounds the idea of the sublime, helps to place the novel amongst the works of second generation romanticists such as Byron, Percy Shelley and John Keats. This aids the reader to understand why this concept was so important in the late 18th century, because it shows the new way of thinking and appreciation of the raw natural world, after the contrasting period of industrialisation. We also learn that the sublime can be terrifying due to the lack of control that humans have over it, however instead of being argued that the sublime is dangerous, one looks at this point of view that the overwhelming nature of it actually helps both Victor and the reader to put their lives into perspective and alleviates their soul.

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Death of Clerval – Frankenstein

This post is an in depth look at Clerval’s death in Frankenstein and his significance in the novel as a whole.

Characterisation of Clerval, earlier in the novel

“he loved enterprise, hardship, and even danger for its own sake. He was read deeply read in books of chivalry and romance. He composed heroic songs, and began to write many a tale of enchantment and knightly adventure”

“he might not have been so perfectly humane, so thoughtful in his generosity – so full of kindness and tenderness amidst his passion for adventurous exploit”

“Nothing could equal my delight on seeing Clerval”

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Impact of Scientific Research – Frankenstein

ESSAY – Scientific Research


Although in the real exam, the question will ask you to compare both of your chosen texts (for us, Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale), we were just concentrating on Frankenstein in this essay. However it should help a lot for Frankenstein.

Here is a sample essay I wrote on how the question…

Explore the ways in which Shelley presents the impact of scientific research in Volume 1 of Frankenstein (36 marks)