Transgression in The Handmaid’s Tale

Hey! We’ve had a few emails over the holiday period, asking some really thought provoking questions. One that I thought was especially interesting came from Alybaa, who wants to know more about the theme of transgression in The Handmaid’s Tale. This is quite a big talking point for Frankenstein, but what about when it comes to comparing? Here goes…

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Comparing Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale

When I first started studying these texts, I was honestly bemused. What does a monster made of human remains have to do with a dystopian theocracy? Quite a lot, it turns out.

We’ve had a few emails from other students, asking if we can help them compare these two seemingly very different texts. I’ve decided that since this is such a widespread question (and rightly so!) I’d put together a few ideas to help you get started. Largely, I’ll be framing this post as questions which you can ask yourself when you revising, perhaps in mindmaps or bullet lists. This is a new way of organising a post, but I hope that it will be helpful!

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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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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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Transgression & The Endings of Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale

At the end of Frankenstein, the reader is left relatively unsatisfied in the sense that they are unclear as to the fates of both the creature and Walton, two of the narrative voices in the novel. Transgression is a major theme in Frankenstein, particularly relating to the liminal sense of life and death, in that Victor breaks the laws of nature by creating life without sex or the female body. This blurring of the lines is similar to how, in Frankenstein, the “novel’s ending might also be transgressed” as critic Lucinda Gilchrist derives, because of the ambiguous nature of it.

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