The Handmaids Tale
Argumentative Essay on The Handmaids Tale
The handmaid’s tale is an imaginary novel written by Margaret Atwood a Canadian author. The novel was published in the year 1985 and was set in the New England where the Christian supremacist overthrows the United States government. The novel is a two faced or a double narrative reflecting on the night and other events, where a woman called Offred tells the story in the first person speech.
The first narrative is about the Offred’s tale that emphasizes that the female should adopt the possessive form of Fred and forbidden to use their birth names. And the handmaid’s tale that focuses on the lives of women and role in society. The book depicts many themes, but the most common ones are the gender, politics and religion. Gender is quite evident as women are seen to be treated discriminatively, with no rights and as immoral sex objects. Religion is depicted as a source of the government power that is theocratic. Another theme that is touched on in the novel is politics that has close ties with religion and power that is manipulated to control people. In the novel Offred describes the society she is in and how women are grouped into classes that are kept for reproduction purposes.
The novel consists of three major characters Offred who is the narrator of the novel and one of the women kept purposely for reproduction (Atwood 515). Serena joy a former evangelist and the wife of a commander who is described as infertile. The commander, a powerful member of the government believed to be behind the Offred narrative and very immoral. The novel setting divides women into classes. The handmaids are the fertile women who are only tasked to bear children for the wives of the commanders. The aunts are the ones that monitor and train the handmaids, the only class of women that are allowed to read and write in society. The Marthas are rather the older women in society and infertile holding high domestic skills. Another class of women is the Econowives that are women believed to have are married to low ranked men inn society and are thought to possess all domestic functions of a woman. The book has received discontent over the years due to its adult themes and explicit content, its depiction of a negative view of religion. This paper will discuss the themes of politics, religion and gender to analyze their role in presenting the tale as feminism.
The novel is based on theocracy meaning the state and the church are combined to form a government. Additionally, religious languages and the Old Testament that is also the source of justification for the characters in Gilead govern the society. Women have been used in the text to display the roles likened to the biblical ones, for example, Offred’s role as the handmaid is a biblical reflection of Rachael and Leah. The story showed how servants would carry on with adultery and allow the infertile women like Serena joy to have a family. Another scene of feminism displayed in religion when the commander is seen to recite some bible verses every morning to justify his immorality with other women to get children because of his wife’s infertility. The theme of religion has been dominated by feminism, because even the bible verses have been twisted to fit the theocracy of the state that is seen to be so rigid.
An example where it puts the aunts to pray words that are not in the bible just because they are not allowed to read, so they are not in a position to confirm. There are scenes of women linked to religion clearly displaying that the text brings out feminism. The issues of women not allowed to work or participate in any social or political activities in the pretext of protecting them from sexual exploitation as supported by religion is a lame excuse to deny women their freedom of speech and expression. There is another issue in the novel where religion and feminist meet, and this is childbirth and the claim that it did not require any anesthetics (Atwood 515). From these scenes, it is clear that the novel uses religion to portray conservative feminist practices.
The novel is a feminist one where women have been involved in political, religious and in gender issues like sexuality and gender roles. In the political sector, women bodies have been used as political instruments. To b begin with the government which was formed by the name Gilead as for the purpose of responding to the low birth rates. The United States government which was overthrown had a structure which was characterized by the religious trappings and the rigidity in its political hierarchy. The government as operating on the goal of controlling the reproduction through the use of the women. The goal of the state’s government was to control their birth rates in the country. The birth control was enhanced by their state’s government through an assumption of the complete control of the women bodies by use of political subjugation. The women in the state’s government were treated in a way that they remained dependent and submissive to their husbands and the state. Women could not vote, could not own property and they could not get jobs or education. Lacking such enablers of the life, women would react in accordance to their husband and will of the state (Blackford 261). Therefore they were treated as the bodies to achieve political desires of the politicians.
The Gilead pro-women rhetoric argued that subjugation led to the creation of the society where women were being treated as a subhuman. Despite that, women were reduced to their fertility where they were treated in no other was other than a set of the womb and ovaries. This can be evidently in one of the scenes in the novel, where off red lied on the bath and reflected that, before the formation of the Gilead government, she considered her body as an instrument of her desires where she was made of the flesh surrounding a womb where it had to be filled so as to be in a position to be useful. Gilead government was formed so as for deriving women out of the individuality so as to make women to be able to reproduce for the future generation (Blackford 261). This indicates that the women in the story were used by the politicians for the achievement of their political ideologies.
The novel comprised of the feminist movements, where in chapter 28, off red remembers her mother who was a passionate feminist. The off red mother was involved in the matching for the for the abortion rights, pornography banning, and other women issuers during the regime of the Gilead government. Offred was embarrassed by her mother’s feminist activity when she was young. Her mother used to lecture her for an act of being not grateful for her rights (Atwood 515). Where Offred was not aware that her right of owning property would have taken away if it were not for her mother.
Offred in the novel represents the feminism where she represents all women before the formation of the Gilead government. Before the Gilead government, she was not able to consider herself as a feminist. She had a fear that feminist will alienate her from the men in the society. She not accepting the feminism after witnessing her mother quarreling with Luke where her mother argued that she was involved in cooking due to feminism. Offred recognizes that women movement leads to forcing women to diagnose their natural isolation from men. The womanly leads to the creation of the alienation. This witnessed in the case where Offred losses her job and she is unable to request Luke whether she required a new order (Blackford 261).
Again, Atwood is recognized as a feminist writer. According to Atwood, she argued that that the thrilling that was perceived in the nature of the Gilead interviews was due to traditionalist and the feminist standpoint which is being practiced at the time when she wrote the novel. According to the Moira one of the novels mouthpiece, he argued that living with only men will be helping in solving problems that women were facing. In the society, most of the activities of Gilead regime was to provide for the women. Women can support each other at times of illness, delivery, and demise depicting their participation in helping each other. Women were involved in teaching each other during the Gilead government (Blackford 261). Women in the families worked together in fulfilling the femininity roles in the society.
To conclude, the novel has used the themes of religion, politics and gender to display feminism. Women characters play a major role in the religious forum and acting on the same to display their feminist abilities, there is a blend of religion and immorality where women are used to act biblically to bring out the immoral sides of humanity. Other scenes include women being used to perform sexual act perceived to be carried out for cleansing. In the political sector, feminism is played where women serve a role of sex objects of the powerful leaders and are used to give birth for the leaders. From the text, gender has been used to show feminist side of the novel, women have been classified in different categories depending on their abilities to give birth, work and their age. The novel is carefully constructed to tackle the feminist issue by blending in the three major themes of politics, gender and religion. And from the general view the novel is purely based on the feminist’s point of view.
Atwood, Margaret. “The Handmaid’s Tale And Oryx And Crake In Context.”? PMLA? 119.3 (2004): 515. Print. Neuman, Shirley. “Just A Backlash’: Margaret Atwood, Feminism, Handmaid’s Tale.”? University of Toronto Quarterly? 75.3 (2006): 863. Print.
Blackford, Holly Virginia. “The Psychology Of The Handmaid: Margaret Atwood’S Novel Parables Of The Possessed Canadian Character.”? AmeriQuests? 3.1 (2006): 261. Print.
Luke Impact On Offred's Life
It is only when everything one loves is taken away, that a person is able to appreciate what they once had. In the Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, the narrator must learn this the hard way. The novel takes place in a futuristic society, known as the Republic of Gilead.
This city was created after the United States Government had been overthrown and replaced by a totalitarian government. In this society, people have no choice in their role or power, especially women whose role is society is subjective and seemingly unimportant. When Offred, the narrator, tries to escape the collapsing former world, she is captured, separated from her family, and turned into a handmaid. Handmaid’s have the role of sleeping with Commanders in order to provide children to empowered, infertile parents. While Offred made several new influential relationships, non compared to one from her past life. Offred’s experience as a handmaid in Gilead was most influenced by Luke, her husband in the former republic. Luke holds a major impact on Offred’s choices, emotions, relationships, and outlook on life throughout the book.
