Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Forbidden Pen of Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood writing Handmaid's Tale in Berlin, 1984.
Picture from Writers at Work

The pen is an instrument forbidden to the handmaids, themselves instruments of childbearing, in the dystopia of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, " I say."What?" he says.I haven't pronounced it properly. I don't know how. "I could spell it," I say. "Write it down."He hesitates at this novel idea. Possibly he doesn't remember I can. I've never held a pen or a pencil, in this room, not even to add up the scores. ... he says, "All right," and thrusts his roller-tip pen across the desk at me almost defiantly, as if taking a dare. I look around for something to write on and he hands me the score pad, a desk-top notepad with a little smile-button face printed at the top of the page. They still make those things.   I print the phrase carefully, copying it down from inside my head, from inside my closet. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Here, in this context, it's neither prayer nor command, but a sad graffiti, scrawled once, abandoned. The pen between my fingers is sensuous, alive almost, I can feel its power, the power of the words it contains. Pen Is Envy, Aunt Lydia would say, quoting another Centre motto, warning away from such objects. And they were right, it is envy. Just holding it is envy. I envy the Commander his pen. It's one more thing I would like to steal."
See also:
Margaret Atwood's Pencil on the Go

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