Serena’s Garden Passage

That was in May. Spring has now been undergone. The tulips have had their moment and are done, shedding their petals one by one, like teeth. One day I came upon Serena Joy, kneeling on a cushion in the garden, her cane beside her on the grass. She was snipping off the seed pods with a pair of shears. I watched her sideways as I went past, with my basket of oranges and lamb chops. She was aiming, positioning the blades of the shears, then cutting with a convulsive jerk of the hands. Was it the arthritis, creeping up? Or some blitzkrieg, some kamikaze, committed on the swelling genitalia of the flowers? The fruiting body. To cut off the seed pods is supposed to make the bulb store energy.

Saint Serena, on her knees, doing penance.

I often amused myself this way, with small mean-minded bitter jokes about her; but not for long. It doesn’t do to linger, watching Serena Joy, from behind.

What I coveted was the shears.

Well. Then we had the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash, light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple, black cat’s-ears in the sun, indigo shadow, and the bleeding hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out. There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently. A Tennyson garden, heavy with scent, languid; the return of the word swoon. Light pours down upon it from the sun, true, but also heat rises, from the flowers themselves, you can feel it: like holding your hand an inch above an arm, a shoulder. It breathes, in the warmth, breathing itself in. To walk through it in these days, of peonies, of pinks and carnations, makes my head swim.

The willow is in full plumage and is no help, with its insinuating whispers. Rendezvous, it says, terraces; the sibilants run up my spine, a shiver as if in fever. The summer dress rustles against the flesh of my thighs, the grass grows underfoot, at the edges of my eyes there are movements, in the branches; feathers, flittings, grace notes, tree into bird, metamorphosis run wild. Goddesses are possible now and the air suffuses with desire. Even the bricks of the house are softening, becoming tactile; if I leaned against them they’d be warm and yielding. It’s amazing what denial can do. Did the sight of my ankle make him lightheaded, faint, at the checkpoint yesterday, when I dropped my pass and let him pick it up for me? No handkerchief, no fan, I use what’s handy.

Winter is not so dangerous. I need hardness, cold, rigidity; not this heaviness, as if I’m a melon on a stem, this liquid ripeness.

The Handmaid’s Tale, chapter 25

Handmaid’s Tale Simile Perfect Paragraphs

Louise et Shaïneze Atwood uses chocking similes to show the violence of Gilead. For example, as Offred walks by the wall, Atwood illustrates her reaction thinking: « It makes the men look like dolls on wich faces have not yet been painted, like scarecrows, wich in a way is what they are, since they are meant to scare ». In this quote, Atwood shows us Offred’s reaction to the people changed on the wall like scarecrows. She compares the bodies to scarecrows because they are examples to scare people who would want to rebel against the government. 

Then, Atwood shows how Offred pictures herself after the shower: « I wait, washed, brushed like a price pig ». She compares Offred to a pig, an animal, because this is how the handmaids are treated, like animals. Atwood shows that in Gilead society, handmaids don’t have human clays many more and are used against their rights. 

Finally, as a last example, Atwood illustrates Offred’s mind after she put butter on her face like lotion « we are containers, it’s only the inside of our bodies that are important. The outside can become hard and wrinkled, for all they care, like the shell of a nut ». Again Atwood shows how handmaids are dehumanized for Gilead, handmaids condition does not matter. They are just containers for babies, so here handmaids are objectified. To conclude, the simile shows how violent the Gilead society is toward women. It doesn’t let them any liberty of speech or just simple freedom. 

Esther, Irenee, Victor Atwood uses shocking and similes to show the violence of Gilead.

First of all, in chapter 6, as Offred is looking at the wall and sees the hand man/women, she says: “ it makes the men look like dolls on which faces have not yet been painted […] like scarecrows, which in a way is what they are, since they are meant to scare.” There Atwood creates a really long sentence that creates an impact on the reader as he is used to short and descriptive phrases. The repetition of the word “fear” is also a shocking image that shares an emotion and creates an atmosphere. Second of all at the very beginning of the tale Offred compares The handmaid’s life to the army: “ Think of it as being in the army, said aunt Lydia.” This quote is proof for the violence of the Gilead Society (how they have no possessions and lost their identity for violent reasons). It also shows the strictness of this new society and the difficulty to accept it. Lastly, in chapter 13, Offred is comparing herself to a pig which is a degrading image: “ I wait, washed, brushed, fed like a prize pig.” This is shocking because it proves that she has some values to others (prize) but she still is a pig. It is vital in the way the society considers its members and how she just is the property of someone.

To conclude this all, The author utilizes lots of similes to create a sense of shock from the reader and to enhance how violent the Gilead society is.

