Penn State

Jane Sutton - professor of communication arts and sciences, Penn State York

Book Title: The Handmaiden’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Book Description:

According to legend, Zeus gave rhetoric to the people (demos) so they could settle their differences with words rather than by physical force. At one point, Hermes asked Zeus, “How should I distribute the gift?” Zeus thought for a moment. “Give rhetoric to everyone,” he said, “and distribute its power equally.” It took The Handmaiden’s Tale for me to grasp the form and dimensions of what I had been given. Atwood reveals what happens not only to women who are put under a certain sort of pressure that denies them their voices, but also to the human spirit itself that counts speech as its greatest achievement. Because under stress, the idea of fearless speech as well as the consciousness that rhetoric demands of its practitioners is threatened. I imagine receiving rhetoric as working at the edge of thought where the art can be continually developed, guaranteeing that as the sociopolitical realm changes so too rhetoric can embody its spirit of equality as starkly and as summarily as the gods had presented it to the people. The Handmaiden’s Tale was my rhetorical-democratic-feminist epiphany.


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