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International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences
ILSHS Volume 49

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Althusserian Reading of The Handmaid’s Tale

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Louis Althusser (1918-1990) builds on the work of Jacques Lacan to understand the way ideology functions in society. He thus moves away from the earlier Marxist understanding of ideology. In the earlier model, ideology was believed to create what was termed ‘false consciousness’, a false understanding of the way the world functioned. Althusser explains that for Marx “Ideology is [...] thought as an imaginary construction whose status is exactly like the theoretical status of the dream among writers before Freud. For those writers, the dream was the purely imaginary, i.e. null, result of the 'day's residues” (1971:108). Althusser, by contrast, approximates ideology to Lacan's understanding of reality, the world we construct around us after our entrance into the symbolic order. For Althusser, as for Lacan, it is impossible to access the real conditions of existence due to our reliance on language. This could be seen throughout the novel by Margaret Atwood who writes The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) based on the concept of ideology. This is about how the heroine of the story and other women in the society are manipulated by the ideology of ruling class through a communist society. In such a world nothing is real and everything is just an illusion that is made by ruling class. The subjects trapped or forced to believe such misconceptions and unreality through different techniques that are employed by the rulers. The dominant forces and ideology are so strong that the subject at the end gets a new identity since she is required unconsciously without her knowing. The other aspect shown by this novel is the failure of revolution and communism in this society and persistence of capitalism that it never disappears.


International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences (Volume 49)
M. Moradi and F. AzizMohammadi, "Althusserian Reading of The Handmaid’s Tale", International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, Vol. 49, pp. 83-91, 2015
Online since:
March 2015

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