Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum. Reading Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" and Christina Dalcher's "Vox" in Dialogue

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Geisteswissenschaften, Kunst, Musik / Englische Sprachwissenschaft / Literaturwissenschaft


Master's Thesis from the year 2019 in the subject American Studies - Literature, grade: 1,3, University of Dortmund, language: English, abstract: Recently, and especially in 2017, when Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States, Women’s Marches occurred all over the United States. In many of these marches, women used symbols from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, such as red cloaks and white bonnets (Hauser). ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ perhaps the most quoted phrase of The Handmaid’s Tale meaning ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’ became a feminist rallying cry during those women’s marches. The Handmaid’s Tale, which was written in 1985, regained popularity and relevance due to a rising political power of Christian fundamentalists, which led to attacks on women’s rights, particularly women’s reproductive rights (Armstrong). The Handmaid’s Tale made way for similar feminist novels exploring dystopian futures, such as Christina Dalcher’s Vox (LaMonica). Vox and The Handmaid’s Tale are both set in a dystopian future in which the U.S. has become a theocratic state. The women in Vox suffer by being limited to speak only one hundred words a day, while women in The Handmaid’s Tale are forced into circumscribed roles, for example the role of the Handmaid. These women are subject to ritualized rape. The society in The Handmaid’s Tale is reminiscent of societies in former human history, notably the Puritan society (Atwood Age of Trump) whereas the society in Vox is more futuristic and influenced by modern technologies, as this work will show. In this thesis, the patriarchal power structures of the dystopian societies in Vox and The Handmaid’s Tale will be analyzed by examining the sexual politics of patriarchal societies and state power as well as the use of language and punishment. I argue that both novels explore overt and subtle patriarchal structures, which have different impacts on the protagonists’ identities. The protagonists differ in their strategies of resistance and process their struggles differently. While Jean in Vox angrily holds on to her dominant and bold personality and is actively involved in the resistance against the Pure state, Offred is in pain and even numb and passively retreats to her memories and thoughts. Offred’s resistance is less politically motivated but rather anchored in her feelings on a personal level.

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reading, handmaid, dialogue, christina, nolite, dalcher, tale, bastardes, carborundorum, atwood, margaret