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Conformity Argumentative Essay Topics

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : Extratextual References in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

There are three epigraphs that precede The Handmaid’s Tale. The first is a quotation from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, in which the story of the failure of a woman to bear children is mentioned. The second epigraph is from an essay by Jonathan Swift that tackles the issue of poor families raising multiple children. The third epigraph is an Islamic proverb. Together, these three epigraphs establish the tone and allude the thematic direction of the novel. By drawing from three distinct cultural and literary traditions with which the reader is probably familiar, Atwood effectively prepares the reader for entrance into a world that is wholly unfamiliar. The epigraphs serve not only as orienting and grounding references, but as guideposts to which the reader can return in order to discern and derive meaning in the text.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 The Importance of Names in The Handmaid’s Tale

Much that confronts the reader in Atwood’s science fiction tale of a dystopic future is likely to be unfamiliar. The reader has entered into a time and place where normal institutions, relationships, and social structures have been rendered strange and unrecognizable. One of the ways in which Atwood helps the reader establish himself or herself in this foreign territory is by paying close attention to the way in which she names the characters, their respective roles, and the places that they inhabit. By examining some of the names and the significance that they have, the reader can begin to understand how the characters represent certain desired and undesired social traits.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 : Creating a Sense of Place in The Handmaid’s Tale

One of Atwood’s strengths as a writer is creating a strong sense of place through vivid imagery. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood pays particular attention to conveying the sensory elements of the artificial and natural environments that the characters inhabit. Focusing on two of these environments—one wholly artificial and one natural—the reader recognizes how the thoughtful creation of physical place can reflect and convey important information about the theme and message of a text.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 : Complicity and Conformity in The Handmaid’s Tale

One of the many sad aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale is that the women who are subjected to abuse and oppression soon comply with the roles that have been assigned to them, both permitting and perpetuating abuse against and amongst themselves. Atwood is not particularly hopeful about women and power and agency as a means of changing the conditions in which they are trapped. Even Offred’s eventual escape from the strange and perverted system is more a function of luck than determined will. Paying particular attention to the ending of the novel, this essay will argue that Atwood wants to call the reader’s attention to the problems that women suffer, but that she offers no solution or hope for change.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5 : Religious References in The Handmaid’s Tale

Throughout The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood makes frequent references to religious images and religious imagery. Names of characters and other uses of language allude to religious figures and ideas in The Handmaid’s Tale. The names of society’s institutions reflect religious images and religious symbols, too. Atwood’s constant attention to the power of religious imagery and symbolism is used not only to provide a familiar reference point for the reader, but to critique the society in which there is little or no separation between church and state.

For a comparison of other novels by Margaret Atwood, be sure to look at the PaperStarter entry for “Alias, Grace” by the same author and with many common themes

This list of important quotations from “The Handmaid’s Tale” will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes from The Handmaid’s Tale alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.

“There was old sex in the room, and loneliness, and expectation, of something without a shape or name." (3)

“We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?" (3-4)

“The Angels…were objects of fear to us, but of something else as well." (4)

“In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Delores. Moira. June." (4)

“Sunlight comes in through the window too, and falls on the floor, which is made of wood, in narrow strips, highly polished. I can smell the polish…. Waste not, want not. Why do I want?" (5)

“There’s a lot that doesn’t bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last. I know why there is no glass…and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s the other escapes…." (6)

“I am alive, I live, I breathe, I put my hand out, unfolded, into the sunlight. Where I am is not a prison but a privilege…." (6)

“She’s in her usual Martha dress, which is dull green, like a surgeon’s gown of the time before. The dress is much like mine in shape… but…without the white wings and the veil." (7)

“I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure…." (22)

“Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead?…." (86)


Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2006.