Cesar and Pablo Atwood uses simile to illustrate the loss of identity. Take as an example when she describes the mirror when walking downstairs “like the eye of a fish, and myself in it like a distorted shadow.” From this quote we can deduce that the author is trying to outline how her personality is vanishing. It also resembles the little red riding hood tale in the way that she feels like a prey and that she is being watched. For the second quotation the writer depersonalizes the snowmen hanging on the wall by commenting how they all wear the same garments which were used to be worn by doctors and scientists and how the men cannot be distinguished from each other. Not only that but it also exemplifies how in Gilead people are differentiated by colours“The men wear white coats like those worn by doctors or scientists.”(pg.38) This leads to the next quotation which also talks about the snowmen and their lack of personality. In this case Atwood talks about the bags they wear resembling dolls in mid-production. “It makes the men look like dolls on which faces have not yet been painted; like scarecrows, which in a way it’s what they are, since they are meant to scare.” In this first simile she wipes out their personality by insinuating that they look like objects, ones which can’t be differed from each other. In the second simile Margaret compares the snowmen with scarecrows and their role which in this case is to scare rebels from revolting against Gilead’s norms.
Gatien, Holali Atwood uses simile to illustrate the loss of identity. First of all, Margaret Atwood established the concept of name and how they are erased. As for example in the quote:”I want to be held, and be told my name”. The Author explains how Offred wishes to recover a little bit of her identity. Just her name that hasn’t been said in years. It particularly shows how the Gilead Republic has dehumanized her. In addition, the sound -old which is a comforting and soft sound shows that she longs for the affection of others. In order to regain her identity. Another example is when Offred says:”I wait, washed, brushed, fed like a prize pig”. This simile is very important as it shows how the handmaid’s, and particularly Offred, feels about their place in the society. It is one of the first time that she is clearly considers her place as a very degrading state for a human being. Her loss of identity is even going further as she identifies herself as a pig, an animal that has no identity and no other purpose than to be held or offered as a gift. But at same time she is in the consideration of being a prize and is happy to be considered valuable. Finally for the last example, Atwood writes:”The men wear white coats like those wore by doctors or scientists”. In this example, the roles and identity of people are reduced to the color they wear. It shows how in the Gilead society people have social roles determined by their most basic condition and depending on that your “identity is decided among 5 or 6 choices 
Amandine & Clémence  Atwood uses shocking simile to show the violence of Gilead. For example, Atwood writes: 

« I wait, washed, brushed, like a prize pig. » (p. 75) This quote shows how the handmaids are treated like animals. They are used by society just for their body, Gilead does not care about their feelings. The fact that the author utilizes the expression “prize pig” also highlights that Offred has a kind of importance. This is ironic because the society tells her that she has value, but they treat her like an animal, even an object. 

Secondly, this other citation reveals an even more violent side of Gilead: 

« It makes the men look like dolls on which faces have not yet been painted, like scarecrows, which in a way is what they are, since they are meant to scare. » (p. 75) This sentence demonstrates that this society does not hesitate to sacrifice people to show others the example. Each person who does not follow all the rules will be killed. The executions are public, everyone can assist to it. Then the dead bodies are hanged on the Wall, so that everyone can see them. This is meant to discourage people from breaking the rules. 

Finally, in this example, the writer illustrates the brutality of the “arrest” of Offred and her family: 

« It was like being in an elevator cut loose at the top. Falling, falling, and not knowing when you will hit. » (p. 199) Here, the author uses this simile to show that the people who caught them were very hard, aggressive. Once more, they are treated like objects by the Gilead society, who does not pay any attention to what these people can feel, they just do what they are told to do. This is really shocking because Offred, her husband Luke and their daughter are just trying to escape from a world that wants to separate them and to take all their liberties, and they are arrested like criminals. 

The Gilead society is violent by its way of acting, but also by its ideas and its foundations. 

Lola et Owen In The Handmaid’s tale, Atwood uses simile to illustrate the loss of identity. Firstly, in Gilead government, Atwood uses the “taking-away names” technique to illustrate a loss of identity. For instance, in chapter fourteen “Your name is like a telephone number.” In this quote, the Handmaids are named with numbers, taking example on the Second World War where humans beings were considered like objects or slaves. That gives a slave dimension to the handmaids, who lost their identity as slaves.

Secondly, Atwood compares Offred to a piece of toast : “buttered, I lie on my single bed, flat like a piece of toast.” She has such a lack of freedom that she uses butter for facial products. She compares herself to a piece of toast on which we spread butter. 

