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Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in
Foreign Language Teaching (FLT)
Part Two: Teaching Strategies

Willi Real

1. Didactic assumptions

It has been shown in part one that THT, at least at first sight, does not follow any easily recognizable logical pattern. Therefore it is particularly difficult for the teacher to realise a basic methodological demand in dealing with such a comprehensive literary text, namely to combine both intensive and extensive reading and to select kernel passages for critical discussion. The following approach concentrates on a close reading of about 15 chapters out of a sum total of 46 which, apart from the first four, does not follow the chronological order of the chapters. It is based on the assumption that the course participants have pre-read the novel. In doing so, reading logs (cf. below) may be helpful for the students since they offer guidance without implying manipulation of attention; however, they are not indispensable. Independent homework tasks (possibly from a "homework restaurant", cf. below) are an integral part of the course. This plan is meant to help the learners to reconstruct a more or less coherent whole out of a seemingly fragmented account.

2. Survey of a detailed lesson plan
(each unit referring to one double period)

Unit 1: introduction/close reading of the first four chapters
Unit 1.1: warming-up/writing down first impressions, checking textual comprehension, students find questions for a close reading of chapters 1 and 2 which will partly be answered later on; long-term measures for the organisation of the course as a whole (homework restaurant)
Unit 1.2: discussion of chapters 3 and 4; chapter 3: close reading of the first encounter between Serena Joy and Offred with the help of questions and answers; chapter 4: the different classes in Gilead (cf. diagram)

Unit 2: the political context of Gilead
The rise of the socalled Republic of Gilead (chapter 28); comparison of the republic of Gilead to the pre-Gilead state (cf. diagram)

Unit 3: the biographical context: the narrator's development
Unit 3.1: Offred's biography before the right-wing takeover; consequences of it for her relationship with Luke (textual material to be found in different chapters, e.g. chapters, 5, 7, 28)
Unit 3.2: Offred's development after the right-wing takeover: her 'official' relationship with the Commander (chapters 15 and 16)
Unit 3.3: Offred's 'private' relationship with the Commander (chapter 29)
Unit 3.4: Offred's relationship with Nick (chapters 40, 41, 46)

Unit 4: discussion of the Historical Notes

Unit 5: narrative Technique/discussing a collage of excerpts
(last page of chapter 7, chapter 40: three versions of the Offred-Nick relationship; chapter 41)

Unit 6: possible extensions
Unit 6.1: biblical allusions in THT
Unit 6.2: comparison of the Schloendorff film and the text of THT
Unit 6.3: comparison of THT and George Orwell's 1984
Alternative to 6.3: Comparison of THT and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (BNW)
Unit 6.4: final evaluation and re-evaluation of first impressions

Unit 7: additional material

Unit 8: suggestions for written test papers

3. How to get the course on THT prepared and started

Pre-reading of the novel
The following teaching unit concerning THT is based on the assumption that a prereading of the whole novel is desirable for a variety of reasons. First of all, pre-reading also means pre-teaching for the planning of the sequence as a whole. If you want to interpret any part of the novel, for example chapters 1-4, you have to know the context of the novel. This is true of thematic as well as of formal aspects, e.g. in interpreting examples of foreshadowing. In the case of THT it is hardly possible to understand anything without the knowledge of the context. Thus a sound textual knowledge is necessary for a sensible approach to the text: it is indispensable from the viewpoint of literary scholarship.

Secondly, pre-reading is also desirable from a didactic point of view since this procedure makes it possible to use a large variety of written tasks for homework or reports, which means that students' activities could help to prepare some lessons. Therefore homework tasks do not only follow the individual periods, they also become an integral part of the next. In other words, basically contributions by the students may not only be used for post-preparation, but also for preparation. This means that the teacher possesses more methodological possibilities; there are more duties for the students, but there is also more independent work for them.

Thirdly, the students should be encouraged to read the text extensively, and, of course, they should already have practised a lot of this kind of reading, for example in dealing with long stories, dramas, shorter novels or full-length examples of fiction. In addition, in reading a novel on their own, the learners should be encouraged to read for gist rather than for detail. Moreover, the use of a reading log is recommended;(49) this is different from a set of questions which draws (manipulates) the readers' attention to specific aspects. It is not important to have the students react to every stimulus, it is enough for them to regard this procedure as a help for self-education and reflection on their reading process. At the same time the students should be encouraged to use their own words and to back up their opinions with the help of textual evidence.

During this phase of textual acquisition it is advisable to plan one or two lessons which are devoted to what the pupils will have been reading up to that point of time (for example one hundred or two hundred pages of the novel).(50) Such a procedure may be helpful in order to find out what the students are interested in while reading one part of the text after another. It may be an opportunity for the learners to exchange their first impressions, and they should also be encouraged to put questions concerning any linguistic difficulties as well as problems concerning biblical, literary, cultural, historical ... allusions. This may mean motivational reinforcement for reading the rest and may also build up motivation for the subsequent discussion of the novel.

For obvious reasons the first step in teaching a full-length novel is very important in psychological respect: very often the success of the whole sequence depends on the first move. The teacher should realize in this case that the text of the novel is very open and ambiguous at times, which means that classroom procedure has to be very flexible.

4. Teaching THT in detail (Units 1-8)

Unit 1: introduction/close reading of the first four chapters

Assumptions The students have pre-read the whole novel and prepared the first two chapters by close reading.

Unit 1.1: introduction/close reading of chapters 1 and 2

Step 1: personal feelings and first impressions after pre-reading the novel
Teacher's (open) question:
  • What did you like/dislike when reading Atwood's novel?

