Blessed Fruits


Our second colloquium of the 2019 spring semester took us back to the future.

Organized by Associate Professor Wendy Matlock for the Graduate Track in Literature, “Blessed Fruits: Readings and Implications of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale” featured short, five-minute “lightning” talks by faculty and students on Atwood’s novel and its adaptations.

As the highlights below reveal, Atwood’s art continues to engage and inspire readers and viewers 34 years after its initial publication.



Offred concludes her narration in The Handmaid’s Tale by saying that is giving herself “over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped” (295). What she has given herself over to, I argue, is an archive that explicitly tells us that Offred does not matter except as a link to the men of Gilead. For Gileadean professor James Darcy Pieixoto, the story we should be concerned with is the Commander’s, and Offred is simply a means of attaining it. The archive of The Handmaid’s Tale therefore assumes the view of the oppressor, even when it has access to the voice of the oppressed.

– Cailin Roles (M.A. 2019), “The Handmaid’s Tale as an Archive”



I would like to think about what it means to read The Handmaid’s Tale, and how that’s different from watching the movie or the Hulu show. In the book, we have words. On the screen most of those words have been replaced with images and camera angles, lighting decisions and visual cues. But in the book, it’s all in our heads. And in a book like this one, which is so much about the control of words, it is an important counterpoint to this tale of oppression to realize that, even as we descend into a world of constraint, we are free to read. We are, in fact, obliged to.

Kimball Smith, Associate Professor, “Words, Words, Words: The Commander Reads, But Not Very Well”



Offred lived through the collapse of her former reality and now resides in this new one (in Gilead), a fact she reminds the reader of often as she reminisces on her past life. Because of this knowledge, Offred understands what her capabilities are and therefore, refuses to take her position as a Handmaid as one of “victim.” Throughout the narrative, Offred finds small ways to defy Gilead’s regime by clinging to small freedoms, defying the power structure at play.

– Karla Larrañaga (M.A. 2019), “‘Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum’: An Analysis of Offred’s Small Victories in Exercising Agency to Subvert an Identity of ‘Victim’”



My talk considers the marginalization of race in The Handmaid’s Tale (novel and film) primarily in terms of a brief reference to the forced relocation of African-Americans to the literal margins of Gilead. I then argue that although the Hulu series appears to overcome such marginalization through “color blind” casting and a post-race social milieu, it actually relocates even major characters, such as Luke, Moira, and Nick, to the margins of June’s story.

–  Christina Hauck, Associate Professor, “From One Margin to Another: Representing Race in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985, 1991, 2017-2018)”



In “Ofjune: Name Symbolism in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale,” I explored the symbolic implications of the Hulu series naming Offred June while in the novel she is only ever referred to as Offred. I also explored the symbolic implications and possible plot significance of the naming process and name of June’s second daughter, a character created for the Hulu series.

– Sarah Armstrong Keller (B.S. Elementary Education, 2020), “Ofjune: The Significance of Names in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale



“The Handmaid’s Mixtapes: Music as Piece de Resistance” examined how the audiotapes upon which Offred’s narrative is recorded function as their own subversive intertext. I argued that the audio tapes serve both as the piece de resistance that forces the reader to reconsider and reinterpret the narrative according to the limitations of its fragmented and reconstructed form, and as a piece of resistance by serving to document, through medium of the mixtape, the counterculture and individuality that Gilead sought to expunge from its theocracy. The presentation concluded by exploring how the Hulu series adapted the novel’s narrative frame with its choice of extradiagetic music. (It is important to note here that a sampling of great tunes was played throughout the presentation.)

Shirley Tung, Assistant Professor, “The Handmaid’s Mixtapes: Music as Piece de Resistance”


Shirley Tung, Sarah Armstrong Keller, Karla Larrañaga, and Cailin Roles respond to questions from the audience following their talks.

The conversation will continue on Wednesday, April 10 at 7:00 p.m. at the Manhattan Public Library for the Literature Track’s third and final event on Atwood’s novel: “Art & Resistance: Adaptations of The Handmaid’s Tale.” We’ll explore answers to the question “What makes The Handmaid’s Tale so relevant?” We hope you can join us!

Karin Westman, Associate Professor and Department Head


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