Lastly, in page seventy five it is said that Offred compares herself as an animal : “I wait, washed, brushed like a prize pig.” Here, it is clear that Offred compares herself to a pig and dehumanizes herself. Animals and slaves have the same status : they are not human, which shows that Offred loses her human identity.

Simile Chart, The Handmaid’s Tale

SIMILE (quote + page number) ANALYSIS (what does it contribute to the reader’s understanding, what techniques/devices are used, what is revealed about character or theme) Student Name
“Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting to the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloudcover.”  p.201 Margaret Atwood uses antithesis to show the moon how bright it is during the night. Owen 
”buttered, I lie on my single bed, flat like a piece of toast”
” It makes the men look like dolls on which faces have not yet been painted, like scarecrows, which in à way is what they are, since they are meant to scare.” (p. 38) The objectification shows an important aspect of the book. It represents the position of those who don’t follow rules in society. If they don’t follow rules then they show the exemple as dolls that can be sacrificed when not conformed, manipulated till the beginning to the end. Used for one goal, maintain power in place.  Clément 
”Or I would help Rita, to make the bread, sinking my hands into that soft resistant warmth which is so much like flesh.“ p17 Offred doesn’t have any pleasure to help for the community tasks : she compares the texture she is touching (bread) to flesh which is a degrading comparaison.  Irénée  
 « It’s like a fart in church. » (p94) The situation is uncomfortable, Serena Joy doesn’t want to be heard crying and Offred is trying to stop herself from laughing just like a fart in church which you don’t want people to hear and for others that are trying to hold there laughter. Esther 
“I will  Offred  Victorious Victor
“I wait, washed, brushed like a prize pig” (p75)  This similie is very important as it shows how the handmaid’s, and particularly offered, feels about their place in the society. It is one of the first time that she clearly considers her placas as a very degrading state for a human being. But at the same time she is in the consideration of being a prize and is happy to be considered valuable. Q  Gatien
”I can see it as I go down the stairs, round, convex, a pier-glass, like the eye of a fish” (p15) Offred feels watched by an eye. The eye is the society. Everywhere she goes, everything she does, is controlled. She doesn’t have any liberty and private time, She is paranoid, she sees eyes everywhere and think that even walls are listening to her. Carla  
”like the eye of a fish, and myself in it like a distorted shadow, a parody of something, some fairytale figure…” (p15) Offred created a fictional world in which has full control of the plot in some part of her mind in order to maintain a good mental state and not a have a mental breakdown.
 “It’s like a party she couldn’t go to.” p141 Cora wants to be included and is feeling left out, because Martha’s aren’t allowed to go to the birthing ceremonies. The birthing ceremonies are of great importance showing of the Handmaid’s failed or not.  Melina 
”They pick him up and heave him into the back of the van like a sack of mail.” 


Ever since Gilead became a reality people are treated more like objects rather than actual people. They do not care if they get hurt. Pablo 
It was like being in an elevator cut loose at the top. Falling, falling, and not knowing when you will hit. Offref remembers when she and her family tried to escape across the Canadian border but were caught. She compare this moment of betrayal to the terror of being in an elevator whose cable has been cut at the top.  Mamadou 
Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. . . think of yourselves as seeds. . . Offred talked about the comparison between the handmaid and the seed made by the aunts, which evokes the biblical simile of seed sowing and how these seeds grow in different soils. Lola  
”We are containers, it’s only the inside of our bodies that are important. The outside can become hard and wrinkled, for all they care, like the shell of a nut” (p.107) This quote shows how unimportant and non-essential the handmaid’s physical appearance and mental health is to the government of Gilead. It shows how the society of Gilead only cares about the handmaids’ ability to bear children, and how they are put aside and neglected, and treated like objects. Zara 
 ”Surprising how much like a small, begging child [Rita] makes me feel, simply by her scowl, her stolidity; how importunate and whiny.” (p. 214)  This simile illustrates how Offred is not free in her choices, how inferior she is to anyone from a hierarchical point of view. It takes her back to childhood, when she had to ask her mother to do or have something. She is not treated like a woman, but really like an irresponsible child.  Clémence  


Handmaid’s Tale: Opening

Commentary on chapter one

Georgian palimpsestWe – this establishes a first-person narrator but she is unidentified.

Palimpsest – A palimpsest is a place on a parchment where writing has been scraped out and written over. Here, the narrator suggests that the past has been overlaid by the present.

pictures – This suggests to us that the narrator has not had the chance to experience these fashions herself.

That yearning – The speaker realises that her past young romantic fantasies never quite lived up to expectation.

Still said U.S. – This hints to us that the United States of America has ceased to exist.

