The Handmaids Tale
Literary analysis of “The Handmaid’s Tale” Essay
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a feminist novel that highlights the perils of women in a society that has not only dehumanized their status but also made it almost criminal to be a woman. The novel highlights a cruel world where women do not enjoy the freedom of choice. In ‘The Handmaids Tale,’ women are painted as objects for male selfish desires and satisfaction.
Using this law, men have withdrawn all the things that would have otherwise made life worth living for women. In the Republic of Gilead, women are not supposed to read, write or even listen to music. These are luxuries only reserved for men. Women are also denied the natural pleasures such as love and romance. They have seen as objects of male enjoyment something that has no human values other than to make men happy. As such, they live in a dystopic world.
The story reads like a fictional autobiography. It is told from the first person point of view. However, this story is not just propaganda to highlight gender issues. This is because of its complex characters, setting, and thematic concerns. The male character is torn between remaining loyal to the faith or breaking the law and engaging in the pure pleasure of love and romance. The reader feels that some of the male characters identify with the suffering of the female character but cannot do anything as they are held ransom by the Faith.
The novel also seamlessly combines the fundamentals of modern religion with ancient totalitarian regimes of leadership, making it a masterpiece. The complexity of the novel and the ideals it propagates makes it more than a work of fiction because it highlights real issues that affect modern-day societies.
To a keen reader, the setting of the novel is very complicated as it combines ancient, modern and post-modernistic issues in an almost unnoticeable way. Time-wise, the novel is set not so much into the distant future. Geographically, the story happens in a land where the former United States of America lies after a Christian theocratic regime overthrows it.
The Republic of Gilead, the resultant state, thus lies within the boundaries of the current United States of America. When the United States of America government is overthrown and democracy replaced by ancient Christian theocracy that borrows heavily from the Old Testament, the reader is thrown back in time to when government hid behind religion to establish oppressive regimes.
Still, the novels highlight the use of credit cards, effectively depicting a government desperate to fight pollution and other challenges of the modern world. That a commander rules the country brings the reader into the present day world, a world of absolute dictatorship (Atwood 81). The plight to the handmaids who are engaged to bear children for the commander’s wives is symbolic of the biblical Old Testament characters of Rachel and Leah.
This means that the social setting is not only heavily laden with fundamental Christian ideals but also post modernistic social issues such as population control. The complex nature of the setting, therefore, influences the direction of the story in that it helps the author to sufficiently blend historical and futuristic ideal in a way seen as still relevant to the modern world.
The reader can understand the story better upon a closer analysis of the characters. The main character is also the narrator and tells the story from the first person point of view making it more of an autobiography. The narrator, Offred, can be seen as both an objective observer and actor. Telling the story from the first person point of view means that any misinterpretations are avoided. As such, the reader is able to get information that is as close to the fact a first-person interpretation of those facts.
Because the narrator is the emblem of the plight of all women in this society, telling the tale from the first-person point of view makes it easy for the reader to understand what women go through and at the same time, share in their plight. It also helps to make the story real and eliminates the notion that the story is just mere feministic propaganda (Brians para 10).
Offred is best understood from the analysis of her name, the symbolic roles she plays in the novel as the symbol of women suffering. Offred, the protagonist, is kidnapped from her husband and thus separated from her family by this oppressive dynasty. She is brought to the commander’s house to bear children for his barren wife. Offred is her patronymic name which can be broken down into two names: of and Fred. This indicates that she is of Fred meaning that she belongs to Fred, the commander.
Offred is seen to change throughout the story from the wife of a peasant to the emblematic figure of women liberation. Her significance is seen through her symbolic birth name June, which in the context of the Republic of Gilead means Mayday, the day the women, will be salvaged from their torment. Her name June thus becomes symbolic of the résistance that would soon lead to their freedom (Atwood 220).
It is possible to develop an understanding of the character from her description of herself. Despite living in a male-dominated world where the power of women has been dramatically curtailed, Offred still manages to maintain a self-awareness of who she is and confidently identifies herself as a woman without any hint that she belongs to any man.
She describes her physical attributes that are distinctively feminine. Furthermore, despite living in a world where a woman is just an object of man’s desire Offred is able to strictly maintain the definition of herself as purely woman, devoid of any material trappings thus: ‘I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair. I stand five seven without shoes’ (Atwood 143). It is this appreciation of herself as a woman coupled with her symbolic name June which makes Offred the emblematic figure of the resistance to male domination.
Offred is also the insignia of how women suffer sexually. It is through her experiences that the reader comes to know her strengths as a woman, repressed thoughts and aspirations that she poses regarding intimacy. It is through Offred that the reader is able to see the way women, in general, are degraded as mere tools for men’s sexual gratification.
Offred describes her sexual experiences from the first person’s perspective and sees sex in four ways. For her, the sexual experiences that women in the Republic of Gilead go through cannot be termed as lovemaking, neither can they be said to be rape as women are not supposed to have right to sex and thus by default should not have the right and the power to refuse.
In this case, it is not even within the power of women to refuse sex. Offred says that her sexual encounters with Fred, her master commander, cannot also be termed as copulation either as this means that two people are involved. In real sense, only the commander is involved as her senses, mind, and emotion are not. In her words, sex is seen as degrading, humiliating as well as an emotionless experience as it is only physical and given upon demand from men thus:
“My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for” (Atwood 94).
Other than the main character, other characters play significant roles in this story. Even though these characters have individual uniqueness they have been categorized into two main groups: male and female. The male characters are divided into four: The Commander of the Faithful led by Fred, for whom Offred is a handmaid. He is the symbolic male chauvinistic character in the novel.
There are also the Eyes, the men who offer intelligence services to the Republic of Gilead rulership, Angels and Guardians of Faith who are the soldiers who fight to protect the republic as well as the Gender Traitors the homosexuals seen as traitors of the Faith and sent to die painfully in the colonies.
