The Handmaid's Tale : Allusion to a Nursery Rhyme

spider_and_the_fly_parlour.JPG
When I was young, my mom used to read me a nursery rhyme. It was one of her favorites, and she read it to me countless number of times but I never really understood it. But there is one of those psychological things where if you hear something long enough, you memorize it, or atleast, come to recognize it. The nursery rhyme my mother read to me was called "The Spider and the Fly". I don't remember what the story was about, but the rhyme... the rhyme never really left my head. So when I read it - or a portion of it- in the Handmaid's tale, I knew what it was.

"Maybe it was a Parlour, the kind with spiders and flies" (89)
- Atwood

After reading this quote, please read the nursery rhyme below. Can you spot the similrities?


The Spider and the Fly A Fable

by Mary Howitt
“Will you step into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly;
“’Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many pretty things to show when you are there.”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”
“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the spider to the fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around, the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in.”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed.”
Said the cunning spider to the fly, “Dear friend, what shall I do,
To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
I have within my pantry good store of all that’s nice;
I’m sure you’re very welcome; will you please to take a slice?”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “kind sir, that cannot be;
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see.”
“Sweet creature!” said the spider, “You’re witty and you’re wise!
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”
“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you’re pleased to say,
And bidding you good-morning now, I’ll call another day.”
The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly would soon be back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing
“Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with the pearl and silver wing:
Your robes are green and purple; there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead.”
Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little fly,
Hearing his wily flattering words, came slowly flitting by.
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue;
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlor; but she ne’er came out again!
And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly

I am sure everyone read the poem, or had the poem read to them as a child.
I believe this allusion was planted in the novel to evoke a feeling of nostalgia regarding of childhood memories and nursery rhymes, when we were learning to talk, or maybe learning to comprehend what was really happening in the nursey rhyme.

Our feelings would then interact with Offred's feelings - the pain of losing her baby daughter, a daughter for whom Offred might have read this nursery rhyme to.