Aunt Sara … Aunt Elizabeth – The names sound friendly and cosy – but then we read ‘patrolled; they had electric cattle prods.’ Our expectations are undermined.

could not be trusted – The use of the passive voice means that we do not know who does the mistrusting. The government of the state of Gilead is never explicitly identified in the novel.

Guns … for … the Angels – As with the Aunts, our expectations of the word ‘Angel‘ are undermined.

Something could be exchanged – The word ‘exchanged’ is frequently used in the novel, and becomes significant, suggesting the importance of human inter-action. (See Themes and significant ideas > Human relationships)

We still had our bodies – There seems to be a hint here of prostitution. Given that these young women are to become, effectively, sex-slaves, it is ironic that the speaker feels this is a ‘fantasy’.

We exchanged names … Alma, Janine, Dolores, Moira, June – During the course of the novel Alma, Janine, Dolores and Moira are all mentioned by the narrator, so is the narrator June? It is ironic that these women are later given new names referring to the man to whom they currently belong e.g. Offred, Ofglen, Ofwarren.

Investigating chapter one

  • What impressions have you gained from this chapter of the narrator and her circumstances
    • By what means?
  • What do you not know that you would have expected to find out from the first chapter of a novel?
    • What might be the author’s purpose in keeping such knowledge from her readers?

Questions – Act 2, Scene 1, Sweet Bird of Youth

Sweet Bird of Youth


Questions – Act 2, Scene 1


  1. Where is this scene set and what does this setting emphasise?



  1. a) What does Act 2, Scene 1 say about Heavenly’s relationship with her father?


b) Why is Heavenly angry at her father?



c) What does Aunt Nonnie say that supports Heavenly’s view?



3 a) How does Tom Junior describe Heavenly?


b) How does Heavenly describe the effects of the operation?

c) Consider the stage directions later in this scene. How does Williams use water imagery to further the impression of decay?


4) Is Tom Junior more or less despicable than his father? Find evidence to support your case.



5) a)  What do we learn of Miss Lucy in this scene?


b) Discuss the symbolic use of the mirror in this scene.


c) How does Boss Finley use religious symbolism to retaliate?


6.a)  How has Boss Finley made a name for himself?

b) What was Williams’ attitude towards this character?

c) To what lengths will he go to create the illusion of the perfect happy family?


Ornella’s Stellar OIB Essay on Gender Roles/Conflict

Comparative essay practice


Question : Literature often explores “the battle of the sexes”. Paying close attention to the causes and consequences of gender conflict, discuss this theme in two works you have read.


 “Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.” said Henry Kissinger. As far as the historians have ever been able to go back in time, men and women have never experienced complete equality. They have always fought an everlasting war — but still, a lot of men tend to endlessly end up in a woman’s arms, and vice-versa. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde uses Lord Henry’s witty epigrams to demonstrate that soulmates do not exist, there are only two different sexes paradoxically destroying each other with their good intentions. On the other hand, in Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams, the playwright uses the impossible and toxic love between Chance Wayne and Heavenly Finley to show how gender expectations imposed by society strongly contribute to the battle of the sexes.


 Firstly, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde utilizes irony and cynicism to express how women and men are complementary but incompatible, and are meant to eventually fail having healthy relationships due to gender expectations.

 Indeed, through Lord Henry’s affirmations, the writer creates a parallel between men’s idleness and frivolity and women’s excessive seriousness and willingness to take care of their husbands : “Women love us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will forgive us everything, even our intellects.”. This paradox means that at a time when women were only expected to stay at home and be pretty, being a good wife was the best achievement they could make. This is why they were always looking for a husband with many issues in the hope of changing him to make him a better person, so that society could recognize them as good wives. The fact that Wilde is using the terms “even our intellects” suggests that women do not have the same wisdom as men and should be jealous of their husbands for being smart, but if they have enough defects to make a balance they can be forgiven. This is the reason why Lord Henry also says “Women have no appreciation of good looks; at least, good women have not.” : this means that only good-looking women do not care about whether their husband is beautiful or not because they would like him to envy them for their beauty, which to the eyes of society was one of their most valuable possessions.

 In addition, in the Victorian society, separation was considered a woman’s failure to take good care of her husband, which is why the fairer sex clung to the idea of an eternal relationship : “Always ! […] women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever. […] The only difference between a caprice and a long-life passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.”. Here Wilde once again uses a paradox with an antithesis by opposing the terms ‘caprice’ and ‘long-life romance’ to explain that if a woman is aware that her relationship is a caprice, she will not spoil it by unnaturally trying too hard to make it last forever, but would rather savour the present moment; on the contrary, if a woman intends to spend the rest of her life with a man, she will become too clingy and eventually lose him.