    Possible answers by the students:
    I liked reading the novel,

  • because it was full of suspense (produced by the technique of gradual revelation);
  • because the narrator is a person very close to the reader/is a person easy to identify with;
  • because the narrator's honesty/sincerity is convincing;
  • because the female characters are strongly individualized (Offred, Ofglen, Moira, Aunt Lydia, Serena Joy ...);

    I disliked reading the novel,

  • because of its technique of presenting small fragments only;
  • because its plot is neither realistic nor coherent;
  • because (apart from the narrator) there are hardly any real characters in it;
  • most of the characters are flat/the other characters lack Offred's distinct identity ...

  • Particularly when having used a reading log, it should be easy and motivating for the students to say how the text relates to their own interests, their knowledge and experience of life. These impressions are written down and are to be used again in the final unit of this teaching model (cf. 6.4) so as to find out whether their standpoint is still the same or whether it has been modified or basically changed by the discussion of the novel in class.

    Step 2: checking textual comprehension
    After a reading phase of several weeks the teacher should never take his pupils' textual comprehension for granted. On the contrary, in her/his daily routine-business lessons it seems unavoidable for the teacher to check it,(51) and it seems wise to do so before starting to interpret or to discuss the text if a demotivating fall-back procedure is to be avoided. There exist a number of methodical possibilities of varying classroom procedure.(52) To name but a few:

    A possible set of true-false-statements referring to the novel as a whole might run like this:
    1. When the right-wing takeover occurs, women lose their jobs.
    2. In this situation Luke is a very understanding husband.
    3. Serena Joy is a former TV star.
    4. The Commander's household is the first that the narrator is sent to as a handmaid.
    5. The place to which the Commander takes Offred is unknown to her.
    6. It is there that Offred meets Moira for the last time.
    7. The man killed during the Salvaging is accused of gender treachery.
    8. Therefore Ofglen behaves in a deliberately brutal way towards him.
    9. When Ofglen sees the black van approaching her master's house, she kills herself.
    10. By doing so she wants to escape torture.

    2. Luke does not take his wife's problems seriously. He offers lame excuses only. (p. 232)
    4. Fred's place is the third household that Offred is sent to (p. 20); thus it is her last chance. (p. 186)
    5. The place is familiar to Offred: it is a former hotel to which she went together with Luke before their marriage. (pp. 304-305)
    7. The man is (wrongly) accused of rape; in reality he was a member of the underground movement Mayday.(p. 360)
    8. Ofglen knocks him unconscious in order to diminish/stop his suffering. (pp. 359-360)
    10. Her main concern is not to betray/to incriminate other people, for example the narrator. (p. 366 and p. 367)

    Step 3: close reading of chapters 1 and 2
    Traditionally this is done by way of a teacher-students-talk. In order to give some examples:
    - What is the situation of the narrator like?
    - What is the function of the Aunts and the Angels?
    - Why is there no talk allowed?
    - Why do the handmaids use lip-reading?
    - What has become of the U.S.?
    - Why does the narrator mention her yearning for the future? ...

    Since the text of the first chapters is very open, it seems to be preferable to have the students collect a list of questions first; this may be organized as individual silent work or as pair work. It is also possible to divide the class into groups and to have both groups find questions for one chapter each, which are to be answered by the other group. The answers are collected either on the blackboard or on a transparency for the Overhead Projector (OHP). The questions should include the three mottoes; if some questions cannot yet be dealt with, the students are told that possible answers will be found in the course of the sequence.

    Step 4: homework
    It is possible to practise a close reading of chapters 3 and 4 in class. As a preparatory task, the students have (a) to take a few notes concerning the first talk between Serena Joy and Offred, which is comparatively coherent and therefore could also easily be summarized and (b) to collect some information concerning the society in which the figures are living. The discussion of these aspects will cover another double period.

    Step 5. How to realize a long-term organisation of the course by using a homework restaurant:

    For the plan of the course as a whole, the idea of the so-called homework restaurant may be used.(53) The homework restaurant consists of a list of topics worked out by the teacher. The tasks should be presented as a menu which offers appetizers, main courses and desserts, that is they have different degrees of difficulty, and the students should get a different number of credits for them (either one, two, or three credits). This depends on the substance of their argumentation, the linguistic quality and the length of their contributions: for each credit the students have to write about 500 words, which means that the topics have to be graded according to both quality and quantity. Each student has to acquire three credits during the sequence, how they manage to do so depends on their own initiative: for example, they may hand in either one full-length essay or two or three shorter ones. It goes without saying that the students may contribute their own ideas to the menu after reading the text of the novel (cf. below).

    However, it is indispensable that every course member chooses one topic from the menu at least. Each topic is for two students who may work individually or in pairs. For them this means that they have to read again selected passages of the novel by skimming and scanning in order to find some textual evidence they think to be relevant. By this kind of homework, they will cooperate in the selection of possible focuses of attention, which implies that the teacher's role becomes less dominant. At the same time this will lead to more students' activity in discussing the novel, which will also imply some progress concerning their proficiency in the foreign language.

    The topics should be presented after the pre-reading of the novel, that is in the very first lesson, or perhaps even before it, in any case before the systematic beginning of textual analysis. Then the students are expected to choose a topic they like as soon as possible and to start preparing their work right away. Since they want some time for this, unit 1 of the following teaching model is arranged as open-classroom talks and discussions, which means that the use of the homework restaurant will focus on units 2, 3, 4, and 6. Unit 5 is a particularly ambitious task which should be initiated by the teacher (cf. below).

