“Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again:” Burke’s Perspective by Incongruity and the Shifting Image of the Handmaid
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Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale has been a source of inspiration and warning for readers since the 1980s. However, the novel itself never garnered the kind of attention Bruce Miller’s Hulu adaptation has. In response to the show’s timing with the current political climate, there are women dressing up as oppressed handmaids and lining the front steps of capitol buildings, filling rows during legislative sessions, and standing in silence in front of the White House in response. By using Kenneth Burke’s theories regarding juxtaposition, irony, the grotesque, and comic correctives, I explore how the novel, the television show, and the protests create perspective by incongruity for a modern audience and signal a shift in the image of the Handmaid. Perspective by incongruity is what Burke calls “a verbal atom-cracking” in which the author causes the audience to see an issue in an entirely different light by introducing elements that violate commonly-held beliefs. Comic correctives are especially important for creating perspective by incongruity because they show the audience how certain groups of people are mistaken but not inherently evil; in other words, there is room for improvement and correction. Both the novel and the television show create perspective by incongruity by making a fictional, dystopian world feel related to a modern society but not exact copies of society. The protests, however, attempt to reclaim the image of the handmaid as a symbol of resistance and strength; a way of saying “We will not be silent” as they stand in silent solidarity. I argue that this replication occurs because as the use of comic correctives weakens amongst each medium, a source of blame becomes easily identifiable. By exploring how each of the medium creates perspective by incongruity, Atwood’s novel implores audiences to simply pay attention, while the Hulu adaption and its resulting protests emphasize taking action against a perceived enemy.