 But the character of Lord Henry also exposes unrealistic expectations for males : “A man can be happy with a woman, as long as he does not love her.”. Through this epigram, Wilde reveals that men during Victorian times could never fall in love with their partner, because they ended up trying to become a better person on their own to please their sweetheart; but women, as stated before, looked for a husband with defects. If a man was able to improve his behavior by himself, then his partner had no longer a purpose in that relationship and started to lose interest.

 Here Oscar Wilde tries to demonstrate that heterosexual couples can only last if none of the partners have actual feelings for one another. This paradox represents the quintessential battle of the sexes : in order to keep control over the relationship, one must always remain cold, because love is the beginning of weakness. Falling in love is like giving the enemy the right to break you into pieces : once you give them your heart, you become vulnerable. This is why Sybil Vane eventually commits suicide; she gives too much of her love and becomes clingy and devoted, which disappoints Dorian Gray who does not hesitate to destroy her with his words. In a way, Dorian wins the war of the sexes, because he is the last one standing, the one who resisted the most.

 This point of view can be interpreted as a manifestation of Wilde’s homosexuality : indeed, saying men and women cannot be soulmates because of their differences suggests that love can only be healthy when there is no rivalry — which, following this theory, can only be accomplished through a homosexual relationship. That being said, there seems to be an underlying love triangle between Basil Hallward, Dorian Gray and Lord Henry, which can represent the writer’s pulsions and desires despite the Victorian law against queer people, which explains Henry’s epigram : “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”. If a man stops worrying about gender expectations and starts loving other men, his lust is satisfied and he is no longer frustrated. In other words : gender conflicts can only be solved by homosexuality.


 On the other hand, in Sweet Bird of Youth, Tennessee Williams uses Boss Finley’s attempts to censor his daughter’s love for Chance Wayne to demonstrate how gender expectations are responsible for the gap between both sexes and is reinforcing gender conflicts.

 Indeed, when Chance still had “his girl in St Cloud”, he gave her a sexual disease because of his work as a gigolo and that led her to be operated by Dr. Scudder, her future husband, which made her sterile and took away the one thing that made her a woman to the patriarchal society : her ability to have babies. The rumor of the loss of her innocence soon spread and gave her a bad reputation based on slut shaming. Boss Finley, Heavenly’s conservative and white supremacist father, finds this unacceptable as it ternishes his own reputation — he therefore wants to take complete control of his daughter, from her love to her clothes : “You’re going to be wearing the stainless white of a virgin, with a Youth for Tom Finley button on one shoulder and a corsage of lilies on the other. You’re going to be on the speaker’s platform with me, you on one side of me and Tom Junior on the other, to scotch these rumors about your corruption.” In this quote, the color white symbolizes purity, which is supposed to be the most precious thing a woman can possess; it is immaculate, free from any red blood stain which represents fertility and sensuality. Lilies are also a symbol of purity and youth, especially if they are white, which is implied by Boss Finley. This is extremely representative of the battle of the sexes, as Heavenly’s father does not hesitate to use his daughter and psychologically harm her in order to impose his power as a man. To his eyes — the eyes of a politician, who represents society — women are not to be respected, but to be blamed for men’s mistakes : this is why he qualifies the loss of his daughter’s virginity as her “corruption”, as if making love only involved one person.

 This is what Heavenly is trying to protest against, in vain : “Papa, there was a time when you could have saved me, by letting me marry a boy that was still young and clean, but instead you drove him away, drove him out of St. Cloud. And when he came back, you took me out of St. Cloud, and tried to force me to marry a fifty-year-old money bag that you wanted something out of […] and then another, another, all of them ones that you wanted something out of. […] Papa, you married for love, why wouldn’t you let me do it, while I was alive, and the boy still clean, still decent ?”. Here Tennessee uses hyperbole to describe how heavily gender expectations weigh on Heavenly’s shoulders : she refers to her youth as the time when she was “alive”, implying that she is now dead. Several interpretations can be made : either society considers her not worthy of being alive now that she cannot give birth to another living being anymore, or she thinks of herself as dead inside because the flame of love can no longer burn in her heart. In both cases, this increases Heavenly’s resentment, which contributes to her willingness to fight against men to obtain the right to control her own life.

 The character of Chance Wayne is also a victim of gender expectations, as he is blamed for being a pervert because of his work as a gigolo. Generally speaking, a man who is able to seduce dozens of girls into sleeping with him is often glorified, and almost never treated like a whore. But in that case, Chance is actually a whore, selling his body to women instead of the opposite; since he is giving himself to the “weaker sex”, as one might say, he becomes vulnerable and less manly — Boss Finley even considers him less worthy of marrying his daughter Heavenly. The fact that Chance is also sincerely and deeply in love with his sweetheart also represents a danger for Boss : indeed, there would be no interest of any kind in that marriage, only sincere affection, which would make it difficult for Heavenly’s father to remain in control of the situation with manipulation. In an arranged marriage, the father often decides everything, but in a true-love marriage, the couple does not care about parents and can even run away if it is necessary to find happiness.