    Basically, such tasks may be used in order to promote textual analysis by the students (cf. entrees, main courses, 2.1. and desserts). Some tasks do not refer to a textual analysis directly, but they may be of such quality that they concern the novel as social events which go beyond the interpretation of the text and which appeal to the (reading) public; cf. main courses, 2.2. Moreover, there are creative tasks or imaginative extensions; cf. main courses, 2.3. The tasks for 2.2. and 2.3. are very open, the scope for students' activity is considerable, yet these have to be in accordance with the text of the novel. Perhaps they are less appropriate for classroom discussion, however they may be collected and edited for every course member, which may occur in printed (photocopied) form(54) or also with the help of the internet. Moreover, the homework restaurant has the advantage that it may offer creative tasks (cf. "specialities"), in which the students assume the subject position of an "other,"(55) i.e. they will grasp the inadequacy of monocentric views and realize how viewpoint determines meaning.(56)

    It must be admitted that to organize such a homework restaurant puts great demands on the teacher. First of all, it is difficult to find a sufficient number of topics, to classify them according to the same degree of difficulty and to the same amount of credits. Moreover, the teacher has to think of attractive test items ("Klausuraufgaben"), which are unrelated to the topics so as not to give any pupil an unfair advantage. Apart from, that s/he has to do a lot of correction work: therefore s/he should well think over how often s/he is going to make use of this approach, how long the students' papers are expected to be and whether there is an assistant teacher to help him/her correcting the papers. Even if the pupils think the concept attractive, it can only be used once in a while.

    Elements of a "homework restaurant"

    1. Entrées/Appetizers (one credit each)

  • The rise of the socalled republic of Gilead
  • Consequences of the right-wing takeover for the Offred-Luke relationship
  • Public births in Gilead
  • Prayvaganzas in Gilead
  • Salvagings in Gilead

    2.1. Main Courses (two credits each)

  • Offred's former life
  • Offred's 'official' relationship with the Commander
  • Offred's 'private' relationship with the Commander
  • Offred's relationship with Nick
  • The Historical Notes: a critical analysis
  • Narrative technique in THT (based on selected excerpts)

    The following Main Courses deserve three credits each.

  • The functions of biblical allusions in THT
  • A comparison of the futuristic world depicted in THT and 1984 (selected aspects might be: the social and political organisation, the control of people, use of manipulation, e.g. the role of wars, the power of the Party and the Commanders, treatment of minorities/outsiders/dissidents, use of scapegoats, use of language, the role the emotions, love and sexuality ..)
  • A comparison of the futuristic world developed in THT and BNW (test-tube fertilisation vs. enforced copulation, the (mis)use of environmental and human resources, educational principles, human emotions, the role of religion, the sciences, and the arts, attitude towards language ...)

    2.2. Specialities: THT as a public event (three credits each)

  • A letter to the editor of THT (complaining of the fact that the pocket edition has no preface, no introduction, offers neither any background material nor any commentary; biographical notes are very scanty; many arbitrary value judgements seem to be an integral part of the advertising campaign)
  • A letter to the writer (praising the novel from a feminist standpoint/speaking in favour of the novel because of its topicality; wanting to know something about the place of the novel in the dystopian tradition, wanting information concerning sources of her novel, apart from Puritan influences and the sources for particicution and surrogate mothers ...)
  • A review of the novel/of the filmed version (a summary of the major events; recommending the reading of it, or warning the audience against it)
  • A comparison of the text and the film (shortcuts, structural differences caused by time constraints, no "night chapters", i.e. no reflection in the film, Luke killed in the very first scene, no feelings of shame or guilt concerning him ...)
  • Redesign the script for the film version of THT
  • An article about THT in a newspaper (characterising public life in Gilead ...)
  • A panel discussion in class/in public/on TV (written preparation of questions and answers by one group each)
  • A sequence of scenes to be performed in class/in public (project work by a group, to be recorded on audio or video tape; to be combined with the task of preparing an official programme for such an occasion: introduction into the action, the characters, the theme, including pictures/photos ....; teamwork by four students)

    2.3. Imaginative extensions/creative tasks (two credits each)

  • A letter by Offred to her mother and a reply by Offred's mother
  • A letter by Luke to Offred and an answer by Offred
  • Some entries from the secret diary of Offred's lost daughter (her family's attempted flight to Canada, her separation from her parents, experiences in Gilead ...)
  • Another cassette newly found: Moira tells her experiences (in the Red Center, on her flight, at Jezebel's ...)
  • The handmaid's experiences after her escape from Gilead
  • Several entries from the Commander's secret diary
  • One or two examples of a fundamentalist speech by a Commander (the principles of government in Gilead)
  • Try to evaluate Gilead from the view of the opposite sex/of the younger/older generation.
  • Become a historical figure. Write what you want to say about Gilead to people today: an explanation, a warning/a cautionary tale?

    3. Desserts (one credit each)

  • Ofglen, Nick and the Mayday movement.
  • Offred and Serena Joy.

    Further suggestions will be welcome!

  • Unit 1.2: close reading of chapters 3 and 4

    Step 1: the first talk between Serena Joy and Offred This may be done again by applying the close reading method. The teacher could ask the students which aspects they think are indispensable for an understanding of the novel as a whole.

    Step 2: classes in the republic of Gilead (chapter 4) After that it is possible to concentrate on two pages from chapter 4 (p. 27 and p. 29) in order to characterize the different classes in this so-called republic, which more resembles a caste society.

    divide the course into groups according to the classes in the novel; give each group 15-20 minutes to explain the function of each class in the Republic of Gilead. Then have the groups question one another. Finally ask the course to classify the different classes into influential/privileged ones and less privileged/suppressed ones in order to come to a conclusion concerning this state's organisation.

    These are the more privileged groups:

    Thus there is a strong hierarchy (pecking order) in Gilead, which also implies a clear discrimination of women. This can be illustrated by the following diagram:(57)

    These insights are a good starting point for a comprehensive discussion of unit 2.

    Unit 2: the political context of Gilead

    Didactic considerations
    After working out the different classes in Gilead, it is advisable to concentrate on the main characteristics of this regime. Now the time has come to start working with the homework restaurant. Whenever a team of students gives a talk on one of the topics to be found on the menu, it is their task to choose the relevant textual evidence so that the teacher does not have to give the necessary page references. It is the task of the expert groups to study the textual passages in question and report back to the course members.

