The Handmaid?s Tale – Flowers Essay, Research Paper
In The Handmaid?s Tale, much use is made of imagery; to enable the reader to create a more detailed mental picture of the novel?s action and also to intensify the emotive language used. In particular, Atwood uses many images involving flowers and plants.
The main symbolic image that the flowers provide is that of life; in the first chapter of the novel Offred says ??flowers: these are not to be dismissed. I am alive.? Many of the flowers Offred encounters are in or around the house where she lives; it can be suggested that this array of floral life is a substitute for the lack of human life, birth and social interaction. The entire idea of anything growing can be seen as a substitute for a child growing. The Commander?s house contains many pictures; as they are visual images, ?flowers are still allowed.? Later, when Serena is ?snipping off the seed pods with a pair of shears? aiming, positioning the blades? The fruiting body,? it seems that all life is being eradicated, even that of the flowers.
The colour of the flowers is also of vital importance. When Offred first enters the house of the Commander and his wife, she notices ?? a fanlight of coloured glass: flowers, red and blue.? In the Republic of Gilead, Handmaids wear red and Wives wear blue; these colours are intended to reflect the owner?s ?personality? ? the wanton Handmaids in fiery red and the demure Wives in serene, virginal blue. The ?blue irises? on the wall of Offred?s room are symbolic of this fact that she is a black sheep in the household.
In Serena?s garden, Offred describes many of the flowers. There are the irises, ?light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple? indigo shadow,?; and the ?Bleeding Hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they?d not long since been rooted out.? The divide in the symbolic colours here is vast; Offred admits there is ?something subversive about this garden? Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently.?
Much reference is made to tulips; when Offred sees the hanging bodies at the Wall, the brightness of the blood staining the white cloth ?is the same as the red of the tulips?? This reference can be likened to Plath?s poem ?Tulips?, written during a stay in hospital.
?The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.?
?Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.?
?A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.?
The mention of tulips in ?The Handmaid?s Tale? also includes somewhat violent imagery; the shade of red is likened to something ?beginning to heal?. However, it is soon mentioned that ?The tulips are not tulips of blood? ? Offred soon removes herself from her neurotic state.
In direct contrast to the fiery red of the tulips, the bathroom of the house is ?papered in small blue flowers, forget-me-nots, with curtains to match.? This time, not only the colour but also the name of the flower is relevant. The calming, feminine pastel blue contrasts with Offred?s red clothing, but the name? forget-me-not? is also relevant, as Offred is reminiscing of her former life with her husband and child.
When Offred is first invited to the sitting room, her perceptive nature enables her to notice the flowers. ?There?s a dried flower arrangement on either end of the mantelpiece, and a vase of real daffodils on the polished marquetry and table beside the sofa.? The dried flowers ? withered, fragile and old – can be thought of as symbolising Serena, whilst the fresh, clean and real daffodils can symbolise Offred.
In my opinion, Offred?s perception of the flowers is because they provoke her memories. ?To walk though it, in these days of peonies, of pinks and carnations, makes my head swim? Rendezvous, it says?.? The use made of flowers in The Handmaid?s Tale is for symbolic purposes ? to enhance projected ideas and theories – and to add depth to narrative description.