In both texts it is evident thatthe fictional characters are depicted struggling to resist the dominance ofmen, in different contexts however. Restriction is the ‘limitation of controlof someone or something’ and restraint is defined as ‘a measure or conditionthat keeps someone or something under control’. These two key themes arepresented in both texts, as in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, women are under a numberof restrictions for example, bodily control, clothing control and the rolesthey have been positioned in a totalitarian society e.g. a ‘handmaid’. In ‘TheWorld’s Wife’ however, Duffy presents the restraints and restrictions of therole of a wife who would be dutiful and submissive, a mother and pressure for awomen reproduce. Some similarities and differences can be seen when comparingboth texts as women are displayed as the weaker sex, but both authors in thecontext they have chosen to write in show this differently.
This thereforesupports the idea of how women experience restrictions of different kinds insociety. The choice of the authors to depict women in this way may be due totheir personal experiences with restrictions they may have been involved in, intheir 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 thishad 2’influenceon what I was writing’. Atwood’s experience of a totalitarian regime thereforeinfluenced Atwood’s presentation of how women are victimised and limited to theright of freedom and ‘The Handmaids Tale’ offers a sense of hope in theresistance, particularly in Mayday, where the women seek to gain informationabout Gilead in order to fight back against the regime. However, Duffy choiceof the title ‘The World’s Wife’ implies that 3’itsstill a man’s world, and a joke on the world’s most popular dedication: To MyWife’. Duffy is a strong feminist and in the text explores how relationshipsbetween 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 restrictionand restraint of women in society through the authority and surveillance ofGilead. Gilead has complete control over women and their bodies, a Handmaid’sjob and purpose is to bear children for men and the marthas role is to cook andclean for the men. Offred describes how she used to 4’thinkof her body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or animplement for the accomplishment of my will’, however living under theconditions of Gilead she now is 5’congealedaround a central object’. Here, Atwood is enforcing the dehumanisation of thehandmaids throughout the novel as Offred’s body is no longer a part of herselfbut an ‘object’ and a machine almost, to reproduce for a man’s benefit. This isalso demonstrating the loss of individuality, as there is a restriction ofexpression and moral choice for the handmaids in how they wish to treat theirbodies and essentially live their life as they are viewed as a ‘nationalresource’, in oppose to a human with emotions, rights and freedoms, allluxuries that men possess in the novel.
Atwood herself states how 6’thecontrol of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime onthe planet’. This feminist idea Atwood is implying, shows how childbirth andreproduction has been controlled by men throughout history and the totalitarianregime Atwood depicts the women in, is one of many regimes where women are strippedof choice in how they body is used as a machine of reproduction. And how onlyin modern times acceptance of abortion and choice of pregnancy is seen as anorm.
Atwood further explores this idea in the restriction and restraint of therule 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 thehandmaids and in fact all women in the novel, work and supply for men, as handsare mostly used to perform tasks and perhaps are the least sexualised featureof the body, as the women are also treated as sexual objects. And the facegives someone their identity, however the handmaids contrast to this idea asthe restraint of expression and style, mean all handmaids collectively look thesame and are uniform to one another. Therefore, perhaps here Atwood ishighlighting how bodily restraints and the objectification of women eliminatesall means of identity and independence. Similarly, the restriction andrestraints depicted in Duffy’s poetry highlight the destruction men have onwomen and their bodies. This is especially shown in ‘The World’s Wife’ in thepoem ‘Thetis’. Duffy demonstrates the vulnerability of women in the authorityof a man as in the first few lines of the poem its says, 7’Ishrank myself, To the size of a bird in the hand, Of a man…Till I felt thesqueeze of his fist’.