    There are several possibilities for practical classroom procedure: either a team of students reads out their written report on a particular subject in class with the other course members being allowed and encouraged to interrupt them by asking questions whenever they want to. This means that writing and speaking production pave the way for the discussion of problems, and it is, of course, also possible to compare two written reports which are based on individual work.
    Or a team of two students is reponsible for planning and organising a meeting. This means that they take over the teacher's role so that the concept learning by teaching is practised.(58) The results may be documented by a flowchart, or by a wall paper which is to be published as long as the course lasts. Of course, the students could also prepare a hand-out or write the minutes of the meeting in order to facilitate long-term memorisation.

    Suggestions for classroom procedure

    Step 1: brainstorming
    The students should collect their spontaneous associations with Gilead in the first place, then an attempt at classification is to follow; again this means an open element in planning the individual steps for classroom procedure. Everything depends on what is still in the students' minds: everybody should remember some aspects of Gilead, and everybody should have an impression or perhaps even a critical opinion of this state.

    The results could be similar to these:
    - there is a lack of freedom, rather than freedom there is incarceration/ imprisonment/seclusion;
    - many things are subject to rigid norms/laws: there is a lot of control and coercion;
    - many taboos exist;
    - secular music and other means of amusement are forbidden;
    - there is a ritual(ized) abuse of women;
    - according to official doctrine, there are no sterile men, there exist barren/infertile women only;
    - there is indoctrination/brainwashing/conditioning;
    - there is a lack of tolerance/a lot of intolerance;
    - there is religious fanaticism;
    - the state is a totalitarian or racist theocracy: political opponents/religious sects/dissidents/outsiders are persecuted and hung on the wall;
    - there is persecution of Jews, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Jehova's Disciples, Quakers, other religious minorities and homosexuals;
    - there are many allusions to/quotations from the Bible;
    - many interpretations are very arbitrary: they serve to justify political ideology;
    - thus biblical principles are clearly abused;
    - the system tries to enforce traditional values, i.e. the fundamentalist concept of godliness;
    - there are public executions, brutality and terrorism;
    - many people commit suicide in order to escape punishment;
    - there is a suppression of communication, interaction and love;
    - handmaids are not allowed to read or to write;
    - there is a denial of individuality and self-esteem;
    - there is a pecking order among women (e.g. Mothers, Daughters, Aunts, Handmaids, Marthas, and 'Unwomen');
    - there is a hypocrisy of double standards (virtue is proclaimed, vice is everywhere).

    Step 2: open-classroom discussion
    An open classroom discussion on the state of Gilead is to follow; the teacher could prepare a set of open questions in order to get this started, for example:
    - What about the role of language/speech/communication and interaction in Gilead?
    - What about laws/norms/values and human volition?
    - What about sexuality? What about the justification of its reglementation?
    - What about the function of emotions (pleasure, joy, love ...)?
    - Comment upon the importance of moral/biblical principles.
    - Try to characterise the traditional value system.
    - Comment upon the treatment of minorities/outsiders ...

    Step 3: close reading of pp. 225-226
    This is the passage which describes the right-wing takeover (blackboard work or notes for OHP may be used in order to contrast the past and the present states):

    The United States of America: The Republic of Gilead:
    democracy right-wing (fundamentalist) theocracy
    Congress/President totalitarian/tyrannical government
    freedom to do = (originally a pro-abortion slogan) classified as 'anarchy' including pornography, rape, sterilisation and said to be an anomaly freedom from knowledge = 'real' freedom, "a privilege of the meek"; women are said to be protected against abortion, rape, etc. In fact, there occurs a loss of individual choice/personal decisions and a denial of individual names
    permissive society/permissiveness religious tolerance permissiveness classified as "immoral", replaced by
    repression, dogmatism, and lack of tolerance (= backlash)
    progressive ultra-conservative/regressive/reactionary
    feminism new Puritanism
    change/development/progress: human volition taken for granted stagnation, strict control of status quo;
    elimination of women's volition, self-determination and moral responsibility
    high standard of technology/damage done to the environment/nuclear pollution return to traditional values that is, domestic roles for women
    emancipation of women return to nature, to women's "biological destiny": salvation by childbearing/by becoming "carriers of life" pregnancy means privileges whereas infertility means banishment/death
    sexual liberty decline of the birth rate; enjoyment of sexual activity (may be free and spontaneous, also between people of the same gender); for Offred her body was an instrument of pleasure: she was at one with it; mutual love = possible sexual tyranny/state-controlled sexuality/ institutional control of human reproduction/control of women's body:'legalized rape'; sexual relations = deprived of desire, pleasure and love: instrumentalized for procreation;
    women's bodies were mere tools for fertilisation/
    sex limited to reproduction: the state claims to own the insides of female bodies
    periodically programmed sexuality devoid of privacy and intimacy (homosexuals = gender traitors)
    jobs/property/education for women no jobs/no property/'re-education' for/conditioning of handmaids: slogans by the Aunts, readings from the Bible, sermons by the Commanders, prayers from the soul scrolls ...
    language, literature, amusement, communication and interaction = possible reading, writing, speaking ... = prohibited; access to knowledge denied; secular music forbidden; amusement and language = a temptation
    equal rights for men and women; no privileges for men; families and relationships to be grounded on equality and partnership patriarchal society, social despotism; submissiveness/subservience/obedience/docility of women; women = possessed articles, marginalised, dehumanized: sexual 'objectification' occurs: women becoming a one-dimensional entity;
    men exercising sexual mastery
    ...... ......
    ...... ......

    Step 4: open classroom talk
    The students should try to find some reasons for this development. Some aspects may be found in part one of this article.