Offred’s memories of her former life with Luke, often bring back waves of emotions that impact how she feels in her present life as a handmaid. When Offred was captured, she was separated from Luke and her daughter. Offred often worries about if they are alive and if she will ever be able to see them again. Not knowing if either is alive remained a great mystery throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story, Offred is walking through Gilead and witnesses hanging dead bodies on a wall. She wonders if any could be her husband, although she notices they are all marked as doctors. Offred describes the feelings they evoke, What I feel towards them is blankness. What I feel is that I must not feel. What I feel is partly relief, because none of these men is Luke. Luke wasn’t a doctor. Isn’t, (Atwood 33).
Offred doesn’t want to feel anything towards the dead bodies, because she knows it will not help her as she adjusts to her new life. However, she is extremely relieved that none of these men is Luke. This gives her hope that he may still be alive, along with their daughter. While she initially holds out this strong hope, you can see it dwindle as the story progresses. A bit later in the book Offred narates, Luke, I say. He doesn’t answer. Maybe he doesn’t hear me. It occurs to me that he may not be alive, (Atwood 74). The longer Offered is in Gilead, the harder it is for her to believe that she could ever successfully escape and find her husband again, who may not even be alive. Offred is motivated to stay alive and keep her cover, because there is always a chance of seeing Luke gain. Although, Offred is often discouraged by not knowing if Luke is even alive. The uncertainty of Luke being alive has a major impact on Offred’s emotions and actions throughout the novel.
Throughout the story, Offred reminisces several special moments from her life with Luke. These memories bring different emotions to the surface that Offred probably would not be experiencing otherwise. The feeling Offred desires the most is the love she had for Luke. In the present society, families are no longer made out of love, often exemplified by the Commander and Serena Joy who never show affection to one another. During one of Offred’s meetings with the Commander, she recalls what it was like to fall in love. Offred describes, Falling in love, I said. Falling into it, we all did then, one way or another. How could he have made such light of it?…It was the central thing; it was the way you understood yourself, (Atwood 225).
Offred remembered why falling in love was so special. Years prior, Luke was still married and they were having an affair. Luke had left his wife, because of his love for Offred. During this passage, the Commander had made light of falling in love. Offred scoffed at him, for making light of something that used to be so important to people’s relationships and lives. In another passage, Offred reflects on the comfort and safety she used to feel with Luke. She explains, So the hotels, with Luke, didn’t mean only love or even only sex to me. They also meant time off from the cockroaches, the dripping sink, the linoleum that was peeling off the floor in patches, even from my own attempts to brighten things up by sticking posters on the wall and hanging prisms in the windows, (Atwood 172). Offred explains how her relationship was even more than love and sex; it was about safety and comfort. Even in a hotel, a totally foreign setting, she had Luke to make her feel at home. Offred misses how Luke made her feel. She felt much safer with Luke, wherever they were, than she does in her current situation as a handmaid in Gilead. The loving relationship Offred had with Luke, reflects a healthy relationship that their child was born into. When Offred has to take part in a birthing ceremony of a handmaid, she compares what families were like in the old republic, to how they are now. You can understand Offred’s emotions as she described the ceremony and the newborn. Aunt Elizabeth, holding the baby, looks up at us and smiles. We smile too, we are one smile, tears run down our cheeks, we are so happy. Our happiness is part memory. What I remember is Luke, with me in the hospital, standing beside my head, holding my hand, in the green gown and white mask they gave him, (Atwood 126). Seeing the birth of a newborn baby brings Offred joy and optimism. She remembers what is was like to have a baby out of love, with Luke right there by her side the whole time. While babies in Gilead are no longer made out of love, Offred is still joyful when she remembers what life used to be like. Old memories of Offred’s life with Luke arise both cheerful and dismal emotions. Remembering the love and safety Luke provided causes Offred to resent her current situation, but also cherish what she used to have.
Some memories from Offred’s life prior to the overturn of the government, affect Offred’s current outlook on her life in Gilead and the society that surrounds her. Luke’s impactful role in Offred’s old life, often affects her thoughts and perspective. Some memories that Offred looks back on, cause her to recognize the lack of freedom she holds in her current role in society. Women in the former republic had many more rights, than women in Gilead, especially handmaids. Offred looks back on the simple liberties she used to have, like arguing with Luke or imagining their future together. Often describes, I’d like to have Luke here, in this bedroom while I’m getting dressed, so I could have a fight with him. Absurd, but that’s what I want. An argument, about who should put the dishes in the dishwasher, whose turn it is to sort the laundry, clean the toilet; something daily and unimportant … What a luxury it would be, (Atwood 200). Offred yearns for the ability to have unimportant arguments with Luke. She misses these simple freedoms in life that she no longer has. She reflects on what it used to be like to have such privileges throughout the novel. In another passage, she recalls what it was like to take such freedoms for granted. Offred explains, We used to talk about buying a house like one of these, … We would have children. Although we knew it wasn’t too likely we could ever afford it, it was something to talk about, a game for Sundays. Such freedom now seems almost weightless, (Atwood 23-24).
Offred continues to realize how many rights she used to take for granted. She is saddened by these memories that are now impossible for her to even consider. She calls the freedoms weightless; they were simple liberties Offred and Luke never thought they would have to go with out. Luke’s presence in Offred’s former life shows her what she must now go without. Along with many freedoms and rights, Offred must go without love. Offred longs for Luke and what it felt like to be in love. But this is wrong, nobody dies from lack of sex. It’s lack of loved we die from. There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I could love are dead or elsewhere, (Atwood 103). Offred recognizes that she is surrounded by foreign people who she do not know or care for. She misses having the people she loved in her life. Now she must live with the fear that those people may be gone forever, and she will die in solitude. Even if they are alive, Offred doesn’t think she would ever be able to find them. Her lack of ability to ever see the people she loves again, makes her doubt the chances of her finding happiness, especially in this new, forced society. It is Luke’s presence in Offred’s memories that causes her to realize the lack of of rights and abilities she is forced to live with as a handmaid.
For the most part, It is Offred’s past that makes her question her current life and society she lives in. Although in a more rare scenario in the novel, her present surroundings are what cause her to question parts of her past. As Offred observes many societal changes, she questions her relationship with Luke. Offred wonders, So Luke: what I want to ask you now, what I need to know is, Was I right? Because we never talked about it. By the time I could have done that, I was afraid to. I couldn’t afford to lose you, (Atwood 182). While most of the time Offered embraced (good) her loving relationship with Luke, she has a realization that causes her to bitterly question their relationship. Offred is reflecting on the rights she slowly began to lose as a women as the Republic crumbled to pieces. In the moment, Offred was concerned with not losing her husband. Looking back at the case scenario though, Offred wonders if Luke really cared about her rights being taken away or if he did not mind. Offred rarely thinks of her loved one in such a negative manner, but the changes that had been happening in society cause her to change her perspective on not just her present life but also her past.
Luke does not just have an impact on the emotions Offred feels and her outlook on her new life, he also influences the decisions she makes in Gilead. Luke causes Offred to miss the way things used to be and resent her current role in society. She aches for Luke and being a person who is worth something. Offred exemplifies this when she says, I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me. I want to steal something, (Atwood 97). Offred thinks these thoughts after the ceremony. She hates how powerless she is in her current life and misses having a valuable relationship. This loss of power causes her to go find something to steal so she can feel some sort of power and control. Offred continues to find ways throughout the story to feel some sort of the importance that she used to have with Luke in the old republic.
