After spending two weeks in a monastic society, complete with monks, chanting and music, music, music, I thought I might be better able to comprehend the notion of grace. I thought wrong, of course, because I’m realizing there is so much more to it. I’m researching for an essay on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’m contemplating how the notion of grace, as defined by the lyrics–Atwood’s version of “Amazing Grace”– pertain to the novel.

The first research I conducted was to find out that the song was written by a slave trader named John Newton. Ah, Wikipedia. How did one exist without it?

Grace is broken down into two parts: actual grace and sanctifying grace. (There is a lot of reading here).

Atwood has messed with the lyrics of the song to portray Offred’s notion of oppression, and in a way, her idea of grace–I’m also thinking about sound/communication as a kind of grace, and grace as freedom–as Offred is said to have dictated the entire story onto tapes that were found later:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
Could save a wretch like me
Who once was lost, but now am found,
Was bound, but now am free.

and it should be:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

My idea is to put this all together somehow, someway, gracefully.

6 thoughts on “Grace

  1. my first question would be to ask whether or not the experience of Grace or the emotional sense of being in a state of Grace is open only to Christians.

  2. Thanks Anita.

    Ken: In the novel, the state and religion are one. Society is run purely as a Puritanical one. This is the paragraph after she sings the song in her head:

    “I don’t know if the words are right. I can’t remember. Such songs are not sung amymore in public, especially the ones that use words like free. They are considered too dangerous. They belong to out-lawed sects.” (54).

    There are also moments where I find Offred isn’t such a reliable narrator, and can’t rightly be, but I’m not sure if this is relevant to notion of grace.

  3. more on “grace”

    it seems that a state of grace is only open to beings who have souls.

    the lower animals, who are assumed not to have souls, can not experience grace in any Christian sense of this word.

    now think of slavery. did the owners of slaves think of their slaves as sub-human? beings without souls and therefore incapble of expereincing grace? was owning a slave also a way of civilizing that being? granting it a gateway in to God’s Kingdom?

    of course that relates to Atwood’s tale.

    (maybe this is all so obvious.)

    thanks for your post.
    it gave me something interesting to think about last night at work.

  4. Hmm, food for thought Ken,

    as far as the novel goes, I think that, although the handmaids are like slaves in one respect, they are not allowed to do anything–language/singing/reading– that might let them experience grace. There is an inherent fear on the part of the government that people might be free on their own? Of course, there’s more to it than that, but the colonizer/colonized plays an important role in Offred’s thinking.

    I think that Offred is her own/only salvation for actual and sanctifying grace through her experience and her story. And perhaps, even just by singing the song in her head she performs an act of grace?

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