 In fact, Chance is even driven mad by love, and is therefore losing the war of the sexes because he is too lost in it. But still, he is not directly fighting the love of his life, but the gender role that has been assigned to her and that keeps her from being happy ever after with him. This is why Tennessee Williams writes : “Princess, the great difference between people in this world is not between the rich and the poor or the good and the evil, the biggest of all differences in this world is between the ones that had or have pleasure in love and those that haven’t and hadn’t any pleasure in love, but just watched it with envy, sick envy.”. Here Chance can be identified to the two categories : he indeed once had pleasure in love, but does not anymore and is therefore the one watching with “sick envy”. The use of this expression shows that he is intoxicated by love, and that it is the reason for his madness, like a disease : this suggests that according to Tennessee Williams, the battle of the sexes might be happening because of toxic gender expectations, with only one deadly weapon : love.


 In conclusion, both Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams present heterosexual love as unhealthy because of the resentment that men and women feel towards each other, due to gender expectations. In both The Picture of Dorian Gray and Sweet Bird of Youth, falling in love is pictured as dangerous because it makes people vulnerable and makes them succumb to the other sex. According to both authors, there cannot be a true and sound relationship if there is still a balance of powers. To achieve happiness in a couple, there are only three solutions : either both partners do not feel love for each other, or they are homosexuals — or, society must achieve gender equality, which sadly seems like a difficult task.


Angelina’s stellar comparative essay

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  –Albert Einstein.  Discuss the ways in which knowledge may or may not be dangerous in two works you have read in your OIB curriculum.



Words, language, the ability to express our thoughts and to reflect on it, is what differentiate us from animals ; it is what makes us human. This enabled humankind to, over centuries, construct a precise knowledge of their surroundings. Since, individuals have used this ability to differentiate one another and, ultimately, to establish their respective status. The ambiguous nature of knowledge, and the power that it confers, has been explored since ancient times in literature. In the 17th century, Shakespeare, through The Tempest, conveys the polyvalent characteristics of knowledge and how it can be used. Still relevant in today’s society, Atwood, in The Handmaid’s Tale, tackles the importance of awareness and instruction ; the ability to reflect not only change life itself, it can even alter a society. On one hand, Shakespeares approaches the paradoxical role that society gives to knowledge and how dangerous it can be as individuals at the top can use it to achieve their true intention. On the other hand, in her dystopian novel, Atwood focuses on the true nature of knowledge : it is a powerful and dangerous tool that can be reconstructed by a political regime to deeply transform a civilization. 


In The Tempest, the playwright clearly establishes the role of knowledge in a community, or, on a larger scale, in a society. Knowledge is ultimately linked with language in the author’s mind. By this very ability to express yourself, an individual unconsciously shows his social status. However, Shakespeare soon deconstructs this belief through his characters and the use of a specific language. Knowledge itself is paradoxical, hence, limiting it to a single judgement is a common mistake. The beauty of speaking and knowing resides in the fact that it doesn’t know limits. To illustrate this point, the author resorts to his monster-like character, Caliban, and to his comic relief characters, Trinculo and Stephano. During their first encounter, it soon became clear who is in power and who isn’t : Caliban has found a new master in the two drunkards that are Trinculo and Stephano. By resorting to a large diction of insults such as « moon calf » or « monster »,  Shakespeare establishes how language (here knowledge) is used by one to assert their superiority while diminishing someone. This notion is underlined by the many repetition of such words. Yet, the two men have a pitiful way of expressing themselves and clearly dispose of a short sized knowledge whereas Caliban’s words are filled with eloquence and grace. This contrast, highlighted more precisely with the distinct use of prose and verse, enables the author to show that our original perception of knowledge is flawed. Additionally, the play delivers a message on what is true power : it is being in control or being eloquent ? Both can be attained through knowledge but without it, our control is an artifice : it is solely doomed to end. For instance, towards the end of the play, the two drunkards are caught by Prospero and their plan ends up being a complete failure as they did not have any accurate insight of the situation. Prospero, on the other hand, is always in control as he knows every incident on this island, along with his ability to produce mesmerizing speeches. 