Against Conformity

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"Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." – John F. Kennedy. When we allow ourselves to conform to what our friends, family or society asks of us, we lose the ability to grow into our own persons. Conformity, however, is more than just the 13 year old middle school girl wearing UGG Boots and an Abercrombie hoodie in order to fit in. It is more then only listening to the top 40 radio stations and watching American Idol so you have something to add to the conversation that your co- workers are having over stale, company supplied coffee. Conformity is a killer. It attacks the week and strangles them until their true self dies and a new person is created. This new person disregards all values they once held in high regard and will do anything to not be perceived as different. The funny thing about this killer is people are more than willing to give into his pressure in order to seem "normal". Sometimes it is easier to be obedient and do and feel as people say you should in order to avoid trouble. Sometimes it is easier to blend in to the crowd then to be crucified for being different. Why would anyone really want to be different? Society tells us different is bad. Different is weird. We are taught from the beginning that different is not what you want to be, it's not a safe bet. So people are willing to give in to the pressures of society in order to be "safe". People's willingness to give into conformity is shown in the literary pieces entitled "What is a homosexual?" by Andrew Sullivan and "Salvation" by Langston Hughes. Both show what great lengths people will go to in order to slide under the radar of public opinion and criticism.
In "Salvation" Langston Hughes describes an event in his childhood when he pretended to be saved by Jesus Christ in order to save his congregation more aggravation and trouble. At the age of 12 Hughes was called a sinner. He was placed on the mourners bench in his church with several other children who were about to be brought to "the fold". Hughes was told that he would "feel Jesus" in his soul, and he believed them because they were older and supposedly knew better.

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Conformity         Andrew Sullivan         American Idol         Middle School         Public Opinion         Homosexual         John F. Kennedy         Bench         Slide         Abercrombie        

He waited and waited but nothing. No bright light, no chorus of music, no bearded man in a white robe, only Hughes contemplating whether to stick it out or to just give up and conform like the other lambs. Hughes still didn't feel anything and after seeing that Westley had not been struck down by lightning for lying, he decided to cut his losses and head up to the alter with the rest of the children. Hughes deceived the congregation into believing that he had been saved when he was in fact the furthest thing from it. He was in fact more lost than ever. Hughes felt that if he did not pretend to be saved he would have been looked down upon by his congregation. He conformed in order to avoid confrontation and to make other people happy. He did not conform because he wanted to; he did it because he felt he had to. This caused Hughes complete loss of faith in religion forever.
Another example of conformity is shown in Andrew Sullivan piece entitled "What is a homosexual?" Sullivan discusses what it is like to have grown up as a homosexual. Sullivan states that a gay adolescents "survival depends upon self concealment". He goes on to say that "No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures." Society often simply tells us, heterosexual good, homosexual bad. Because of this, many homosexuals feel they must hide their true identity in order to be accepted. They will go to any length to disguise who they are and how they truly feel in order to be accepted. However society should not make homosexuals feel like they need to be something they are not due to the fact that being a homosexual is not a choice. Society pressures homosexuals to "act" like they are straight when in reality that is not who they really are. Our culture is so afraid of what they don't know or cannot understand that they force people of different sexual preferences to either be quite or conform. So that is what Sullivan did, he was quite and conformed to what society asked of him. He threw himself into his school work and never admitted to anyone that he was a homosexual. Sullivan also talks about "ultimate disguises". Some of these include the sports jock, the altar boy and the young conservative. Homosexual children will often go so far in their quest to hide who they truly are, that they change their personality so they are not discovered.
"Salvation" by Langston Hughes and "What is a homosexual" by Andrew Sullivan are very similar in many ways. Both took place during the writers adolescent time period, which is a very fragile time in a person's life. One may argue that most conformity occurs in the younger years because children are more naive and willing to please. Because children are so willing to do what adults and society say is right, they are sometimes left losing a part of their childhood that can affect them forever. Because the adults in Hughes life called him a sinner and forced him to feel something he did not he lost his faith in religion forever. Sullivan was forced to keep his sexual preference a secret for fear that he wouldn't be accepted by his peers. Both authors conformed to the pressures around them, Hughes pressure was his family, while Sullivan's was society.
We are all naturally afraid of rejection. No one wants to be socially rejected. Because of this fear we are so willing to conform in order to be accepted. We will do anything to be normal, even if it means losing our self. However some people have the strength to overcome the pressure to conform. These people don't have to be the punk rock kids that dye their hair green and listen to hard core rock music. Rather, these people have the strength to be who they truly are, and would not change just because someone says that they are different and weird. Being different is not weird, being different means that you have the strength to stare conformity in the face, then turn and walk away.

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