The relationships Offred forms in Gilead is heavily influenced by her former husband Luke and the mystery of if he is dead or alive. The more time she spends in Gilead, the more her faith dwindles. She aches for the love and compassion she used to know so well. When she is presented with the opportunity to feel this type affection again, she does not want to turn it down. Although, Luke’s presence in her mind makes her feel regretful for moving on. Offred first encounters this dilemma when Nick kisses her. Offred described, It’s so good, to be touched by someone, to be felt so greedily, to feel so greedy. Luke, you’d know, you’d understand. It’s you here, in another body…Bullshit, (Atwood 99). Offred does not want to admit to having feelings for anyone but her husband, Luke. After Nick kisses her, she tries to convince herself that Luke would be okay with it. She misses having a valuable relationship, unlike the forced one she has with the commander. Later in the book, Offred starts sleeping with Nick. Initially, the set-up is set up by Serena Joy, in hopes of helping get Offred Pregnant. The result is Offred sneaking off to see Nick regularly for pleasure.Offred narrates, And I thought afterwards: this is betrayal. Not the thing itself but my own response. If I knew for certain he’s dead, would that make a difference? I would like to be without shame. I would like to be shameless. I would like to be ignorant. Then I would not know how ignorant I was, (Atwood 263) Offred feels guilty for enjoying the love she feels when she is with Nick, when she doesn’t know the state of her husband. Offred feels guilty, but not guilty enough to stop seeing Nick. While she continues to enjoy the love she feels with Nick, Luke always has a presence in her mind, causing her to constantly feel apologetic.
Throughout the Handmaid’s Tale Offred’s life is impacted by many people. The Commander, Serena Joy, Nick, and her daughter are all great influences on her emotions and daily actions. Although, it is her former husband Luke that is the most influential person in her new life in Gilead. During the novel, Offred’s memories and thoughts regarding Luke, influence her emotions, choices, relationships, and outlook on her life. Memories of Offred’s former life with her husband bring back waves of different emotions that cause her to resent her current role in society, but appreciate the life she used to have. These memories are also impactful, because they make Offred aware how poorly she is treated in her current society. She loathes the life she has, because she remembers what it was like to have even simple rights and liberties. She is often reminded of how powerless she is in her current position. Offred recalls how appreciated she felt when she was with Luke. She misses being a valued person in her home and in society. Offred makes choices throughout the story, that relefect on her want for the power that she used to have. Luke’s presence in Offred’s mind has a major impact on how Offred feels, views and pursues life. He is not just impactful when Offred is choosing a way to obtain a feeling of power, but he is influential when Offred is seeking the feeling of love. Offred deeply misses the love, compassion, and comfort she had with Luke. When she is presented with the opportunity to feel any part of this type of relationship again, she does not want to turn it down. Luke’s presence in Offred’s mind does not stop her from forming a relationship with Nick, but it creates a deep feeling of guilt that Offred must live with. There are many ways in which Luke is able to influence Offred’s life as a handmaid without him physically being there with her. Even in his absence, Luke has the greatest effect on many of the emotions, decisions, and perspectives Offered has.
Oppressed Women In Handmaid's Tale
Handmaid’s Tale written by Margaret Atwood shows us unique aspects about the women who live in Gilead, the two different types of women in which Atwood mentions are unique, which are the Handmaids and the Martha’s. These two different groups of women are not allowed to read because Gilead imposes a illiteracy on the female population. Both removal of language and prescription of phrases are similar to newspeak in 1984 and the hypnopedia teachings in Brave New World. The women of Gilead have unique aspects about themselves especially the Handmaid’s.They are not allowed to read books, and by doing so this gives them a benefit of not rebelling against the commander and even the government, another way this gives the Handmaids a benefit of not being able to read is that they can be told what to do and they will do it. less talking and learning and more working.A quote from this would be : Blessed be the fruit…May the lord open.
( Atwood, 19) this quote right here is from the bible and it is saying that the handmaids are there just to make babies, whatever condition the handmaids are in the commander and his wife would not care but all they want is a healthy baby, and in the quote the fruit is symbolising the fetus and they want god to bless them. The novel also mentions prescription of phrases, they are allowed to mention and listen to certain phrases such as May the lord open (Atwood,19).
Once in awhile they have meetings; and during these meetings they read certain passages from the bible about Rachel and Leah and they just tell them that reproduction is very important. The people of Gilead are oppressed from reading and writing, but they have also been limited to where and what they could talk about: Washroom, I said. Watch the clock. End stall, two-thirty. ( Atwood, 71) this shows us the reader that they are always being watched and only talk about certain things, this may be because they are being brainwashed into thinking this is what they are made for and nothing else, and in this quote we know that Offred and Moira have to sneak into the bathroom and talk about whatever they want.
In the dystopian society in the Handmaid’s Tale they suffer from many types of suppression and one of them is the freedom of reading and writing, the lock and key is something that only the commander can touch because the the books are always locked in his office and you have to have a key to open this, and in this society the handmaids are oppressed and can not have nice things: On the fourth evening he gave me the hand lotion, in an unlabeled plastic bottle. (Atwood, 157) this shows the reader that she is not used to having basic nice things such as hand lotion. the Handmaid’s are just essentially just a womb with legs, the women of Gilead are oppressed because the men of the society think they are submissive and they need to be put into their place and this is why there are caste systems for the women population, since each woman is separated they can not do much and this gives the men in the society some type of peace, another reason why there is illiteracy on the female population is because the men want to be on top and show dominance.
Handmaids Tale Literacy Analysis
In the story, The Handmaid’s Story by Margaret Atwood the city of Gilead debilitates ladies from multiple points of view. Compelling sex upon them, anticipating that they should deal with their life partner and family, and giving them next to zero political power. All through the novel she explicitly indicates instances of the poor treatment of ladies.
“Would I be able to be reprimanded for needing a genuine body, to put my arms around? Without it I also am immaterial. […] I can stroke myself, under the dry white sheets, in obscurity, however, I also am dry and white, hard, granular; it resembles running my hand over a plateful of dried rice; it resembles snow. […] I resemble a room where things once occurred and now nothing does, aside from the dust of the weeds that grow up outside the window, blowing in as residue over the floor.” In The Handmaid’s Story, the disheartening of ladies was a typical thing. Ladies were dealt with more like items than people. The city of Gilead stripped ladies of all statuses of their rights, compelling them to live out existences of bondage. Offred the principle character in the book is a women’s activist and can’t help contradicting government. “This is the sort of touch they like: people workmanship, obsolete, made by ladies, in their extra time, from things that have no further use. An arrival to conventional qualities. Squander need not. I am not being squandered. For what reason do I need?” She analyzes the lady of Gilead to craftsmanship pieces. There used to be a point in time where the ladies weren’t dealt with so inadequately and really had a job in the public eye. Things used to resemble how America is today where the two ladies and men are equivalent. Be that as it may, starting at now in the novel The Handmaid’s Story the city of Gilead dispenses with all the opportunity and rights a lady ought to have in the public arena.
In The Handmaid’s Story, the general public controls the ladies to debase themselves and please the legislature by respecting his requests of what he needs them to do with their bodies and not what God needs them to do. The ladies are looked down on by men since they should submit to them and are utilized to just delight a man. Anyway, there were ladies who battled against the administration like Offred, she was a women’s activist and gone to bat for herself and in addition the other ladies.
Gilead was not generally a controlling locale but rather once over tossed by a gathering of that represented aggregate control things changed. The new gathering of men implemented controlling laws over ladies that caused a debilitation. The administration at that point takes control of everybody, making Gilead to a lesser degree a vote based in America. The past law was totally changed removing rights and opportunity of residents particularly ladies. The greater part of the men are totally in concurrence with the change and bolster the administration’s treatment of ladies. Notwithstanding when the administrator appreciated Offred in spite of the fact that she is a women’s activist, she ensured that ingrained into her head that he had full authority over her. There was no getting away dampening.
In the present society, ladies have comparable jobs to those of men. They work, accommodate their families, and are viewed as equivalent to men. In The Handmaid’s Story, ladies are useful for bearing youngsters for the “commanders” they were a greater amount of a question a man than them really being their better half. In The Handmaid’s Story, the general public is reclaimed to when ladies had no rights and were seen increasingly like a man’s property that would be accommodating to the majority of their better half’s needs. The handmaid’s’ jobs in the novel are far more atrocious than the previous occasions as a “housewife.” When the handmaids end up insubordinate, they could be executed or left in the no man’s land of what used to be America. In the present society, ladies don’t need to comply with a man’s directions, circumstances are different. The debilitation of ladies was a political instrument that was utilized profoundly by men.
