Margret Atwood’s fictive autobiography ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ And Brian Keenan’s autobiography, ‘An Evil Cradling’ documenting his kidnapping by fundamentalist Shi’ite militiamen both present a sense of claustrophobia. Each novel presents tional. strophobia Keenan’ the manifestation of claustrophobia within the protagonists. ‘An Evil Cradling’ presents Keenan’s physical claustrophobia as a hostage and the emotional entrapment. Both authors successfully create a sense of claustrophobia whilst exploring the different situations of both protagonists.
Both Offred and Keenan’s lifestyles appear even more claustrophobic in contrast to their previous lives. There is an asymmetry in the presentation of a sense of claustrophobia within and between the two novels. Whilst on the one hand, both writers deal with the notion of claustrophobia as having a negative consequence on their lives. On the other hand the life of the main protagonists before their captive state is presented with considerable differences. These differences are exemplified in the opening chapters of both texts.
Keenan in his exploration of life before captivity seems to suggest life was not all that tranquil and certainly not without its problems before he was taken captive in the Lebanon, where one might imagine the root of all his problems with claustrophobia began. In the preface Keenan states, “I was brought up in that harsh, divided landscape of Northern Irish, working class and I went into with all its baggage. ” Furthermore he claims in his first chapter, “Before I left Belfast, I had been torn with a desperate kind of love and distaste for my place. Both statements from the two parts of Keenan’s book, show that his life, as he puts it himself, was a type of ‘cul-de-sac. ‘ This metaphor for a dead-end shows that Keenan was no more free in his native Ireland, so much that he was forced to seek mental comfort elsewhere. The entire opening chapter of an evil cradling highlights Keenan’s disconnection with his country and how he felt trapped and a sense of claustrophobia in a place so familiar to him. Contrastingly, Atwood presents her protagonist as having a far more affectionate, possibly ‘rose tinted’ view on her life before taken into captivity.
In Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ Offred conveys a large amount of nostalgia towards her past. In the opening chapter Atwood contrasts the senses of the past. The lights are vividly described as “a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light. ” Atwood chooses this poetic metaphor to show her fondness towards previous times. Atwood describes the simplicity of the lights under the regime “The lights were turned down but not out. ” Offred’s feelings of extreme claustrophobia are exacerbated through the juxtaposition of the former senses. In Offred’s case she is more sensitive towards these feelings of freedom.
Offred is a victim of gradual entrapment that has been apparent in her society for many years; chapter 28 reveals the gradual oppression of women “Things continued in that state of suspended animation for weeks… Newspapers were censored… roadblocks began to appear, and identipasses… ” by stripping women of their political and social rights the Gileadean regime came to power. Offred uses listing to highlight the continuous changes in society, specifically directed at women, showing her own shock and resentment towards her gradual confinement. Offred does not only demonstrate nostalgia towards her past in the opening chapters.
Atwood constantly uses similes throughout that are reminiscent of the past. These similes present an escape from the routine regime; they often involve the senses which allow Offred to escape the regime by remembering and juxtaposing elements and senses of the past. ” It’s almost like June,” Offred shifts in mental perspective via association of seasons, Offred’s memories of the seasons are superimposed over Gilead’s charade of normality, it is as though Offred escapes into her own private narrative underneath her imprisonment as a handmaid her recollections act as freedom from the past.
Both Offred and Keenan’s sense of claustrophobia is intensified by the way that their human rights are no longer recognised and they have no freedom of choice. Keenan’s beard is used in ‘The Devil’s Barbershop’ to symbolise his dignity and freedom of choice. Keenan is very reluctant to have his beard shaved off; his behaviour becomes the manifestation of claustrophobia. He becomes attached to his beard and it symbolises his freedom of expression, “I’ve had this beard for too long for some halfwit who thinks he owns me to make me what he wants me to be. Throughout this passage Keenan uses long sentences that highlight his heightened emotions, Keenan’s aggressive tone towards his captors also shows his reluctance to change, Keenan’s identity is displayed through his beard and similarly to Offred he is being made to conform and accept his claustrophobic surroundings. In “The Handmaid’s Tale” Offred is defined by her uniform, and looses her previous identity. This expresses that in Gilead their lives have become so claustrophobic that even their ability to express themselves has been repressed.
Offred feels trapped in a system which rigidly controls women. The colour coding of women’s clothes indicates that in this society their individual identities are lost in prescribed roles. “Everything except the wings around my face is red: the colour of blood, which defines us… a sister, dipped in blood. ” Atwood uses this negative metaphor to highlight Offred’s feelings towards loosing her individuality. Offred’s uniform in addition acts as a physical restriction, “The white wings… they are to keep us from seeing, but also from being seen. It is made apparent that their clothes are also a way of physically restricting them as way of control, deliberately designed to limit the Handmaids view. The blood red is a constant reminder of the vilification of women in Giliadean society. ‘Blood red’ is symbolised throughout the novel and acts as a constant reminder to Offred’s role in society, although her role as a child barer allows her more freedom under the regime it is also the one thing that traps her. The description of the characters’ surroundings and routines present a sense of claustrophobia, Offred’s account of going out and doing the daily shopping illustrates this.
Under the Gileadaen regime the Handmaids never went out unaccompanied, this partnership system provided both chaperones and spies. Offred considers the image of both women dressed identically in red, thinking of them as doubles, both visually and in circumstances. “The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers. ” Each woman traps the other. However, a suggestion of freedom is present in the structure of the two novels. For Keenan, his ability to let his mind wander in times of extreme captivity has been vital to his survival.
Keenan changes tenses abruptly, from describing the cell, to a present time, showing the way in which his mind jumps, to escape his present situation. However, in “Into the Bread Basket” Keenan’s senses were shut down by the “tight confinement of the tape” which “will not let my mind escape. ” Now that even his mind cannot escape he feels as if a “riot is bursting out within my senses” which further reflects how his repressed senses are desperate to escape the confinement, without his freedom of mind Keenan finds himself completely trapped.
Correspondingly, Offred is able to escape into her private world of memory and desire. Offred uses storytelling as a means of personal survival her narrative is the only way of bridging the gap between an isolated self and the world outside. “It is also a story I am telling, in my head, as I go along. ” Offred is able to escape the intense feelings of claustrophobia through expressing her feelings. Atwood chooses short sentences to emulate the natural nature of speech resulting in a flowing structure.
Fear plays a main role in increasing the sense of physical claustrophobia experienced by both Keenan and Offred. In ‘into the bread basket’ Keenan uses imagery that creates associations with death “I am being embalmed and mummified” and “I am going back to the coffin. ” This demonstrates how in such claustrophobic conditions where all his senses have been effectively shut off he is completely helpless and that in these cramped dark conditions the difference between life and death becomes uncertain.
Keenan carries on this extended metaphor in the oxymoron “a living corpse” this again reflects the negative experience of being in such claustrophobic conditions. Finally, both authors have used literary and structural techniques to reveal the many ways in which claustrophobia can be created and intensified. Although the two protagonists’ situations are very different, as Offred lives a controlled and limited life and Keenan one of absolute entrapment they show many similar traits and emotions triggered from their individual feelings of claustrophobia.
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