    Step 5: evaluation
    The learners should realize right from the beginning that Margaret Atwood's delineation of Gilead is highly critical. This insight is also supported by the fact that while the biblical land is full of hope and fertility, Gilead in the novel is a waste land, a desolate area, which is threatened by sterility. Thus the name may be an ironical allusion to the Old Testament or said to express wishful thinking. Gilead's ideologues both literally apply and purposefully distort Old Testament texts. The Republic of Gilead is a racist fundamentalist theocracy, an unjust biblical Patriarchate. There is a misuse of environmental and human resources in this society. As one early Canadian reviewer of the novel put it: "Gilead has poisoned itself with religious and political ideology as well as nuclear waste."(59)

    Unit 3: the development of the narrator-protagonist

    Unit 3.1: Offred in her former life; Offred and Luke after the right-wing takeover

    Suggestions for classroom procedure
    In order to get the discussion of the novel organized, two major aspects may be used as shaping principles. On the one hand, classroom work may focus on Gilead as a social experiment/as a police state, and on the other hand, the students may concentrate on the narrator protagonist, her biography before the rise of Gilead and the development of her life in this new countersociety.

    The following unit will concentrate on the narrator-protagonist, which is probably the easiest way to make classroom work concerning THT coherent. Still the major problem is to find the relevant textual material since it is scattered all over the novel.

    Offred's development may again be worked out with the help of the homework restaurant, which, above all, is developed in order to promote the textual analysis of the novel. The students could be asked to compare and to contrast details of Offred's former life and her present situation as well as to discuss Luke's behaviour towards his wife. The results could be written on the blackboard or on a transparency for the OHP, or a team of two students could be asked to write the minutes of this session; these could be corrected by the teacher, and a photocopy of them could be given to every course participant.

    Unit 3.2: Offred's official relationship with the Commander (chapters 15 and 16)

    Suggestions for classroom procedure
    It is by no means necessary that every topic of the homework restaurant is chosen by the students: the choice of topics should be determined by their motivation only. If there is no team of students prepared to analyse the mating scene which is described in some detail in chapters 15 and 16, it may be analysed with the help of the following stimuli/tasks and questions.

    Step 1: textual analysis
    - What about the atmosphere in the living room? (It is very cold/hostile).
    - What about Offred's feelings before the ceremony? (Offred feels sick, very nervous and treated like a child).
    - What about the preparations for the event? (Offred is examined by a doctor, takes a bath, is fed "like a prize pig").
    - What is the function of the Bible readings? (It is a shallow justification for the ceremony; for Offred, the Bible-based reading is like listening to a bed-time story, which shows there is an ironic aggressiveness on her part; the Bible is used for literal interpretation, following the letters of the text rather than its spirit: this is a clear manipulation/abuse of the biblical passage).
    - What about Offred's feelings during and after the mating ceremony? (Offred develops aggressive fantasies: she wants to steal something for example; her fantasies are an act of defiance, a kind of self-defense and protection).
    What about Serena Joy's and the Commander's feelings? (Serena Joy cannot control her feelings; she feels jealous, perhaps also powerless; the Commander has to suppress his feelings since he has serious business to do).
    - What is the function of Moira's torture in this context? (Hands and feet are not important; what is important is the handmaid's torso; the implication is that Offred's treatment is similar: it is psychic torture).
    - What about a classification of the scene? (It describes a regular process; this monthly copulation is rape agreed to because of public pressure; the other option is even less desirable since it means certain death).

    Step 2: ranking task
    The students are confronted with the following insights/hypotheses(60):
    - Offred is reduced to being the commanders'/other persons' property;
    - Offred is no longer respected as a woman/is depersonalized (has an official rather than an individual name);
    - Offred is degraded/humiliated/dehumanized (treated like cattle/an animal);
    - she is abused as a sexual object/she is 'objectified';
    - she is treated as a mere tool: she is instrumentalised;
    - she becomes a machine, a possessed article, a thing ...
    - she is demoted to a functional level, marginalized ...
    - she is dismembered, reduced to an amputated, but still usable body,
    - she is abused as a torso with viable ovaries, which are claimed to be national resources ...
    The students are expected to choose three statements which they think to be of paramount importance and to give reasons for their choices. Such a value clarification task contains a large potential for discussion.

    Step 3: for discussion
    - What about the scene as a whole: is it voyeuristic and pornographic?(61)
    - Is it shocking? Obscene? Ludicrous?
    - Does it offend religious or moral feelings of (young/adolescent) readers?
    - Thesis: To have sexual relations with another person is the most/a very intimate form of communication and meant to strengthen emotional bonds/ties. In this context sexuality is subjected to very rigid rules/it is strictly formalized, talk is forbidden, individual volition eliminated and human emotions are suppressed.
    Question: Do you think that this is against nature? Do you think this procedure is depraved, if not perverse?

    Step 4 (optional): word portraits of Offred and Moira
    Word portraits consist of a list of characteristic features with reference to a literary figure. In this case it may help to work out the difference between Moira and Offred.

    On the one hand, Moira may be said to be confrontational, rebellious, uncompromising, lesbian, stubborn, defiant, straightforward ... For example, she escapes from the Red Center and tries to reach Canada but is finally caught again. After being tortured by Aunt Lydia, she chooses to work at Jezebel's; Offred has got the impression that Moira is full of resignation there; her personality is broken (to adapt Orwell's ironic statement, from the final sentence of 1984, to her situation: she, like Winston Smith, "won the victory over herself").

    On the other hand, Offred may be said to be sceptical, compromising, sensitive, sensible, lonely, determined by a hunger for contact, interaction, communication and love ... Unlike Ofglen, she does not become a member of the resistance movement Mayday; yet, Moira is a role model for Offred: she becomes a secret rebel by telling the story of her life.