Despite the fact that the city of Gilead had a great deal of women’s activist battling for them they were as yet treated simply a protest instead of an individual with rights. They are seen as sex toys. A key minute in the book is when Offred states “My exposure is peculiar to me as of now. [ ] Did I truly wear swimming outfits, at the shoreline? I did, without thought, among men, without minding that my legs, my arms, my thighs and back were in plain view, could be seen. Despicable, forward. I abstain from looking down at my body, not so much since it’s disgraceful or indecent but rather on the grounds that I would prefer not to see it. I would prefer not to take a gander at something that decides me so totally”. She was in the bath and begun thinking back, she was recollecting how before Gilead, her body was impeccable to her and no one else’s sentiment made a difference. The city of Gilead made ladies have a craving for only sex toys and child transporters so as to enable the cutting edge to come.
“There are other ladies with crates, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and modest and hold back, that stamp the ladies of the poorer men. Econowives, they’re called. These ladies are not separated into capacities. They need to do everything; on the off chance that they can.” The legislature actually isolates ladies from whatever remains of society. The legislature gets so terrible and slops that they even begin isolating the ladies from each other. Ladies were never again to try and speak with unmarried men. This made life considerably harder on the ladies of Gilead. “I said there was more than one method for living with your head in the sand and that if Moira figured she could make the Perfect world by quiet herself down in a ladies just enclave she was tragically mixed up. Men were not simply going to leave, I said. You couldn’t simply overlook them.” Not enabling ladies to speak with men wouldn’t remove the way that men still existed it would simply make it increasingly troublesome for the ladies to converse with them and work with a man without getting rebuffed. They were just in the general public to entirely have intercourse just with men. This shows how strict the sexual orientation division rules had moved toward becoming in the city. The blessed messengers are not permitted to look or converse with the ladies any longer. The holy messengers were compelled to remain outside the rec center backs looking toward us. Offred needed the holy messengers to take a gander at her. The watchmen aren’t permitted inside the building Offred is held in. This segregated the people significantly more.
In end in The Handmaid’s story, they represented people to make men ground-breaking and have a sense of responsibility for and grab their rights and in addition their opportunity. ladies were compelled to give their bodies away to men for their pleasure and to give them the kids they need. There were ladies who battled against the administration who were marked as women’s activist and they attempted to ensure and recover the rights and opportunity of a ladies.
Symbolism of Freedom in The Handmaid's Tale
Symbolism of Freedom in The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, is written through a lens that entails a nightmare of inequality, oppression, violence, and ignorance towards women resulting in the loss of freedom for women. This is presented through a dystopian society, the republic of Gilead, where freedom for women is restricted because of the new Christian government’s extreme policies. In this ultra conservative theocracy, woman are stripped of their past lives in which they had the freedom of choice as they became controlled by a higher power in which they lost the right or ability to live their lives free of control.
The symbolism of freedom drives the novel as it transforms the society into a state of oppression for all women, especially the handmaids.
In the Republic of Gilead, a revolution takes place in which women are given specific roles in the society such as handmaids, wives, econowives, martha, or aunts and these such roles become their purpose for living. Women who can produce and bear children become handmaids resulting in the loss of the prior freedoms they once had as they are forced to become the property or possession of a military commander and his wife in which the handmaid’s sole purpose is to produce and bear healthy babies for their commanders. Once this revolution has taken place, women’s rights become minuscule. For example, women’s bank accounts are frozen, prohibiting them from the rights to access and use their money for their own personal gain, and the husbands are granted full sole access to the accounts and money.
The protagonist of the story is a handmaid called Offred, as she is robbed of the freedom of her name and renamed to signify her status as a possession to her commander. As a possession, handmaids lose their freedom to own their bodies in the way that they become the property of their commander and are treated as possessions to men resulting in the oppression of women as they become victims of sexual assault and violence as they are forced have sex and bear children with men that they do not love. These childbearing laws were a key aspect in the restriction of women, Fear of rape shapes women’s behavior from girlhood, restricting their movement and limiting their freedom.(Violence Against Women p. 492).
The Gilead society defends this violence, sexual assault, and loss of freedom to the higher power by claiming that conditions for women prior to the revolution were worse. This violence held a higher effect on women, … it is a label that appears to strip us of dignity, to deny that there has been any integrity in the relationships we are in (Violence and Intimacy pg. 503). Even in our society, the effect of violence and sexual assault holds much more ground in the way that it alters a woman’s dignity in the way that it strips woman of the ability to trust a person of the opposite gender which influences future relationships for all.
In the Gilead regime, woman lost their freedom and rights to male power and gender inequality in the way that women were denied their rights to an education, voting, chances to work for pay, and holding property. Instead, handmaids were forced to move into their commanders home and their lives transform into a restrictive, repetitive regime as they are robbed of all freedom in the way that apart from their roles in society, handmaids were confined to their bedrooms that resembled cells and lost the freedom to have personal belongings. Handmaids lived a restrictive life of confinement and as they were only granted the opportunity to leave the house to do shopping, childbearing ceremonies, and executions of the women. If a handmaid were to choose to not cooperate, she was to be robbed of the freedom to live and be hanged to be executed. A woman could be executed if they were to be caught deviating from the set laws defined by the anarchy of the revolution.
During this revolution, the women are consistently watched and spied on by the eyes, angels, and guardians whose main job was to keep women to cooperate and identify those who were not, The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers. If either of us slips through the net because of something that happens on one of our daily walks, the other will be accountable(29). This restricted women from doing anything that did not fall under the guidelines of their set role description in the society, resulting in the terror of every woman to follow these set rules.
An important contribution to the loss of freedom of women and resulting oppression was the misuse of power and control by the higher power. This misuse of power created a society where gender equality did not exist and women became tools to to be used by the more powerful male gender. Males were placed on a pedestal in society as women are forced to suffer as victims of control under men. The male gender then proceeds to misuse this level of power over women and treat women as their property or possession with the intent of using then just for their personal gain.
Throughout the book, Offred is highlighted as one of the women that is most trapped by this control of hierarchy. This is partly due to that she is unable to get pregnant with her commander, even though it is Fred that is infertile, not Offred which could lead to her own personal demise. When Fred’s wife, Serena Joy becomes aware of this, she secretly arranges for Offred to sleep with Nick, a guardian serving Fred so that she may become pregnant. Following this secret arrangement, Offred and Nick begin to continue their secret affair. Nick proposes an offer to Offred that she may be granted limited freedom like reading in exchange for a kiss at the end of each meeting, which could lead to her execution if discovered by one of the aunts. Although Offred was being granted limited freedom, it did not come freely. During this time, the handmaid’s learned that their only aspect of freedom was their thoughts and the quiet conversation they could have when no one was watching, “We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semi darkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space (10).
Throughout the entirety of the novel, the symbolism of freedom places a large role in shaping this society into an ultraconservative theocracy. This in turn, transforms this theocracy into a society where women, especially handmaids, fall victim to oppression through the misuse of power and hierarchy of men over women. Women are forced to succumb to the pressure of men as the high power and serve as slaves to their needs as they turn into property or possessions of men as they become victims of rape, sexual assault, and control. This regime could also be related to today’s society in the way that many women fall victim to male dominance, When we say that harassment isn’t about sex but about power, we mean that some people gain a sense of control and power by making others feel out of control and powerless (Sexual Harassment pg. 201). Women are forced to accept these restrictions and give up their rights to read, write, own property, work for pay, and anything that would allow them the freedom to live theirs lives as they please. This creates a world where the only freedom the handmaid’s have is the freedom of thought as the eyes, aunts, and guardians are unable to restrict this, although they demonstrate the power to influence thought.
Identity And Female Power In The Handmaids Tale
Television has played an integral role in globalizing the world and shaping the thoughts, ideas and perspectives of the people in it. Many argue that television generalizes women in a sexualized and objectified way, portraying them as subordinate humans that are dependent on men, all while being sexualized and stereotyped to unrealistic standards of character and body type. Television often objectifies women as mindless and incompetent in comparison to men in television.
