The Linguistics of Murder and How Words Shape Reality

When Offred thinks about how Luke killed the cat, she explains his ability to coldly kill the cat with linguistics: “I’ll take care of it, Luke said. And because he said it instead of her, I knew he meant kill. That is what you have to do before you kill, I thought. You have to create an it, where none was before. You do that first, in your head, and then you make it real” (192 – 193).  I thought this was a really interesting and subtle way to talk about objectification, especially since there is so much clear objectification throughout The Handmaid’s Tale. The handmaid’s are bodies, vessels, or wombs rather than people. The cat is a problem to be fixed rather than a beloved pet. The way people talk about things changes the reality and therefore the possibilities. If the cat is an “it” then she can be killed. If the handmaids are vessels, then only their physical health matters. The idea of the importance of how we talk about things seems especially poignant today when people complain about “politically correct” culture. This discourse of free speech being mutually exclusive with respectful knowledgeable speech ignores the ways in which language can be used to shape reality. This simple example in The Handmaid’s Tale shows just how dangerous that potential can be.

2 thoughts on “The Linguistics of Murder and How Words Shape Reality

  1. Even though it may seem obvious that the handmaid’s are treated as objects, your post points out the importance of this treatment. They are seen as nothing more than a means of production of future generations. When people think of the handmaids as nothing more than objects, then the treatment of them is not seen as horrific as it truly is. The autocratic system knows this, and they use it to exploit the handmaids.

  2. I think creating an “it” can dehumanize certain groups of people and give those with power the excuse to commit atrocities against the targeted group. Linguistics can also be used to manipulate people into devaluing certain groups. For instance, in The Handmaid’s Tale, the women are no longer referred to by their names, and instead, their new names imply that they are the possession of their commander. In this way, simply using the name “Offred” undermines the protagonist’s agency and gives men power over her. I think this concept of attributing names to certain people or groups also relates to the present day. In our society, people have adopted using racial slurs against minorities, and I think these slurs can unfortunately propagate implicit biases against these groups.

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