This brings us to the second aspect of knowledge : it is a tool for manipulation and domination. As language is a part of knowledge, Shakespeare highlights the dangerous nature of words through the character of Prospero. His thirst of knowledge has reached such an extent that the character ultimately lost his dukedom. Before all, the sorcerer’s ability to use language and knowledge is what enables him to be in control throughout the play. Shakespeare’s use of frequent aside and dramatic irony shows how one can rapidly transform the nature of knowledge. Prospero quickly becomes adaptable to anyone and develops the art of acting. This polyvalent nature is explored by the writer when Prospero first confronts Ferdinand. As he accuses him of lying and having ulterior motives, a form of irony can soon be distinguished in his speech : Prospero is the one plotting and having other intentions. As well, a shift in the tone going from protective to a mischievous tone only accentuates the writer’s point. Therefore, that is why Caliban’s only desire is to « burn but his books ». Destroying his books, symbol of Prospero’s unlimited knowledge, means completely annihilating his power and influence. Additionally, the alliteration of the « b » sound pronounced by Caliban only enhances the necessity of stopping Prospero. Thus, Shakespeare conveys through several characters and a specific diction the various forms that knowledge can take ; it is a mean to establish one supremacy, to dominate, to control, but also to evolve. 

Even though the playwright draws a dangerous perspective on the use of knowledge, the end of the play concludes that it is also what allows us to grow and to redeem ourselves from our sins. Through a nostalgic tone, Prospero delivers a hypnotizing monologue on the great things knowledge endowed him to perform. After manipulating « the mutinous winds » and much more, the sorcerer chooses to become a mere human and « break [his] staff » or « burn [his] books ». By using such aggressive terms, the writer demonstrates that to abandon such a precious thing as knowledge, one must make it definitive. This belief is strengthened by the consonance of the letter « d ». Through this precise plosive and harsh sound, Shakespeare emphasizes the finality of his character’s decision. Now that he has definitely refused to continue to use knowledge as a mean to obtain control, it can become a tool for progress and evolution. All in all, in his final play, the playwright digs on the power of knowledge and writing. On the surface, it is only a way to differentiate one from another. Quickly, the author deconstructs this shallows belief and issues a strong message. By relativizing its dangerous nature, Shakespeare warns us on the tendency of humankind to use knowledge to gain power when it is in reality a means to elevate ourselves spiritually. Thus, humanity must never abandon its thirst of knowledge to continue to evolve towards a better path. 


If Shakespeare explores the importance of knowledge and how men must resist the temptation of evil, Atwood conveys a different perspective of it : she delves into the removal of any form of knowledge and how it deeply affects an individual. By being a stream of consciousness, the dystopian novel immediately drives us in the narrator’s vision and her limited knowledge. The reader is able to exchange places with Offred, the main character, and shares her feeling of frustration, of desperation, of a quest for answers. We could ask ourselves what is life without knowledge ? How can a person construct the purpose and motives erecting his life without answer ? It is simply impossible and, consequently, an individual will have to blindly follow the limited answer that society provides him. Atwood, as a brilliant writer, is more than fully aware of this matter. To demonstrate this growing issue she, as a puppeteer, exploits the character of Offred and the dictatorship that is Gilead. 

The complete removal of any way of reflecting is the safest way to submit a population into obedience. Gilead not only deprives his society’s members of knowledge, the regime alters their previous instruction. By reconstructing their perception, the inhabitant’s mind can accept with more ‘ease’ the new reality they are confronted with. To keep her sanity, Offred can only accept what is happening, she even convinces herself that « where I am is not a prison but a privilege, as Aunt Lydia said ». Through the use of a detached and numb tone, the Canadian writer quickly demonstrates how an individual, when deprived of any form of knowledge, has to dissociate themselves from who they truly are. The recurrent shift between the past and the present throughout the novel is the embodiment of her desire to apply her previous knowledge to her new meaningless reality. Furthermore, the fact that she quotes someone else illustrates further that what she is trying to think is not her original thought : it is a new knowledge that a new society is trying to implement. 

Gilead, by both removing past knowledge and producing a new one, ensures his place and running. Offred, tattooed on the ankle, is now « a national resource », not an individual. By using an official vocabulary that ignores and warps reality in order to serve the needs of the new society’s elite, Gilead maintains control. To illustrate this, Atwood develops numerous instances of the dangerous aspect of knowledge and language. Thus, Women are defined solely by their gender roles as Wives, Marthas, or Handmaids. Denoted by the terms « unwomen » and « unbabies », feminists and deformed babies are treated as subhuman. The new language is a tool for power. For instance, if the prescribed greetings for personal encounters are not done properly, it appears as a sign of disloyalty. Simply, by modifying common tasks such as small talk, an individual transforms his general perception and knowledge of what life is supposed to be. Similarly, the creation of new terms such as « Salvagings » and « Particicutions » institutionalized further this new knowledge. Thus, Atwood explores the connection between a state’s repression of its subjects and its perversion of language and knowledge. 