    Unit 3.3: Offred's 'private' relationship with the commander

    For this aspect the students may choose chapter 29 as a kernel passage. As to the major insights of text analysis cf. part one. As to possible classroom procedure, cf. unit 2 above.

    Unit 3.4: Offred's relationship with Nick

    This is closely linked to narrative technique since one chapter relates three different possibilities of her relationship with Nick. It may include a discussion of the novel's open ending as well. Nick seems to be a member of the underground movement Mayday. Offred's escape seems to be successful because her tale, after having been recorded on audiotapes, has been published after all.

    Unit 4: the Historical Notes

    Didactic considerations
    The language of the Historical Notes may be difficult for the learners who are not accustomed to reading academic texts. Moreover, there are several allusions which call for a comment. However, a close reading of the text is indispensable, and this discussion has to take place almost at the end of the sequence. For once we do not have the bulk of the whole novel to speak about, but it is a section of the book which, roughly speaking, consists of 15 pages only. As a consequence, in methodological respect this unit is comparatively easy to plan; on the other hand, the problems of understanding this parody of an academic discourse are considerable.

    Suggestions for classroom procedure
    As a result of work from the homework restaurant, possibly there is a report of two pupils by team work. This may be another occasion for spoken production based on written work and for an application of the concept learning by teaching (cf. above). The following suggestions may be helpful for practical procedure anyway.

    0. Homework
    The course members are asked to prepare the text of the historical notes by close reading.

    1. Clarification of the linguistic difficulties and explanation of the allusions
    use of a handout containing linguistic annotations and a comment on the allusions; the latter may be provided by the teacher or by the students. A team of experts may also prepare written explanations of all the vocabulary items in the "Historical Notes" which they think are unknown to the other course members. In doing so they should use a reliable dictionary, such as most recent editions of the Advanced Learner's Dictionary or the Dictionary of Contemporary English. Cooperation of teachers and students may mean practising group work in class, coordinating the results, and having them photocopied.

    2. Checking reading comprehension
    Since scholarly language is different, the section is perhaps difficult for some learners.

    3. First impressions/spontaneous reactions may be collected on the blackboard or on a transparency (brainstorming).

    4. Classroom work may focus on specific aspects which are to be established by the students' cooperation, e.g.
    • the genesis of the novel; it is called a palimpsest because Offred's tale is recorded on musical tapes;
    • a comment on sexist language (puns, such as char/chair, tale/tail, femaleroad/frailroad ...);
    • the relationship between a novel/literature/art (multivocal meaning) and a historical source/historical or scientific texts (univocal meaning);
    • working out the relationship between the emotional dimension such as distress and suffering of a person and historical facts (stories and history);
    • a comparison of the professor's devaluation of what he knows and his evaluation of what he would like to have;
    • a discussion of the professor's thesis: "Our job is not to censure but to understand" (to censure means to criticize officially; to avoid criticism of a totalitarian state is to justify it, at least indirectly. In this context, we cannot afford the luxury of disengagement or indifference. The writer challenges each of us to take responsibility for the world in which we are living.)
    • an evaluation of the professor's talk as a whole; (it is disappointing and depressing at the same time. If the puns provide comic relief, they serve a very serious function, namely that, according to Margaret Atwood, in 2195, the situation of women will be very much the same as it is now: no decisive progress is to be expected within the next two centuries. If there is laughter, this has to be stifled, the comic effect produced by the novel is almost like black humour).
    • an introduction of the terms irony and parody (implications for the evaluation of the book as a whole).

    5. Creative task
    Offred's experiences after her escape from Gilead (cf. homework restaurant, 2.3).
    June/Offred is muted again. (Her account is completely misunderstood: the professor's lecture, like a new palimpsest, superimposes one 'objective' meaning on the tale. However, focus should not only be on the facts, but also on the narrator's personal fate, her feelings, her suffering, her craving for love and communion with others: for her life in Gilead is hell. Thus there is certainly more than one meaning and one message in the novel).

    Unit 5: narrative technique/discussing a collage of excerpts

    Didactic considerations
    It is possible that the teacher in class uses a collage of all/most of the relevant textual material concerning narrative technique. The students are confronted with this and are asked to find categories: perhaps they cut the relevant material into different parts in order to unscramble it and to classify it in a systematic way. However, even a non-exhaustive list would include more than fifty passages as well as quotations: it would be very difficult as well as time-consuming for the students to find this textual material, and it would certainly be too comprehensive for a 'complete' discussion in class. As a consequence, a didactic reduction is inevitable; therefore it may be a good idea to prepare a textual collage, which consists of one quotation and two extracts only:

    (1) The quotation is taken from the concluding sentences of chapter 12;
    (2) The excerpts are taken from the last page of chapter 7 and
    (3) the first part of chapter 41.

    Suggestions for classroom procedure
    With the help of this evidence, it is possible to work out three different aspects:
    - the narrator's self-definition,
    - the bridge built by the narrator between herself and the reader and
    - the effect produced by her narration: it becomes a form of creative rebellion.

    The hand-out is prepared as a homework task/first read silently, then read out aloud in class. The students may study the material step by step, that is one section after the other, or they may read all excerpts straight away. Linguistic difficulties may be clarified. If there is no spontaneous discussion of some details at least, the class could try to find out some essential aspects of the text (written work). An alternative would be that two experts present their own written analysis of this textual evidence and that the course members ask them any question they want. On the one hand, the course participants may be expected to choose their own textual excerpts: this may appear to be an attractive student-orientated procedure. On the other hand, it should be realized that this topic is a very ambitious one; therefore it seems to be more practicable that the teacher will choose the textual material, which is followed by independent students' work.

