In characters are depicted struggling to resist the dominance

In both texts it is evident that
the fictional characters are depicted struggling to resist the dominance of
men, in different contexts however. Restriction is the ‘limitation of control
of someone or something’ and restraint is defined as ‘a measure or condition
that keeps someone or something under control’. These two key themes are
presented in both texts, as in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, women are under a number
of restrictions for example, bodily control, clothing control and the roles
they have been positioned in a totalitarian society e.g. a ‘handmaid’. In ‘The
World’s Wife’ however, Duffy presents the restraints and restrictions of the
role of a wife who would be dutiful and submissive, a mother and pressure for a
women reproduce. Some similarities and differences can be seen when comparing
both texts as women are displayed as the weaker sex, but both authors in the
context they have chosen to write in show this differently. This therefore
supports the idea of how women experience restrictions of different kinds in
society. The choice of the authors to depict women in this way may be due to
their personal experiences with restrictions they may have been involved in, in
their past. Atwood lived in West Berlin and lived under conditions of 1’wariness,
the feeling of being spied on, the silences, the changes of subject’ and this
had 2’influence
on what I was writing’. Atwood’s experience of a totalitarian regime therefore
influenced Atwood’s presentation of how women are victimised and limited to the
right of freedom and ‘The Handmaids Tale’ offers a sense of hope in the
resistance, particularly in Mayday, where the women seek to gain information
about Gilead in order to fight back against the regime. However, Duffy choice
of the title ‘The World’s Wife’ implies that 3’its
still a man’s world, and a joke on the world’s most popular dedication: To My
Wife’. Duffy is a strong feminist and in the text explores how relationships
between men and women are hostile, for example as shown in ‘The Devil’s Wife’,
and there is a struggle to maintain independence and authority for the woman,
especially in ‘Little Red Cap”. 

Atwood highlights the restriction
and restraint of women in society through the authority and surveillance of
Gilead. Gilead has complete control over women and their bodies, a Handmaid’s
job and purpose is to bear children for men and the marthas role is to cook and
clean for the men. Offred describes how she used to 4’think
of her body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an
implement for the accomplishment of my will’, however living under the
conditions of Gilead she now is 5’congealed
around a central object’. Here, Atwood is enforcing the dehumanisation of the
handmaids throughout the novel as Offred’s body is no longer a part of herself
but an ‘object’ and a machine almost, to reproduce for a man’s benefit. This is
also demonstrating the loss of individuality, as there is a restriction of
expression and moral choice for the handmaids in how they wish to treat their
bodies and essentially live their life as they are viewed as a ‘national
resource’, in oppose to a human with emotions, rights and freedoms, all
luxuries that men possess in the novel. Atwood herself states how 6’the
control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on
the planet’. This feminist idea Atwood is implying, shows how childbirth and
reproduction has been controlled by men throughout history and the totalitarian
regime Atwood depicts the women in, is one of many regimes where women are stripped
of choice in how they body is used as a machine of reproduction. And how only
in modern times acceptance of abortion and choice of pregnancy is seen as a
norm. Atwood further explores this idea in the restriction and restraint of the
rule that all parts of their body must be covered, bar their face and hands.
The choice to only have these features visible may be to reinforce how the
handmaids and in fact all women in the novel, work and supply for men, as hands
are mostly used to perform tasks and perhaps are the least sexualised feature
of the body, as the women are also treated as sexual objects. And the face
gives someone their identity, however the handmaids contrast to this idea as
the restraint of expression and style, mean all handmaids collectively look the
same and are uniform to one another. Therefore, perhaps here Atwood is
highlighting how bodily restraints and the objectification of women eliminates
all means of identity and independence. Similarly, the restriction and
restraints depicted in Duffy’s poetry highlight the destruction men have on
women and their bodies. This is especially shown in ‘The World’s Wife’ in the
poem ‘Thetis’. Duffy demonstrates the vulnerability of women in the authority
of a man as in the first few lines of the poem its says, 7’I
shrank myself, To the size of a bird in the hand, Of a man…Till I felt the
squeeze of his fist’. This image of a bird hints at the idea of women as
innocent and free, until a man brutally destroys and removes all freedoms with
only his ‘hand’, reinforcing the dominance and power of a man. The poem also
explores how women adapt to life controlled by men in order to survive and
escape danger as the 8’groom
wore asbestos’ which is a dangerous chemical which, when exposed to humans can
cause diseases such as cancer. The female character in the poem 9’changed,
I learned’, suggesting that all resistance to Peleus, the husband of Thetis, is
useless, as Thetis takes up many forms throughout the poem such as a ‘racoon’
and ‘skunk’, which are animals known to survive despite being hunted, however
no matter what form she takes it has no effect. Therefore, Duffy is reinforcing
how men assume and maintain authority over women and use childbirth as a
vulnerability to manipulate, as it is the birth of her son that is the turning
point of her change in attitude towards men and masculinity in general.

