19 May 2013

One and One and One and One

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale perhaps offers the best explication of thinking that seems specific to gender.  That is, men think this way, women think that way.
Women can't add, he once said, jokingly.  When I asked him what he meant, he said, For them, one and one and one and one don't make four. 
What do they make? I said, expecting five or three. 
Just one and one and one and one, he said.
This is dropped here but is returned to later .
What the Commander said is true.  One and one and one and one doesn't equal four.  Each one remains unique, there is no way of joining them together.  They cannot be exchanged, one for the other.  They cannot replace each other.
This is illustrated by a flashback to the time just before Offred (the handmaid is "Of Fred"--she will carry his child) is captured and loses her husband and her own little girl (never knowing what has become of them).  The three of them are preparing to make a run for the border and in considering this they wonder what they can do with the cat.  They're supposed to be pretending to a day trip for a picnic and so should not take the cat.  They can't "give the cat away" as that would be suspicious and they can't just leave it outside (set it free) because it would "hang around and mew at the door."
I'll take care of it, Luke said.  And because he said it instead of her, I knew he meant kill.  That is what you have to do before you kill, I thought.  You have to create an it, where none was before.  You do that first, in your head and then you make it real.  So that's how they do it, I thought.  I seem never to have known that before.
A calculus is not a good.  A cat becomes an it.  A woman becomes a handmaid--an it, a pet, a replaceable one adding up to the way it should be according to...whom?

There is another section detailing what I'd call a "solidifying" of "being."  Offred flashes back to memories with her mother--her mother's actions and conversation with friends that Offred either participates in or just listens to--and in one she is considering baby pictures.
You were a wanted child, God knows, she would say at other moments, linger over the photo albums in which she had me framed; these albums were thick with babies, but my replicas thinned out as I grew older, as if the population of my duplicates had been hit by some plague.  She would say this a little regretfully, as though I hadn't turned out entirely as she'd expected.  
(The reference to "replicas" and "plague" seem telling here.)

These too are kinds of one and one and one and one...that add up to one.  But each one, each fresh capture of the being in one moment will be replaced by another.  It is as if this baby might become this imagining (as I expect); no, it's THIS baby that will become THAT child--the one I don't expect...or something else maybe?  Each photo a future superseded by the next photo.  But that then will be superseded by the REAL human person you begin to solidify into.  No need for another picture of what might be; pictures now become representations of what is (will be) lost.

One and one and one and one...


  1. Insightful piece. It's been many years since I read the book. It may be time for a revisit.
    I have forgotten so much but I want to think more upon this different way of thinking with the numbers.

  2. Thank you so much for this insightful interpretation and cross-reference to the different parts of the book. =)

    1. Thanks much. I wrote a poem (published here: http://amzn.to/1QuTN9c) that must have come out of this particular reflection. "Kettled Reason."

      Admit the performance,
      tip the drama of the "sigh"
      jarred just so, "oh!"

      I am pulsing into limit

      fear it, it will come
      hope for it, and it's none

      others of capability
      will club their hands to gather clout
      disavowing my whim-wham

      may I occupy your eye

      begging your seeing invade my looking
      will you be keen

      eddied into thought
      and the cat becomes a stew
      a nonsense and a nonce yet ado

      still it can be eaten

      why it's not, not a jot
      yet pot kettles reason

  3. What page is the first quote from