“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
– Margaret Atwood, A Handmaid’s Tale
A Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood is a story about oppressive times brought on by an oppressive regime, in a fictional setting in Gilead. And when the narrator makes this observation as she unravels the situation that she is in, she makes this observation, “We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”It’s all the more poignant because women like the narrator, are not allowed to read or write. If something is to be communicated with them on paper, it has to be done through images. And yet, the narrator makes this observation. How? She remembers a time before the oppression. She remembers a time when books were not a luxury, not a forbidden pleasure, not a figment of imagination. They were taken for granted.
When I rediscovered this statement, I realized that if I were to ever be in a situation where I were to be deprived of books, to be one of those people who lived like a blank white space at the edges of print, like the women in Gilead, there would be no reasoning with me. I would never be able to consider myself free, no matter even if it let me live in the gaps of a dangerous society, without being noticed. It would just not do. It’s unthinkable.