    Unit 6: possible conclusions of the sequence

    Unit 6.1: cf. Anja Breuer: Biblical Influences in THT in Class: a Lesson Plan for a Double Period

    Unit 6.2: comparison of the Schloendorff film and the text of THT; cf. Willi Real: The Film Version of Margaret Atwood's THT in Foreign Language Teaching

    Unit 6.3: comparison of THT and George Orwell's 1984: cf. Willi Real: George Orwell's and Margaret Atwood's Visions of Future Societies in Foreign Language Teaching

    Alternative to 6.3: comparison of THT and Aldous Huxley's BNW; cf. Willi Real: "Aldous Huxley’s and Margaret Atwood’s Visions of Future Societies in Foreign Language Teaching", in: The Perennial Satirist. Essays in Honour of Bernfried Nugel, edd. Peter E. Firchow and Hermann J. Real (Münster, LIT Verlag, 2005), pp. 291-311.["Human Potentialities", vol. 7]

    Unit 6.4: final evaluation and re-evaluation of the first impressions: cf. unit 1.1. As to suggestions for classroom procedure, cf. Nicole Lange: General Evaluation of the Novel in Class - Basic Problems and Ideas for a Possible Approach.

    Unit 7: additional material

    A student or a team of two students might give a talk on religious fundamentalism and the extreme right movement in the U.S.A. which could be based on:
    David H. Benet, The Party of Fear. From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History. North Carolina University Press, 1988. (availabe in the Münster University Library)

    Unit 8: suggestions for written testpapers

    The following tasks are based on two passages from the novel which have deliberately not been included in the homework restaurant so that no student has an unfair advantage.

    (1) Discuss pp. 323-325. The first sentence runs like this: "So after that, they said I was too dangerous to be allowed the privilege of returning to the Red Center." The students are confronted with the original text up to the end of the chapter (roughly 470 words). The passage is about Moira's resignation and Offred's response towards it.

    (2) Discuss pp. 251-253. The text starts with the statement: "I pray where I am ..." and is to go on until the rest of the chapter (about 440 words). It is about Offred's Job-like version of the Lord's Prayer.

    The students may be expected to write a line-by-line comment on one of these passages. It is up to the teacher to use a shortened version of them and/or to have the learners answer both closed and open questions.

    5. Notes

    (49) Brigitte Krück/Kristiane Loeser, "Effektive Rezeptionsstrategien durch Lesetagebücher", Fremdsprachenunterricht 41:1 [50] (1997), pp. 2-10.

    (50) Max Bracht, "'Handmade Tales' Margaret Atwoods Roman THT im produktionsorientierten Fremdsprachenunterricht", Neusprachliche Mitteilungen 52:4 (1999), p. 233.

    (51) Max Bracht, pp. 233-234.

    (52) Many of them may be found in Joanne Collie/Stephen Slater, Literature in the Language Classroom (Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 42-46; cf. also Heide Schrader, Von Lesern und Texten. Fremdsprachendidaktische Perspektiven des Leseverstehens (Hamburg,1996), pp.160ff.

    (53) Susanne Kröger, "'Welcome to the Homework Restaurant': Differenzierende Hausaufgaben im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II", Neusprachliche Mitteilungen 52:4 (1999), pp. 239-246.

    (54) Cf. Max Bracht, p. 235. He offers many topics for this purpose; cf. pp. 234-235. Cf. also Kathryn VanSpanckeren, "The Trickster Text: Teaching Atwood's Works in Creative Writing Classes", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 82-83.

    (55) Kathryn VanSpanckeren, p. 79.

    (56) Kathryn VanSpanckeren, p. 82 and p. 83.

    (57) This diagram has been developed by my former students Stefanie Mattern and Silke Tylinda.

    (58) Jean-Pol Martin und Rudolf Kelchner, "Lernen durch Lehren," in: Johannes P. Timm (ed.), Englisch lernen und lehren. Didaktik des Englischunterrichts (Berlin, Cornelsen, 1998), pp. 211-219.

    (59) Cf. Judith McCombs and Carole L. Palmer, p. 551.

    (60) Many of these insights may be found in part one of this article; cf. also Amin Malak, "Margaret Atwood's THT and the Dystopian Tradition", Canadian Literature 112 (1987), p. 9 and Roberta Rubenstein, "Nature and Nurture in Dystopia: THT", in: Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan Garden Castro (eds.), Margaret Atwood. Vision and Forms (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), p. 103.

    (61) J. Brooks Bouson, "A Feminist and Psychoanalytic Approach in a Women's College", in: Sharon R. Wilson and Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), p. 124.

    Additional note: After finishing my work on Margaret Atwood's novel I became aware of the following teaching model: Peters, Christoph M., Margaret Atwood, 'The Handmaid's Tale'. Eine Unterrichtseinheit für die Oberstufe. Unterrichtskonzepte Englisch - Literatur. Freising: Stark Verlag, 2003. [Loseblattsammlung] For a review of this publication cf. Anzeigen, 5.

    6. Bibliography (referring to parts one and two)

    Bennett, Donna and Nathalie Cooke, "A Feminist by Another Name: Atwood and the Canadian Canon," in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works (New York, 1996), pp. 33-42.

    Bergmann, Harriet F., "'Teaching Them to Read': A Fishing Expedition in THT", College English 51:8 (December 1989), pp. 847-54.

    Bouson, J. Brooks, "A Feminist and Psychoanalytic Approach in a Women's College", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 122-127.

    Bracht, Max, "'Handmade Tales' - Margaret Atwoods Roman THT im produktionsorientierten Fremdsprachenunterricht", Neusprachliche Mitteilungen 52:4 (1999), pp. 229-238.

    Breuer, Anja, "Biblical Influences in THT in class: a lesson plan for a double period", in: http://www.telic.de.vu. Last updated in July 2003.