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This idea is also linked in the
poem ‘Little Red Cap’, as Duffy presents the theme of resistance to
restrictions and restraints and how men control the female body. At first Duffy
depicts the female character as independent in the decision to have a sexual
relationship with the ‘wolf’ as she 10’made
quite sure he spotted me’. However, in the final stanzas of the poem the woman 11’took
ten years’ with the 12’greying
wolf howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out’, for her to use
violence to fight back against the trapped and buried relationship she was in.
The use of the verb ‘greying’ hint at the predatory nature of the male
character as he seeks younger girls such as the ‘Little Red Cap’, which relates
back to he idea of how men use women and their bodies as sexual objects to
fulfil needs, ignoring those of the women in the texts. Moreover, the fact that
the woman was restricted to the ‘same rhyme’ for ten years due to the suggested
age gap, highlights the loss of freedom and empowerment as the volter of the
word ‘But’ used at the beginning of the sixth stanza, changes the tone of the
poem, from when the girl was excited and indulged in their sexual relationship
as she thinks she is aware of the ‘wolfs’ intention due to the fact that it is 13’my
first’, to by the final stanza where she is locked into a relationship
controlled by the ‘wolf’. Furthermore, Duffy’s adaption to the original story
of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, demonstrates the loss of innocence after an
experience with dominant a male partner and how this adaptation of the
predatory chase between the two characters can hold a much darker meaning. ‘Little
Red Cap’ is also viewed as a 14’break
away from conventional attitudes to gender and heterosexuality’ as it 15’documents
the ‘seductive attractions, for women, of collusion with the patriarchal
society’. Here, Horner is reinforcing the idea of how Duffy is presenting the
negatives of heterosexual relationships and how they hold back women in society
with the restraints and restrictions implemented by the male characters in the
poems.

The dystopian society set by Atwood
in ‘The Handmaids Tale’, introduces the restrictions and restraints on women’s
relationships with men in the novel. The women in the text are not allowed any
interaction with men other than their ‘owners’. Women are at the bottom of the
social hierarchy and therefore even the smallest amount of interaction is
forbidden. For example, Offred makes eye contact with one of the guards of the
wall surrounding Gilead and this is viewed as a sin. As a result of these
restraints implemented Offred is considered and seen as ‘mistress’ in the
novel. 16’Before
Gilead her relationship with Luke is almost a parody of “liberated” sex, though
she never refers to herself as his “mistress” ‘. The restraint of the freedom
to have a sexual relationship with a man means Offred is forced to hide and
conceal her feelings in order to prevent and escape punishment from Gilead. This
further supports how Atwood presents women’s bodies as under siege and under
patriarchal control as it is men’s authority of the do’s and don’ts in their
society, ignoring all rights of women, even in their individual choice of how
they may wish to express themselves. Duffy similarly uses this idea of
patriarchal control on the poem ‘The Devil’s Wife’. The title itself highlights
how men are viewed as the ‘devil’ and a wife is of property and ownership to
him as she is not given a name. However, unlike in ‘The Handmaid’s tale’, the
female character in the poem is depicted as experiencing restrictions and
restraints in the way that it is implied that life without a man in her life is
17’hell’
and in the poem it says, 18’If
the Devil was gone then how could this be hell?’ it is clear here that the
absence of her relationship with her partner, makes her question whether she is
in ‘hell’. This contradicts Duffy’s messages in other poems such as ‘Little Red
Cap’, where the female character seeks freedom and life without the male
‘wolf’, however in this poem the woman is 19’dying
inside’ without the comfort and perhaps even dominance and control of a male in
her life. Therefore, this reinforces the idea of the theme of the restriction
the woman experiences of being unable to detach herself in the fear of
independence and life alone. Furthermore, the repetition of 20’it
was him it was him’ used by Duffy illustrates the desperation and chaos of the
unhealthy relationship she is living in and displays the mind of someone who is
so detached and withdrawn from reality and trying to shut out the truth, again
reiterating the excessive effects of restraints against women results in. However,
French Feminists criticise this idea as they argue that 21’masculine
discourse cannot accommodate female, experience; it is too rigid and
controlled’.

 

1 The New York Times International Edition – ‘Handmaids
on the rise’ (2017)

2 ‘Handmaids on the rise’ (2017)

3 Jeanette Winterson on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy
(2015)

4 ‘A Handmaids Tale’ – by Margret Atwood (1985) –
Chapter 13

5 ‘A Handmaids Tale’ – Chapter 13

6 ‘Handmaids on the rise’ (2017)

7 ”Thetis’ – The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy (1999)

8 ‘Thetis’

9 ‘Thetis’

10 ‘Little Red Cap’ – The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
(1999)

11 ‘Little Red Cap’

12 ‘Little Red Cap’

13 ‘Little Red Cap’

14 Avril Horner

15 Avril Horner

16 Amanda Greenwood – The English Review 20.2 (2009) p.10

17 ‘The Devils Wife’ – The World’s Wife by Carol Ann
Duffy

18 ‘The Devil’s Wife’

19 ‘The Devil’s Wife’

20 ‘The Devil’s Wife’

21 Cixous/ French Feminists