A Handmaid’s Tale: The Critical Heritage
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Reception histories of an author’s work typically privilege the opinions of reviewers and critics: they present ‘the critical heritage’, to cite the title of one well-known series. Like literary histories in general, such collections and surveys do not record the responses of the culturally marginalized. Nor do they include responses expressed in pyschological and social transformations rather than in writing. Ironically, however, the socially marginalized and/or socially mobilized often dramatically alter history in ways that official histories obscure. In Frederic Jameson’s words, history is a ‘process of the reappropriation and neutralization … of forms which originally expressed the situation of “popular”, subordinate, or dominated groups’, with the result that there are innumerable silenced ‘utterances scattered to the winds, or reappropriated’ by the hegemonic order.1 Yet it is precisely these silenced utterances that constitute the seeds of historical change and the sites of historical struggle.
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