While television has developed and created more roles where women are seen as powerful and impactful, there are still times where women are characterized in a stereotypical manner. The TV series The Handmaid’s Tale is a unique case because it creates a world where women appear to be victims to the dystopic world they live in, while at the same time holding a great deal of power over men and the society. It is a story about the ways in which women are oppressed in a society run by men for their own benefit, and about howcertain womentake advantage of the situation to ally themselves with male power for personal gain (Schwartz, 2017).
Now, imagine a world where all women have no rights, and are, in a sense, slaves to the high-powered men in charge of the government. A society where a woman’s place is cemented in whether or not she can bear a child. Women who can have a child become surrogates for the wealthy and powerful families who can’t. The Handmaid’s Tale is a Hulu original television series based off of the 1985 best-selling novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. The dystopian science fiction series creates an alternate reality set in the future where women are stripped of their rights and turned into servants of society. Men are superior to women, and the regime kills gay people, abortionists, and anyone who protests their version of what society should look like. Due to the new laws created by the Sons of Jacob, women are supposed to stand by the side of their husbands. Set in a dystopic society referred to as the Gilead Regime, the show is centered around main character Offred. Offred, formerly known as June, is separated from her husband and daughter, and later becomes a handmaiden to the very powerful Commander Waterford and his wife Serena Joy. She is now subjected to life as a handmaiden because she is one of the few fertile women left in society.
Each month, Offred partakes in a monthly ceremony where The Commander rapes her while his wife watches on, in an attempt to get her pregnant. Offred becomes the centerpiece in the rebellion against the regime, taking on the powerful men who rule in Gilead. Offred is a symbol of female power as she fights against the world that’s been created for her. Through all she experiences, Offred never loses sight of her past, holding onto her old identity which helps shape her into the powerful female character she becomes. The Handmaid’s Tale is a vivid expression of female power and identity and how it can contribute to the shape and construct of society.
Throughout the show, the audience sees Offred trying to maintain her old identity while keeping up her with her new identity and new life. Before she was Offred, she was June Osbourne. June was a mother, a wife, and an employed woman who had an independent life and created a merit of her own in society. In season one episode three, in the episode titled Late, all of the women in June’s office are fired, and later in the day June is informed that she no longer has access to her bank account because it is now controlled by her husband. As the women are all leaving their office having just been fired, they see guards with guns at the door and lining the streets. This signified the beginning of the uprising and the start of the new regime. Throughout the series, the show rewinds to times in June’s life between her being fired and becoming Offred. Offred doesn’t want to forget her old life, as she had a husband and a child. Now, in her new role as handmaid, she must bear the child of the powerful Commander Waterford. The Gilead regime creates an identity for the handmaids, taking away who they once were and creating them into someone different. Offred tries to hold on to her memories of who she once was, including her husband and child, but her memories fade as the regime pushes her further and further away from her past identity. The handmaid’s lack of connection with others in the outside world creates another part of their lacking identity, because the only people they really spend a lot of time with are the families they are assigned to be a part of. Offred’s lack of satisfying social interaction impedes her development of her sense of self in the regime. Offred also fails to maintain her identityto structure a sense of self, to connect with others, and to actbecause in Gilead even apparent forms of resistance or attempts to create, maintain or grasp an identity frequently turn into complicity with the regime. (Stillman & Johnson, pg. 75) Handmaids are forced to not have an identity besides the one created for them because the only identity that matters is the one created by the regime. Any attempt to connect with who they once were or try to develop an identity outside the lines, is seen as a resistance to the regime and a rebellion against it. Within this vortex of fear and vulnerability, this contrast of blank time and intense interactions with powerful, inscrutable individuals, the Handmaid ultimately fails to maintain her identity. (Stillman & Johnson, 1994, p. 74) Offred is able to use her old identity to help shape her new identity. She takes aspects from her past life to help her develop into her new role as a handmaid. While holding onto pieces of the past, she must fully become Offred in order to stay alive.
When June is captured while trying to flee to Canada, she becomes a handmaid and is given her new name; Offred. Offred is the name she is given by the family she is assigned to. It means Of-Fred, Fred being the name of Commander Waterford. Each handmaid is given a name like this, others including Ofglen and Ofwarren. Their new names signify who they belong to, meaning Offred belongs to Fred, and Ofglen belongs to Glen, and so on. This parallels to slavery in the 1800’s, where slaves were given names that turned them into property. Many aspects of Offred’s life are clear parallels to the enslavement of African Americans. She required a special pass or permission to leave the house, she was forbidden from reading or learning, and she is repeatedly raped by her Commander in order to conceive a child for him. Offred endures domestic slavery and forced sex?”?hardships that are strikingly similar to those experienced by non-white women in much higher numbers throughout history, and in various parts of the world still today (Cottle, 2017). Her identity in the show is based around what she is or isn’t allowed to do. In the series, the audience sees transitions between Offred’s old life and her new life. Each episode of the show gives new information about who Offred used to be, and the audience is able to see how it shaped her into who she is now. This helps the audience continue to develop her identity as a character, and shows more of the theme of identity in the show. ‘These shifting reminiscences offer glimpses of a life, though not ideal, still tilled with energy. creativity. humaneness and a sense of selfhood, a life that sharply contrasts with the alienation. slavery, and suffering under totalitarianism” (Feuer, pg. 86) While the audience is seeing more and more of Offred’s past life and learning more about her old identity, Offred is drifting further away from her old life and getting deeper into her new one. Offred ‘s rebuilding of a self all but obliterated by the pain of her experience and the necessity of forgetting in order to survive. She must create. or recreate, herself after having been “erased” as a person (Feuer, pg. 90). Offred’s transition into being a handmaid is more of a struggle for her because she had a life before becoming a handmaid. Future handmaids and members of the society will have an easier time transitioning into the roles they are set to be a part of, as they will not have any life outside of what the regime teaches them. By using parts of her past self as June in her development of her identity as Offred, she blends her two senses of self which lead to her growth and development as a powerful female character and a powerful female in within the Gilead regime.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a strong representation of female power, feminism and sexuality. Offred is able to use her power as a woman and her sexuality to her advantage in her relationship with The Commander. Offred knows that she is a desirable woman. She knows and sees that The Commander is interested in a relationship with her outside of her being the family’s handmaid. Offred was put into the handmaid role in the new society because she is able to have children. She knows that in the family dynamic, she holds a lot of power because she could potentially carry the child of The Commander that his wife, Serena Joy, so desperately wants. Offred is portrayed as a victim, but also someone who holds a great deal of power in her situation. The Commander frequently invites her into his study to play Scrabble, something he can’t do with his wife. The Commander is interested in Offred’s mind and her ability to play and compete with him in Scrabble. In Offred’s past life, she was a well-educated woman, so this part of her new life comes from what she was able to learn in the old society before it became the new society. Her power in this situation stems from her mind and she uses it to get gifts and favors from The Commander in exchange for her time with him. Offred later on has a private intimate relationship with The Commander, which breaks all of the laws put into place about handmaids and their relationships with their Commanders. Offred and The Commander are never supposed to be alone together, and they are only supposed to be intimate during the ceremony each month while the wives watch on. Offred knows that she is breaking the law, but she sees The Commander enjoys her company and uses it to her advantage to get information from him as well as special treatment, while showing how she uses her power as a female over a man.
