1. A PALIMPSEST is a medieval parchment that scribes attempted to scrape clean in order to use again; however, they actually were unable to obliterate all traces of the original. How does the Republic of Gilead’s idea of social order often resemble a palimpsest? (10)
A palimpsest symbolizes all of Gilead. The old world has been erased and replaced, but only partially, by a new order. Remnants of the pre-Gilead days continue to infuse the new world.
This is how they can resemble and are capable of recalling their memories, for example, while Offred remember the retelling of her stories in her mind is like a loose video tape. It suggests that the society now inhabits, has been superimposed on a previous society, and traces of the old linger beneath the new. Gilead can be thought of as a palimpsest-under the structures it has imposed can still be seen the shapes and colors of the former society, which Offred recalls in flashbacks.
I think a new society cannot rise from scratch. It must have its precedents. Although they tried to wipe out the old and bring in the new, the Gileadean republic had its foundations in the Old Testament, the stories and philosophies simply twisted to justify the subjugation of women and the “rightness” of a dominant patriarchal society. Also, it borrows heavily from extreme Moslem beliefs of male dominance and female inferiority. So, Gilead’s roots are an amalgam of both Hebrew and Moslem extremist theology. That’s the way it came across to me.
I think the idea that what came before remains, even as a hint, behind what’s now. We can’t ever erase everything; we just build on top of what we used to have. Cultures work that way, art works that way, and I think on a very personal live, we all work that way. No matter how many transformative events we go through, we’re still pretty much what we used to be, just more of it.
2. Atwood explores (and deplores) several characteristics of contemporary society, such as