    Brydon, Diana, "Beyond Violent Dualities: Atwood in Postcolonial Contexts", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 49-54.

    Collie, Joanne/Stephen Slater, Literature in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Davidson, Arnold E., "Future Tense: Making History in THT", in: Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan Garden Castro (eds.), Margaret Atwood. Vision and Forms (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), pp. 113-121.

    Evans, Mark, "Versions of History: THT and its Dedicatees", in: Colin Nicholson (ed.), Margaret Atwood: Writing and Subjectivity. New Critical Essays (Houndmills, Eng.: Macmillan, 1994; New York: St. Martin's, 1994), pp. 177-188.

    Freibert, Lucy M., "Control and Creativity: The Politics of Risk in Margaret Atwood's THT", in: Judith McCombs (ed.), Critical Essays on Margaret Atwood (Boston: Hall, 1988), pp. 280 291.

    Freese, Peter, "Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)", in: Peter Freese und Liesel Hermes (eds.), Der Roman im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II. Theorie und Praxis (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1977, 2. Auflage, 1981), pp. 414-443. [ISL 11]

    Hammer, Stephanie Barbé, "The World as it Will Be? Female Satire and the Technology of Power in THT", Modern Language Studies 20:2 (Spring 1990), pp. 39-49.

    Hawthorn, Jeremy (ed.), A Concise Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory. London, second edition, 1996.

    Hewitt, Pamela, "Understanding Contemporary American Culture through THT: A Sociology Class", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 109-113.

    Howells, Coral Ann, York Notes. THT. London, York Press, fourth impression, 1999.

    Korte, Barbara, "Margaret Atwoods Roman THT. Interpretationshinweise für eine Verwendung im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II", Die Neueren Sprachen 89 (1990), pp. 224-242.

    Kröger, Susanne, "'Welcome to the Homework Restaurant': Differenzierende Hausaufgaben im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II", Neusprachliche Mitteilungen 52:4 (1999), pp. 239-246.

    Krück, Brigitte und Kristiane Loeser, "Effektive Rezeptionsstrategien durch Lesetagebücher", Fremdsprachenunterricht 41:1 [50] (1997), pp. 2-10.

    Lange, Nicole, "General Evaluation of the Novel [i.e. THT] in Class. Basic Ideas for a Possible Approach", in: http://www.telic.de.vu. Last updated in July 2003.

    Larson, Janet L., "Margaret Atwood and the Future of Prophecy", Religion and Literature 21:1 (Spring 1989), pp. 27-61.

    Malak, Amin, "Margaret Atwood's THT and the Dystopian Tradition", Canadian Literature 112 (1987), pp. 9 16.

    Martin, Jean-Pol/Rudolf Kelchner, "Lernen durch Lehren," in: Johannes P. Timm (ed.), Englisch lernen und lehren. Didaktik des Englischunterrichts (Berlin: Cornelsen, 1998), pp. 211-219.

    Mayer, Sylvia, "Ecologically Orientated Literary and Cultural Studies: Ecocriticism - A Brief Introduction", Mitteilungsblatt des Landesverbandes Westfalen Lippe, Moderne Fremdsprachen 22:1 (Mai 2004), pp. 5-9.

    McCombs, Judith (ed.), Critical Essays on Margaret Atwood. Boston: Hall, 1988.

    McCombs, Judith, and Carole L. Palmer, Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide. Boston: Hall, 1991.

    Miner, Madonne, "'Trust Me': Reading the Romance Plot in Margaret Atwood's THT", Twentieth Century Literature 37 (1991), pp. 148-168.

    Nicholson, Colin (ed.), Margaret Atwood: Writing and Subjectivity. New Critical Essays. Houndmills, Eng.: Macmillan, 1994; New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

    Nischik, R.M., "Back to the Future. Margaret Atwood's Anti Utopian Vision in THT", Englisch Amerikanische Studien 5:1 (1987), pp. 139-148.

    Ringler, William, "Poeta nascitur non fit: some Notes on the History of an Aphorism", Journal of the History of Ideas 2 (1941), pp. 497-504.

    Richtlinien und Lehrpläne für die Sekundarstufe II - Gymnasium/Gesamtschule in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Englisch. (Düsseldorf, 1999).

    Rubenstein, Roberta, "Nature and Nurture in Dystopia: THT", in: Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan Garden Castro (eds.), Margaret Atwood. Vision and Forms (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), pp. 101-112.

    Schrader, Heide, Von Lesern und Texten. Fremdsprachendidaktische Perspektiven des Leseverstehens. Hamburg, 1996.

    Snodgrass, Mary Ellen, Atwood's THT. Lincoln, Nebraska: Cliffs Notes, 1999.

    Staels, Hilde, Margaret Atwood's Novels: A Study of Narrative Discourse. Tübingen: Francke, 1995.

    Stein, Karen F., "Margaret Atwood's THT: Scheherazade in Dystopia", University of Toronto Quarterly 61 (1991/92), pp. 269-279.

    Timm, Johannes-P. (ed.), Englisch lernen und lehren. Didaktik des Englischunterrichts. Berlin, Cornelsen, 1998.

    VanSpanckeren, Kathryn and Jan Garden Castro (eds.), Margaret Atwood. Vision and Forms. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988.

    VanSpanckeren, Kathryn, "The Trickster Text: Teaching Atwood's Works in Creative Writing Classes", in: Sharon R. Wilson, Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works (New York: MLA, 1996), pp. 77-83.

    Wilson, Sharon R., Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen (eds.), Approaches to Teaching Atwood's THT and Other Works. New York: MLA, 1996.

    Zapf, Hubert, Kurze Geschichte der anglo-amerikanischen Literaturtheorie. München: Fink, zweite Auflage, 1995.

    Last Updated by Dr. Willi Real on Thursday, 24 November, 2005 at 12:21 PM.

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