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Liena Altai

Liena  Altai


Total Article : 47

About Me:Sixth form student with an interest in a wide variety of topics such as languages, history, philosophy, politics and literature

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Narrators in 'Frankenstein' and 'The Handmaids Tale'

Narrators in 'Frankenstein' and 'The Handmaids Tale'


Both the texts of “Frankenstein” and “the handmaid’s tale” use narrators to convey certain aspects of the society at that time, and the character(s) in question. Whilst Atwood uses the narration from Offred to reflect the oppressive and brainwashing society of Gilead, Frankenstein explores viewpoints from multiple narrators, but largely that of Victor Frankenstein, to show not  only the oppression of the monster, but of Frankenstein himself by his own mental condition. 

Victor Frankenstein’s unhealthy ardour and preoccupation on his monster drowns out external descriptions in the book, reflecting his unnatural obsession over his creation and studious nature. The detailed emotive content gives a very self-centred insight into his thought process, and Shelley uses this to invoke a certain sense of sympathy for Frankenstein. However, Frankenstein’s egotistical narrative is also reflected in his description of the “wreck” he creates. Sparsely admirative of his creation, his “horror and disgust” filling his heart tinges the readers viewpoint of the monster, and reinforces the novel as a gothic one. The gruesome descriptions cloak the sympathy that we may feel for the monster later on, and Shelley uses this to reinforce not only Victor’s oppression from his mental state, but the oppression of the monster himself.

Offred however, as opposed to Frankenstein gives vivid and often even long winded description of her surroundings, and the people that surround her. She however rarely gives reference to her inner emotions. As much as her physical descriptions of her surroundings are detailed, she rarely gives any insight into anything deeper than this. Small flashes of vividness within her descriptions, such as the colour red often being associated to tulips give frequent flashes of humanity that are seemingly repressed within her narration. The only societal and political viewpoints she gives are robotic and tinged with a certain sense of loss which is not explicitly stated. This can be seen through infrequent reference to childhood, and times before, such as when she “stands on the corner, pretending to be a tree”. These mournful events present the brainwash effect on the narrator, which evokes sympathy from the reader. This robotic and subdued commentary experiences more and more frequent flashes of rebelliousness throughout the text,  Offred claiming she “wants it finished” adding an assertiveness that we have been sensitised to throughout her rather more passive narrative. This sympathy is also invoked through the narration of Frankenstein, but in a more direct and emotive way. Frankenstein’s vivid descriptions of his emotional toil, his “ardour” and “infinite pains” invoke the readers sympathy in a different way, as the declination in his mental health is instantly recognisable, as opposed to Offred’s more reserved tone only exposing her struggles through subtle reference.

Atwoods use of Offred not only offers a reflection of every fictional handmaid in the book, but also reflects upon many societal issues seen in the modern world. Having been to Iran, Atwood had experienced an abuse of power from a patriarchal society, and the writing of this book may have been inspired by this. Regardless, the narration of Offred can only present a point of view stifled by abuse of power that we see all around the world. In the novel “Frankenstein” the contextual factors are far less evident, as the Victorian era in which it was written meant that Shelley had to come from a far more subtle viewpoint when criticising or using shocking content. The use of three different narratives helps to show different points of view rather than focused on Frankenstein’s intensively descriptive and emotively charged perspective. Walton’s narrative seems to introduce and conclude, putting a sense of perspective and structure to the novel, Frankenstein’s disposition being then taken with a pinch of salt by the readers.  Atwood however, rather than using this well rounded structure to her narratives provides a more sequential  narrative in which the character of Offred, although speaking  in flashback form, shows a progressive and gradual character development from the beginning to the end of the novel. What both narratives have in common however is the narrator(s) telling a story, which shows narrators that have experienced what the reader reads in the novel in the past. In Offred’s case, this aids the reader in their emotional attachment to Offred, knowing that she is perhaps safe, the fact that she is retelling the story indicating her escape. The current predicament of Victor Frankenstein is stated at the beginning of the novel, again, reinforcing the safety of the character in question.

In conclusion, whilst both books use the narrator as a means of telling a story, they both present different societal and emotional statements. Whilst the dystopia of “the Handmaid’s tale” is reflected in Offred’s subtle criticism of the regime and brainwashed mannerisms, Frankenstein presents a much deeper aspect of human nature and the dangerousness of going against that natural process through the chilling and sometimes gruesome narratives of the three characters.

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