Infinitely Discardable

Finding validation in The Handmaid's Tale/


Recently, as I read Margaret Atwood's classic novel The Handmaid's Tale*, I came across the following passage where the protagonist, Offred, during a secret meeting with her master, comes into contact with a fashion magazine (which, in the world that this story takes place, were all supposedly destroyed ... the only reading that is permitted is from the Bible (of course), and only men are allowed to read from it):

"Staring at the magazine, as he dangled it before me like fish bait, I wanted it. I wanted it with a force that made the ends of my fingers ache. At the same time I saw this longing of mine as trivial and absurd, because I'd taken such magazine lightly enough once. I'd read them in dentists' offices, and sometimes on planes; I'd bought them to take to hotel rooms, a device to fill in empty time while I was waiting for Luke. After I'd leafed through them I would throw them away, for they were infinitely discardable, and a day or two later I wouldn't be able to remember what had been in them. 

"Though I remembered now. What was in them was promise. They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like the reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point. They suggested one adventure after another, one man after another. They suggested rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended, endless love. The real promise in them was immortality." 

When I read this, I thought, "Goddamn, I collect all of these old ass magazines—these ancient and forgotten relics from a bygone era—and in two paragraphs Atwood perfectly captures what these objects are to me, but also to others." 

To some, they are infinitely discardable. Content to be consumed and forgotten. Trash.

But to me, they are transcendent. They are immortal.

* Plot synopsis from Wikipedia: The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, originally published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian, Christian theonomy that has overthrown the United States government. The novel focuses on the journey of the handmaid Offred. Her name derives from the possessive form "of Fred"; handmaids are forbidden to use their birth names and must echo the male, or master, whom they serve.