This image of a bird hints at the idea of women asinnocent and free, until a man brutally destroys and removes all freedoms withonly his ‘hand’, reinforcing the dominance and power of a man. The poem alsoexplores how women adapt to life controlled by men in order to survive andescape danger as the 8’groomwore asbestos’ which is a dangerous chemical which, when exposed to humans cancause diseases such as cancer. The female character in the poem 9’changed,I learned’, suggesting that all resistance to Peleus, the husband of Thetis, isuseless, as Thetis takes up many forms throughout the poem such as a ‘racoon’and ‘skunk’, which are animals known to survive despite being hunted, howeverno matter what form she takes it has no effect. Therefore, Duffy is reinforcinghow men assume and maintain authority over women and use childbirth as avulnerability to manipulate, as it is the birth of her son that is the turningpoint of her change in attitude towards men and masculinity in general. This idea is also linked in thepoem ‘Little Red Cap’, as Duffy presents the theme of resistance torestrictions and restraints and how men control the female body. At first Duffydepicts the female character as independent in the decision to have a sexualrelationship with the ‘wolf’ as she 10’madequite sure he spotted me’. However, in the final stanzas of the poem the woman 11’tookten years’ with the 12’greyingwolf howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out’, for her to useviolence 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 malecharacter as he seeks younger girls such as the ‘Little Red Cap’, which relatesback to he idea of how men use women and their bodies as sexual objects tofulfil needs, ignoring those of the women in the texts. Moreover, the fact thatthe woman was restricted to the ‘same rhyme’ for ten years due to the suggestedage gap, highlights the loss of freedom and empowerment as the volter of theword ‘But’ used at the beginning of the sixth stanza, changes the tone of thepoem, from when the girl was excited and indulged in their sexual relationshipas she thinks she is aware of the ‘wolfs’ intention due to the fact that it is 13’myfirst’, to by the final stanza where she is locked into a relationshipcontrolled by the ‘wolf’. Furthermore, Duffy’s adaption to the original storyof ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, demonstrates the loss of innocence after anexperience with dominant a male partner and how this adaptation of thepredatory chase between the two characters can hold a much darker meaning. ‘LittleRed Cap’ is also viewed as a 14’breakaway from conventional attitudes to gender and heterosexuality’ as it 15’documentsthe ‘seductive attractions, for women, of collusion with the patriarchalsociety’. Here, Horner is reinforcing the idea of how Duffy is presenting thenegatives of heterosexual relationships and how they hold back women in societywith the restraints and restrictions implemented by the male characters in thepoems. The dystopian society set by Atwoodin ‘The Handmaids Tale’, introduces the restrictions and restraints on women’srelationships with men in the novel. The women in the text are not allowed anyinteraction with men other than their ‘owners’.
Women are at the bottom of thesocial hierarchy and therefore even the smallest amount of interaction isforbidden. For example, Offred makes eye contact with one of the guards of thewall surrounding Gilead and this is viewed as a sin. As a result of theserestraints implemented Offred is considered and seen as ‘mistress’ in thenovel. 16’BeforeGilead her relationship with Luke is almost a parody of “liberated” sex, thoughshe never refers to herself as his “mistress” ‘. The restraint of the freedomto have a sexual relationship with a man means Offred is forced to hide andconceal her feelings in order to prevent and escape punishment from Gilead.
Thisfurther supports how Atwood presents women’s bodies as under siege and underpatriarchal control as it is men’s authority of the do’s and don’ts in theirsociety, ignoring all rights of women, even in their individual choice of howthey may wish to express themselves. Duffy similarly uses this idea ofpatriarchal control on the poem ‘The Devil’s Wife’. The title itself highlightshow men are viewed as the ‘devil’ and a wife is of property and ownership tohim as she is not given a name. However, unlike in ‘The Handmaid’s tale’, thefemale character in the poem is depicted as experiencing restrictions andrestraints in the way that it is implied that life without a man in her life is17’hell’and in the poem it says, 18’Ifthe Devil was gone then how could this be hell?’ it is clear here that theabsence of her relationship with her partner, makes her question whether she isin ‘hell’.
This contradicts Duffy’s messages in other poems such as ‘Little RedCap’, where the female character seeks freedom and life without the male’wolf’, however in this poem the woman is 19’dyinginside’ without the comfort and perhaps even dominance and control of a male inher life. Therefore, this reinforces the idea of the theme of the restrictionthe woman experiences of being unable to detach herself in the fear ofindependence and life alone. Furthermore, the repetition of 20’itwas him it was him’ used by Duffy illustrates the desperation and chaos of theunhealthy relationship she is living in and displays the mind of someone who isso detached and withdrawn from reality and trying to shut out the truth, againreiterating the excessive effects of restraints against women results in. However,French Feminists criticise this idea as they argue that 21’masculinediscourse cannot accommodate female, experience; it is too rigid andcontrolled’.
1 The New York Times International Edition – ‘Handmaidson 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 135 ‘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 Horner15 Avril Horner16 Amanda Greenwood – The English Review 20.2 (2009) p.1017 ‘The Devils Wife’ – The World’s Wife by Carol AnnDuffy 18 ‘The Devil’s Wife’ 19 ‘The Devil’s Wife’ 20 ‘The Devil’s Wife’ 21 Cixous/ French Feminists