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Language As A Powerful And Healing Device In Three Contemporary Canadian Novels.

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This essay aims at analysing the use of language as an extremely powerful instrument to gain freedom back and to recover from a past of sufferance and victimization in three major Canadian contemporary novels: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces and Joy Kogawa's Obasan.

LANGUAGE: the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting in the use of words in a structured and conventional way. (Oxford Dictionary of English,2003)

By analysing the theme of language in these three novels, the very different stories narrated will meet in some important aspects.

The first novel analysed is The Handmaid's Tale, written by Margaret Atwood in 1985 and belonging to that genre called dystopian, or non-utopian novel (like George Orwell's 1984).

Atwood locates a nightmarish story in the United States of the last part of the 20th century, and more specifically in the Republic of Gilead (the former state of Maine), a totalitarian state based on the control of the female bodies not yet contaminated by atomic radiations that spread in the world outside; in this place Offred, the handmaid belonging to Fred, has just one duty, one function: to breed. In fact, the mono-theocratic regime of this society of the future is grounded on taking advantage of the so called handmaids, the only women that after the big catastrophe are still able to have children.

But this well organised society, which tries to abate and suppress every kind of feeling and every possible incentive (above all talking and reading) to think about a different, better and real life, won't succeed in choking people's desire of freedom; indeed the novel ends with an open-ending: Offred steps up in the black van with the Eye painted on the side, but are they really the so called Eyes, the guards of Gilead, or are they members of the Mayday, the secret society that tries to rescue women and give them back freedom?

Women in Gilead can be of different types. You can recognize them by the way they dress:

If they dress in light blue, they're Wives of Commanders; if they dress in green, they're Marthas, a kind of waitresses in the houses of the Commanders; if they dress in stripes they're Econowives, the poorest ones; if they dress in brown they're Aunts, the teachers at the Red (re-education) Centre and it's right here that at the beginning of the novel we find June (later Offred), one of the red dressed women that'll become handmaids.

There are many restrictions for the handmaids, but the most important regards language: they absolutely can't read and they can't talk if not asked to.

In the house of the Commander Fred, Offred (her former name is forbidden at this point, too) doesn't really speak with anybody, the Marthas are not supposed to fraternize with her and the Wife, Serena Joy, hates her; and Offred misses even the "stupid talk" she once despised.

Offred and all the other handmaids can't read, too; in fact even the signs of the shops are recognizable only by the picture on them. There's also a particular shop called "Soul Scrolls" where a strange kind of machines, called "Holy Rollers" pray and print prayers all the time; after been printed his prayers are immediately destroyed to be recycled and their Words (always with a capital letter in the book) go "back to the realm of the unsaid".

The Word is only in the mouths of Commanders, in fact even the Bible is kept locked in a drawer and only the man is allowed to read it for the Ceremony.

The power of the Word in this book could be easily described in a central chapter of the novel when June is secretly invited in the Commander's room and once there she is asked to play a game of Scrabble (games are



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