Commander Waterford is an example of a man who feels powerless to a woman’s power. The Commander repeatedly rapes Offred in the monthly conception ceremony, and uses Offred’s daughter, who she thought was gone, as a bargaining chip in order to get what he wants. In spite of the multiple rapes and the lies that Waterford and the other men in Gilead use to maintain control over women, the most powerful weapon they have is turning the women against each other. When Commander Waterford finds out about the music box his wife gave to Offred as a gift, he realizes that Serena Joy and Offred are starting to form a relationship. In season two episode eight, in the episode titled Women’s Work, the Commander beats Serena Joy in a show of dominance that also serves to humiliate her in front of Offred, who he forces to watch. He beats her because she went behind his back and did a favor for Offred. Commander Waterford feels threatened by the two women’s developing friendship because he doesn’t want them to become close. The Commander fears that if Serena Joy and Offred become close, they will continue to go around him and do things to disobey him. Commander Waterford also fears their friendship because before Gilead, Serena Joy was an author who wrote a book titled A Woman’s Place. In a series of flashbacks, Serena Joy and Commander Waterford are shown as having a large role in the creation of Gilead. Serena Joy was once an impassioned woman with conservative views on woman’s rights, which she details in her book, saying that a woman’s duty in the world was to bear children and stand by their husband’s side. Once Serena Joy realizes that her future child won’t be protected under the new laws, she decides to fight back against the regime to try and get women the right to read the Bible, which she loses a finger for advocating for. This scene, which occurs in season two, episode thirteen titled The Word, Serena Joy finally transforms into a powerful character after being suppressed by her husband and society.
While not obvious, the use of female sexuality is also prominent in The Handmaid’s Tale. Women are forced to dress very modestly, adorning long dresses with sleeves, meant to take any sexual appeal they have away from them. Women also must cover their heads in order to appear as invisible as possible. In Gilead, they get rid of anything that remotely represents anything sexual, including pornography and revealing clothing. The regime executes gays and lesbians, unless the women are fertile and can be used as handmaids. In Gilead, they also execute abortion doctors because Gilead’s rule is based on the Bible which outlines the woman’s place as a child bearer. Sexuality is meant to be concealed, but Offred is able to use hers when she is alone with Commander Waterford, as it gives her a small feeling of power over him. She also recognizes and acknowledges her enjoyment of her own small exercises of power, however ignoble: her slight power not only over the Commander, because he wants something from her, but over his wife, whom they are deceiving. She comes to understand that the Commander craves some unspoken forgiveness for the conditions of her life and that to bestow or to withhold forgiveness is a power as well as a temptation (Neuman, 863). This small power grab gives Offred the feeling of being in control in sexual situations with the Commander, as well as an unspoken feeling of power over Serena Joy, because she is the one who is sleeping with her husband and she is the object of the Commander’s affection.
The Handmaid’s Tale, in later episodes, brings into light the power of confidence and self-actualization. Gaining her confidence from her small acts of rebellion, Offred realizes that she must stand up for herself, for what she believes in, and for what she feels is right. Offred begins to support the secret female rights movement called Mayday, and starts searching for ways to escape Gilead with her daughter. Soon after, when all handmaids are ordered to stone Janine, formerly Ofwarren, to death, Offred refuses to do so despite what the consequences may be, which inspires the other handmaids not to stone Janine. These acts demonstrate that sensing the need of time, Offred turns out to be a brave female who knows how to get what is hers. On the other hand, Offred is not the only female character in the show that demonstrates power and strives to break the chains that Gilead has placed on them. In season one episode seven, titled The Other Side, through a series of flashbacks to June’s attempted escape and after her capture, the audience sees many details the life of June’s husband, Luke. In this episode, the audience is introduced to Zoe, who is an ex-Army doctor who is fleeing Gilead and helping others do so as well. Her brave personality is the opposite of what the Gilead regime would want her to be. Such portrayals of Offred and other strong women show that women have the power to fight back and speak for what they believe in.
The Handmaid’s Tale creates a far-off, futuristic society where women are stripped of their rights and turned into child bearers. While the concept is dystopian, the themes of identity, sexuality, and female power are still visible, even in a society where women aren’t meant to have any of them. The show supports female empowerment and the strive for equality among genders, and how women in Gilead fight back against oppression and objectification by their government. The women become of themselves, coming into their own as women instead of a property of another. At surface level, The Handmaid’s Tale appears to be a sexist, anti-feminist television show. Upon analysis, the many instances of female power, identity, and sexuality show that the series wants women to fight back when put into situations where they’re not meant to. The show later turns into a rebellion against the dystopian society, with the women and other characters trying to take down the society that has taken away who they once were. While the future of the fictional society is not yet revealed, the development of the themes continues throughout the show, pushing the boundaries of identity, sexuality, and power in dystopic, disturbing ways, making The Handmaid’s Tale an anti-feminist, feminist work of art.
The Handmaid's Tale: Novel About Totalitarian Government
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a novel that about a totalitarian government in the Republic of Gilead that takes over the United States because the United States was experiencing low levels of reproduction. Gilead is led by the power of males. Women are oppressed and have no power or say in things.
The sole purpose of many females is to reproduce. The novel is told through the eyes of Offred. Offred is a handmaid like many others who are there to reproduce for those of the upper class who are having trouble reproducing on their own. Offred is in the control of the commander and his wife Serena Joy. Serena Joy is an advocate for traditional values and roles. Before Offred was a handmaid, she lived a life that did not necessarily reenact traditional values and roles. Every month, when Offred is in the right stage of her menstrual cycle, she must have sex with the commander while his wife Serena is in the room. Offred like many other women have very restricted freedom and rights. Very seldom is Offred able to leave the house. Offred is constantly watched by the police force of Gilead. Throughout the novel, we can understand women, gender, and sexuality.
In Gilead, women are broken into five main categories: wives, handmaids, aunts, marthas, and econowives. Wives are upper-class women who are married to men who hold power within Gilead. Wives wear blue dresses to indicate the meaning of virgin Mary. Handmaids are those who are fertile and able to reproduce. Handmaid’s are used for one purpose and one purpose only, their body. Handmaid’s are oppressed in many ways within society. Women are not allowed to vote, read, or write. The idea is that women are not to become independent or become rebellious to the state or men. Handmaid’s wear red to indicate their fertility. Red symbolizes menstrual blood and is seen for the color of sin. Aunts are those who train handmaid’s. Aunts are to keep the order of the handmaid’s and are instilled to use force when needed. Aunts wear brown. Marthas are older women who are not married and are infertile. Marthas make great servants to the upper-class because they carry on many of the domestic roles such as cleaning and cooking. Marthas wear green.
Lastly, econowives are those who are married to men who are lower in rank. Econowives do everything such as child bearing, domestic duties, and give comfort to their spouses. Econowives wear blue, red, brown, and green because they do everything. Although these women have different roles within society, at the end of the day, they all share the same burden. Women are restricted to their home and perform the same domestic duties. Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary (33). With Gilead being a totalitarian government with strict rules, people forget that there is a possibility of a different life. Instead, people confine to the strict rules of the government and accept what is happening as a new normal. In Gilead, women are not diverse. Women are not powerful, heroes, courageous, intelligent, and brave. Although women could be all those things, they are only seen for one purpose and that is it. Women accept that they have no voice or power within society. Women accept their domestic roles and choose to abide by the rules of society.
Gender plays an important role within the society of Gilead. Men are the only ones with a voice and power. Men are the only ones who can hold jobs and have status within society. The only job of a women is to please her husband or to reproduce. I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping (73).
Women are dehumanized within the society of Gilead. Offred use to be proud of her body. Offred use to enjoy her body and the things it was able to bring her or do for her. Now, unfortunately, Offred no longer enjoys her body as it no longer serves the same purpose as it used to before she went under the regime of Gilead. Offred has accepted the fact that she no longer servers a purpose other than her body. She is now a cloud where people see right through her. The only purpose her body has is to hold the life of a child in her womb. We can see the importance of gender within Gilead. Men are the light of Gilead. Women would be nothing without the man that stand beside them. Men are in power and women are obedient to their masters.
In Gilead, women are taught and brainwashed to believe that any negative thing that happens in relation to sex is their own fault. Women who are infertile of suffer from a miscarriage do not have a disease, instead, they are full of sin. A woman who is raped is not offered sympathy. Janine, a handmaid told her story of being gang raped at the age of 14. Janine learned quickly that she needed to bury and hide the pain she felt from that. But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger. Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison. Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us. She did. She did. She did. Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson (72). A woman who is raped is instilled to believe that it was her fault. Being a victim is not an option. In turn, women are to believe that they were raped for god to teach them some sort of a lesson. Additionally, the women are not to show empathy to other women because society wants the women to turn on each other. There are no relationships. Women have no sexuality in Gilead. Women have no lust or love towards men or anymore. Women learn to have no empathy. Women are stripped of their dignity and must come to terms with the fact that their sole purpose within this society is to please men.