All in all, Atwood’s work can be subject to many interpretations given that it is a reconstruction. As an unreliable character, Offred is gradually being brainwashed and heading towards the path of submission. Hence, how can the reader’s assumptions be certain ? It simply cannot. Our knowledge is tangible, reconstructed, and dangerous in its own way.  Used as a tool by totalitarian regimes to assert their control on a population, Atwood teaches us that knowledge is to always be questioned and re-interpreted. 


To conclude, both works approach the theme of knowledge and the danger that can live in its shadow. Submitting different interpretations on the matter, Shakespeare insists on the place that society gives to knowledge as an element of differentiation whereas Atwood delves us into a universe where the reader himself is deprived of any knowledge. She never lets us forget that her work is a construct, and that our interpretation as readers makes us part of that construction. The Handmaid’s Tale’s author mostly explores the terrible power of knowledge when it is manipulated. As the playwright creates a character that uses it as a tool for power, we could argue that the two works display the different actors of knowledge. The dystopian novel both culminates with the actors and subjects of manipulation, with paying special attention to the subjects, whilst The Tempest does the exact opposite. Ultimately, both warn us on knowledge ; if used with ulterior motives, one should not put his full trust on it. This is why it must always be subject to interpretation and question. However, Shakespeare reminds us of the beauty of knowledge, it is not only what makes us human but what makes us grow. Knowledge, as dangerous as it can be, is the light guiding humankind through difficult times. 





N.B. A short response may require assessment to be lowered.


Category Below Level
-0.5 or more at the discretion of the examiner
Level 0 Level 1
+ 0.5
Level 2
+ 1.0
Level 3
Level 4
Knowledge & Understanding No true understanding or first-hand knowledge shown. Factual inaccuracies void argument. Some understanding but superficial. Learned response replaces
first-hand knowledge. Factual inaccuracies affect argument.
Satisfactory understanding and knowledge. Development may be limited with some inadvertent or minor factual inaccuracies. Good overall understanding.
Knowledge is full and developed.
Very good and thorough understanding, including some subtlety. Levels of meaning are apparent.  Excellent understanding, including some subtlety.  Levels of meaning are apparent. Detailed and pertinent knowledge.
Response to
the Question
Off-subject or no clear response discernible. Observation, commentary or opinion may be present but no attempt to form an argument. Response is partial or muddled. Argument is directed at the question but may be confused or superficial. A satisfactory response to the main implications of the question. Some aspects of the question may be ignored. A good response. Argument addresses the question but may need more development. A very good response. Argument is complete and well-targeted,
and the question is well-understood. 
An excellent response. Argument demonstrates original thought and addresses the question with clarity and depth.
& Depth

(Includes discussion of style at Level 2 and above)

Plot summary or generalizations dominate. No successful attempt at analysis. Plot summary or generalizations frequent. Little or unsuccessful analysis. Inconsistent analysis that does not always address important elements.
Analysis may be uneven or lacking in depth.
Good analysis that appropriately addresses important elements. Generally appropriate analysis of style illustrated by relevant examples. Very good analysis. Thoughtful, pertinent analysis of style. Excellent analysis
and argumentation. Insightful,
sophisticated and
coherent analysis of style. 
of the Essay
& Integration
of Evidence
No logical sequence of ideas. Chronological confusion. Development is so inadequate that clarity is in danger of dissolving completely. Weak or mechanical structure. Development is barely adequate and examples are either impertinent or lack clear connection to the argument. Satisfactory structure and development. Sequence of ideas generally logical. Examples not always pertinent and integration may be awkward. Good structure with some transitions. Sequence of ideas logical. Examples are generally pertinent and most often integrated appropriately. Very good essay structure with solid transitions. Clear development throughout and good integration of supporting evidence. Excellent essay structure with clear transitions. Carefully planned, persuasive development throughout. Sophisticated integration of supporting evidence.
Expression Meaning often cannot be surmised. The essay is very difficult to read. Prose can be read and
its meaning surmised even if hampered by weak control (or French interference).
Prose conveys the writer’s ideas adequately. Vocabulary is sufficient and notions of good English usage are evident if sometimes inconsistently applied. Prose shows evidence of good writing skills. Lapses are minor and do not impede understanding.  Some care is shown in word choice and register. Prose is clear and coherent. A rare lapse does not mar ideas or flow. Effective use of vocabulary and register. Prose is articulate,
fluid, and displays an excellent command of written language. Sophisticated use of vocabulary and register.
Totals 20!!!!!!