The Handmaid’s Tale givens insight into women, gender, and sexuality. The society of Gilead is very similar to the societal norms that were experienced in past. Women were confined to the home and had little to no rights. Women could not vote, own property, and their voices were not heard. Men were in powerful positions. Men could vote, hold jobs, and have voice and opinions. In Gilead, men and women are ranked within society and are given more opportunities based on their social class. Women are to be seen rather than heard. The duties of women are to care for the home, children, and their husbands. The sole purpose of a women is to reproduce and to be a slave to their state and husband. Women are stripped of their identity, dignity, and image. Gilead carries on the traditional views of women that were seen in our society. Women within Gilead have accepted the societal norms. Women in Gilead help to enforce the societal norms. The Handmaid’s Tale paints a very strict idea of women, gender, and sexuality.
Today, in society, women, gender, and sexuality have many different meanings. Today, when we think of women, we think of strong, independent, brave, intelligent and much more. Women were and always have been amazing, but it is because we broke out of societal norms that people have come to realize that women are more than they get credit for. In the past, gender defined who someone was like in Gilead. However, today, gender is not a way to define someone and their status in the world. Sexuality was not something women in Gilead could experience because they were stripped of their identity and emotion. Today, women have identity and are not taught to ignore their feelings. Gilead shows how life was before today. Gilead also shows how easily we could slip back into traditional norms. It is important that women continue to fight for their rights. It is important for women to stand their ground and prove that they are more than what society believes they are worth.
Development Of The Theme By Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood tells the story of a handmaid called Offred living in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian and theocratic state that has replaced the United States of America, in her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. In the theocratic Republic of Gilead, extreme conservative, religious ideology is followed a solution to societal problems. Doctors who performed abortions are hanged at the Wall outside what used to be Harvard University because abortion is a crime.
Women are banned from possessing money or owning property to ensure their dependence on men. And based on the biblical precedent of Rachel and Leah, where fertile servants can carry on adulterous relationships to allow infertile women to have children, handmaids are assigned to bear the children of elite couples that have trouble conceiving because of the dangerously low reproduction rates. Furthermore, Offred is assigned to bear a child for her Commander, Fred Waterford, and his wife, Serena Joy. In the theocratic state, women are nothing more than their fertility. Atwood develops her theme about femininity in the Republic of Gilead through the usage of figurative language, tone, and imagery.
The idea of a woman’s eggs comes up frequently in The Handmaid’s Tale, as it reminds us that they’re part of a woman’s reproductive cycle. Offred usually has eggs for breakfast to make her own healthy eggs. One day at breakfast, Offred thinks to herself that [looking] at the egg gives [her] intense pleasure, adding that, Pleasure is an egg… If [she has] an egg, what more can [she] want? (Atwood 110). In her mind, there is nothing else that she can want because having an egg symbolizes her being fertile. Another example of figurative language in The Handmaid’s Tale is with the comparison of women and flowers. Flowers are often considered symbols of beauty or fertility, both defining femininity in the novel. In the novel, flowers are a reminder that many women lack fertility. The older wives in the novel hang onto their beauty and fertility by decorating themselves in flowers or tending gardens. Oddly, Serena Joy is bizarrely pleasured by mutilating flowers. Serena Joy’s mutilating of flowers is seen by Offred as an attack on their fertility(Atwood 153). Perhaps, the attack on the flowers are attacks that she would like to make on Offred, the flower living in her house. With the women’s attitude toward eggs and flowers in the Republic of Gilead, Atwood develops the theme that women are nothing more than their fertility in the theocratic state.
Another way Atwood develop the theme of femininity is by tone. For example, in chapter forty one, Offred says that she wishes [the] story… was about sunsets, birds, rainstorms, or snow (Atwood 267) but she can’t because she says things for how they are, showing her dispassionate and factual tone. With the narrator’s tone, the audience realizes that throughout the book, Offred’s life revolves around her fertility because that is all she is in that theocratic state. We, as the audience, understand that she can’t tell the story differently because that’s what she knows and what she knows is that she lives in an uncivilized state obsessed with her fertility. By using tone it showcases that that women are only being used for their fertility and aren’t able to do anything us or anything about it.
Lastly, Atwood develops the theme through imagery. In Gilead, Offred’s power is her fertility because that’s all women are”their fertility. She’s just a childbearing vessel and Atwood illustrates a clear image when Offred, Serena Joy, and Fred Waterford have The Ceremony, a highly ritualized sexual act undergone to conceive children. In The Ceremony, Offred lies between Serena Joy’s legs with her head on Serena’s stomach, both fully clothed. Offred describes that [Serena’s] pubic bone [is] under the base of [her] skull and that [Serena’s] thighs are on either side of [her] as Offred’s arms are raised to hold hands with Serena (Atwood 93-94). The position the narrator is in signifies that she and Serena Joy are one being (Atwood 94), Offred acting as the fertile uterus of Serena Joy. During The Ceremony, as Offred is having intercourse with Fred, Serena grips Offred’s hands as if she’s the one having intercourse. This further illustrates that women in Gilead are nothing more than their fertility. With Atwood using imagery it helps people see just how the women were treated, and how the fertility of a women were being used.
In the Republic of Gilead, women are nothing more than fertile, childbearing vessels and the author develops that idea by utilizing figurative language, tone, and imagery. We see in The Handmaid’s Tale that the women have most of their freedom taken away and their only worth to society is their fertility. They aren’t supposed to use their minds and are forbidden from reading, working outside of their homes, and spending money. Those who are fertile like Offred become baby-making machines and live lives revolving around their fertility. Other then that the women’s have no freedom whatsoever and aren’t allowed to do anything that gets their mind to think.
Gender Inequality In The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale
Inequality is an occurring problem and Margaret Atwood is describing what she feels our country will turn into. Every time there is a step forward for equality to take two steps back. In Gilead, women’s obligation is obedience after transitioning from a time of extreme liberalism to radical religion.
Women being cut off from their resources, freedom, and their sole purpose was for their wombs. During this time of radical religion, Gilead decided it was it was a good time to come together and make changes to the for the greater good that would impact everyone immensely. The futuristic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, concentrates on the unequal relationship between men and women: women are exploited for their biological functions and government-sponsored religion reinforces female servitude.
Offred feeling exploited for her biological function felt nothing more of herself than her as a womb. Even in Offred’s dreams, she affirms her feeling, I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a mean of transportation, or an implement of the accomplishment of my will… Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping (Atwood 73). With Gilead trying to come back from the alarming shortage of children women that are healthy and being forced to bear the children of the Commander’s, if their wives are not able to do so. Offred’s body had so much meaning to her life before her life of being a handmaid that all she dreams of the day she could feel like that again. Her body previously used for pleasure and freedom but now her whole existence revolves around a single body part. Offred’s feeling about her body is the way the entire society of Gilead looks at all the women of that generation.
With sex being readily available through prostitution and the strong equality of women men began to feel demoralized. Wendy Perkins,an Assistant Professor of English at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, explains her thought on why the Commander believe the way Gilead is governed is for the best. Perkins points out the Commander , We’ve given women more than we have taken away. This way all they get a man, are protected can full fill their biological destinies in peace. He is trying to prove the reason for constructing Gilead into what it is today. Commander Fred is suggesting that the over sexualization of the country made men lose their interesting in seeking woman. Women having equal rights made men not want to seek a marriage or sexual relationship. Men feeling demoralized by strong women made them rethink their thoughts on sex, marriage, and life.
Offred after spending forbidden time with Commander Fred begins to think differently of him. She began to see him less as her boss and more of her equal which brought a shift in the novel. After remembering she watched a Nazi movie as a child Offred begins to think back and sympathize with the woman of the movie that was the girlfriend/lover of the one the leaders. During a scene in the movie the Nazi girlfriend states, He is not a monster, to her. Probably he had some endearing trait he whistled off key, in the shower, he had a yen for truffles, he called his dog Liebchen and made him sit up for a little piece of raw steak. How easy it is to invent humanity for anyone at all. What an available temptation. (Atwood 145-146). After spending the intimate time with the Commander Offred begins to see him in a different light: friendly, kind, and caring. He is still part of the problem. His job as a Commander makes him an oppressive figure in society but his private life he wants his handmaid’s smart and expressive. The Commander is in a sense dangling the steak in front of Offred like the a dog because he is giving her small bits of her old life back by playing scrabble and letting her express herself privately to him. Although Offred enjoys the time with the Commander she knows that is anyone found out about these times she would be facing death. He is providing her more of a life than just a handmaid but is still a huge part of the problem by this only being a secret in his life.
The government of Gilead are claiming to base their belief of how to repopulate the community from The Bible. In Genesis Rachel is unable to bare Jacob’s children and uses her maid, Bilhah, as a surrogate mother. The Bible states, Now when rachel saw she bore Jacob no children…she said to Jacob, Give me children or else I die!…So she said, Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her and she will bear a child on my knees that I also may have children by her. (Genesis 30:1-3, 26). Women being used for their wombs after the absence of children because so many being born with deformities from the pollution. The government using Genesis 30:1-3 as a point of reference is a misinterpretation of what I feel it is stating. Bilhah was the maid of Rachel but it did not say she was being subjected to all the torment that these ladies seem to have been to have a child. I believe that she was being used as more of a surrogate. In an article by Sophia Lee she states her interpretation of the scene in the novel and television series where the handmaid is being used by the husband and the handmaids are between the legs of the wife during what they hope is conception is are from Genesis 30:3. My interpretation of she will bear a child on my knees that I also have a child by her (The Bible, Genesis 30:3, 26) means that Rachel would be in the room during the delivery like many of the modern mothers are in today’s day and time. Men would never be called out as sterile even though we know this can be true. After the trial of infertility a new handmaid would be sent to them to try again. Even though the government is using the Bible as part of their philosophy for running Gilead twisting words to make them to your way of living doesn’t make them true. Amin Malak said it best in his assessment of the novel, Theory claims to be founded on Christian principles, yet in practice miserably lacks spirituality and benevolence (9-16).
The government of Gilead was only taking select quotes from the Bible and twisting it to how they needed to use it as their governing practices. During the Women’s Prayvaganze, group wedding, the men recite, Let the women learn in silence with all subjection? All? But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to ursurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve (221)? This passage is letting the women know it is their job to continue to be silent and follow the men. Women biblically should follow the example of their husbands but in retrospect the husbands need to be the ones setting good examples for the wife. The women are being manipulated and made to think that they will be rewarded for all the do and suffer in silence.
The smallest things have been changed and manipulated by the government. People and shops names have been changed to sound more Biblical. Clothing shops are now called Lilies Mathew 6:28 states, So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;… (The Bible 852). Even the phrases that the handmaids are only allowed to use are pulled from the Bible such as Praise be, Blessed be the Fruit, and May the Lord open. Even though the people of Gilead are only allowed to say things of these sort of phrases and the shops are called different names people will still be who they are and feel how they feel. You can try and control people anyway you want false teachings of the Bible or through your own beliefs but people will always find a way to believe how they want to. Reading was forbidden so even if Offred or any of the handmaid’s felt that the teachings were incorrect it couldn’t be questioned. Such as Offred saying the scripture she is forced to say but in her mind having the meaning as a her troubles rather than the word bread she is actually saying.
Human nature is something that is hard to exactly nail down. There were a few bright spots in the novel but for the most part it was about the suppression and control of women by men that should have been protecting them. The use of the Bible for control women and forecable women to reproduce for the Commander’s make a hard reality for them. The biblically set laws make it so hard for any of the citizens to even come close to being perfect that they all pretend and just have hopes of not being caught. They could strive to be the best version of their self everyday and it still not be enough. The futuristic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, concentrates on the unequal relationship between men and women: women are exploited for their biological functions and government-sponsored religion reinforces female servitude.
Love and Death: The Complexity of Emotion in Gileadean Society
There are countless disparities between the society of Gilead and 1980s America. In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the citizens of this dystopian totalitarian state have unconventional reactions to life, death, sex, and violence. When we are first introduced to Offred, our protagonist describes for us her current setting. She is in a gymnasium of sorts but has a unique emotional reaction to her surroundings. “We yearned for the future…” says Offred (3). “It was in the air; and it was still in the air, an afterthought, as we tried to sleep…” (4) This first glimpse into Gilead is extremely revealing in regards to how our society has changed. Something so simple as a university gymnasium has become so sentimental, a palimpsest of what was once Cambridge, Massachusetts in the wonderful nation that no longer is.One major aspect of Gileadean society that differs greatly from ours is the way the citizens view life and death. In Gilead, public executions are commonplace, and seeing the dead on display is something Handmaids experience daily. “It’s the bags over their heads that are the worst, worse than the faces themselves would be” Offred thinks as she sees dead men hanging from what they call the Wall (32). “The heads are zeros… What I feel towards them is blankness. What I feel is that I must not feel.” (32-33) This could be contrasted to our society where viewing the dead is something seldom seen beyond the world of television and movies. If you were out running daily errands like Offred and saw this, the last thing you would feel would be nothingness. It would be shocking and terrifying to us today but the theocratic dictatorship of The Handmaid’s Tale has desensitized its citizens to the macabre.The Handmaids’ views on death are also twisted to mean something else to the living. Suicide has been completely eradicated by the Marthas. They have removed any tool that could be used to orchestrate a suicide; be it glass, rope, or even a hook. There are no knives and nowhere to jump so the Handmaids are doomed to live. Offred develops delusions of grandeur in regards to death; in the end, death can be considered a success if she cannot conceive a child. This attitude is revealed when Offred reminisces about an old library with a mural painted on the walls. Victory is on one side of the inner doorway, leading them on, and death is on the other… The men on the side of Death are still alive. They’re going to heaven. Death is a beautiful woman with wings and one breast almost bare; or is that Victory? I can’t remember (166).This shows Offred’s corruption by society because in the past, when the mural was painted, of course the woman depicted was Victory. Offred also personifies the Gileadean convolution of ideas regarding sex and violence. For her, sex is a job, her only meaning for existence. The Handmaids are glorified concubines and if they do not conceive a child quickly enough, they are deemed “Unwomen” and exiled to the colonies. The concept of being an “Unwoman” is introduced to the Handmaids by Aunt Lydia who indoctrinates them with a fear of promiscuity and sexuality. The aunts would sit the new Handmaids down and force them to watch violent pornography, trying to make them realize the error of their past lives. This A Clockwork Orange-esque scene speaks volumes to the lengths The Sons of Jacob went through to brainwash women and create in them new beliefs regarding their own sexuality.These ideas become apparent when Offred is put in a sexually charged situation with her commander. After one of their scandalous games of Scrabble, he asks her for something new. “I want you to kiss me,” he says (139). Offred physically reacts to the situation like any other girl with a crush would; she leans in and awkwardly satisfies the demanding man, though her thoughts stray from the traditional feelings of attraction. I think about how I could approach the Commander, to kiss him, here alone, and take off his jacket, as if to allow or invite something further, some approach to true love, and put my arms around him and slip the lever out from the sleeve and drive the sharp end into him suddenly, between his ribs. I think about the blood coming out of him, hot as soup, sexual, over my hands (139-140).Though she admits these feelings were an afterthought, they still perfectly illustrate the conditioning Offred went though before assuming her role as a Handmaid. She can no longer feel a purely sexual urge towards anyone; not even a man she has sworn to procreate with, a man who makes her feel free, a man she may love. She now feels sex and violence go hand in hand; it can end with death, and a gruesome one at that. These major aspects of society that are so contradictory to reality portray Atwood’s concerns for our political and social future. The views the members of Gileadean society adopt concerning life, death, sex, and violence are very contrary. Margaret Atwood did a phenomenal job creating a futuristic society that has made Americans cringe and yearn for change, especially for women.