The relationships between the main character Offred and the men are master-servant kind of relationship. Through this relationship, the reader is able to see the weaknesses rather than the strengths of men. Although the novel presents men as superior and faultless, it is their ability not to procreate (to be infertile) that exposes their weak side. This proves that the notion of men being superior with absolute power over women is false.
Women are the stronger characters as they are the ones who are able to procreate. Offred, as well as other handmaids, are taken from their lawful marriages to procreate for infertile kings (It is unheard of and illegal to declare men as sterile). The commander is seen as sterile by his wife Serena Joy who arranges from Offred to sleep with her driver to give birth for the commander. This experience also presents women as too willing and ready collaborators.
Women characters are also divided into two main groups: legitimate and illegitimate. The legitimate women are the wives, maids like Offred, Aunts, Martha’s and economies. The aunts are seen as stumbling blocks to the freedom of the women. They, like the men, have the luxuries of reading and writing (Atwood 139) and are seen as part of the colony.
In one of the most visible oppositions to the liberation of the woman, the aunts tell Offred to stop’ June-ing’ too much: June means mayday liberations (Atwood 220). The handmaids in the house of the commander also give the story from a biblical perspective in reference to some of the biblical figures who took maids to bear children for them when their wives could not.
The most effective tool for communication is the use of language. The author uses language creatively as a tool for communication. The author uses modern language words and syntax construction, making the novel seem so deceptively easy to read.
Language is used as a very powerful tool for communicating women aspirations for freedom as well as portray the colonial mentality of their men in these societies effectively. The choice of words in describing Offred sexual experiences with the commander shows that the women are emotionally removed from the experience. It also portrays the ability of the woman to communicate their notion about sex, which is far from what men see it be.
The author chooses words like copulations, rape, fucking and making love to describe Offred’s perspectives of sex. These words also portray the author as having a modernistic approach to sex not just as an act of procreation but as a way to express love. Through the tone of language the reader can see that a woman does not see sex as just an act but an expression of love, something devoid in this society (Atwood 94). The authors choice of words like ‘unbabies’ reflect the fears that do exist amongst the women of this society.
The author’s use of dialogue is also as effective as the choice of words. Various dialogues have different effects. However, the most common outcome of the use of dialogues portrays women’s emotional connection regardless of their individual character. Offred’s prayer said in monologue reflects her fears as a woman, her loss self and of life, and her desire to gain it back (Atwood 286).
Although the treacherous Ofglen is the opposite of Offred in character, their dialogue portrays them as sharing in the suffering that all women go through (Atwood 285). Furthermore, the telephone conversation that Moira and Offred have prepares the readers for what might occur the woman after the fall of the United States of America. It is also an indication that the woman had a premonition of what was to befall her after the establishment of the Republic of Gilead (Atwood 174).
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a story told about the future and the problems that might occur in the world due to technological advancement. As such it is not necessarily a piece of science fiction but speculative fiction, a narration of probable things that might happen in future. It also deviates from the mere feminist propagandist genres as it has a complicated setting, characters, and themes.
Even though the novel is an exaggeration, it portrays the fact that women are still oppressed in the modern world. As such the tale is not far fetched as even the male, a reader is able to identify with the oppressed women in the novel as well as in real life.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books, 1986. Print.
Brians, Paul. “Study Guide to Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1986).” 1995. Web.
Further Study: FAQ
? What are some literary devices in The Handmaid’s Tale?
There are quite a few literary devices used in The Handmaid’s Tale. The most prominent are metaphors and humor. Plus, the author implemented alliterations, literary allusions, and simile.
? What is The Handmaid’s Tale meaning?
The Handmaid’s Tale is about a totalitarian state, known as Gilead, that has overthrown the United States government. The novel explores themes of repressed women in a patriarchal society and how they are trying to resist to gain independence.
? What point of view is The Handmaid’s Tale?
The Handmaid’s Tale is told by a first-person narrator named Offred. The reader follows the current timeline in the present tense, while the flashbacks and background history are told in the past tense.
? What religion is The Handmaid’s Tale based on?
The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy which is based on Puritanism. It’s taken from the 17th-century America. The authoritative world that heavily relies on religion resembles the political climate of the country at the end of the 20th century.
The handmaid’s tale Essay
The handmaid’s tale is a dystopia that builds upon the dystopian imagery of feminist texts from 1970s. Atwood’s novel was written in direct reaction to the growing political power of the American religious right in the 1980s (Atwood). It projects a nightmare future in which rightwing religious extremists have established control of the government of what was once the United States but has now been transformed into the theocratic Republic of Gilead.
The thesis of this paper is based on three aspects. First is the imposition that women who have virtually no rights and are treated essentially as chattels. The second thesis is based on the role of religion in the society. Religion in Gilead is the similar to that of the current American society especially, the aspect of ambiguity which has been predominant with regard to the rightful application of religious beliefs and principles.
Lastly, language is a powerful tool with regard to formulating of ideologies and addressing issues. This book captures the implications of language with regard to addressing the pitfalls that face the people of Gilead. Similarly, this is the case with the American society where language has been used as an avenue to woo voters and address social issues.
Yet the brutal treatment of women in Gilead, however extreme, clearly serves as an extrapolation of patriarchal conditions that have long prevailed in uptown world and that many say as worsening during the Reagan administration of the 1980s – and that many have seen as worsening again during the Bush administration of the early twenty first century.
The Handmaid’s Tale is presented as the secret journal of Offred, beginning with her training for a life of sexual servitude as a “handmaid” in the republic of Gilead. Handmaid, we learn, are assigned to important men in Gilead whose wives have proved unable to bear children, so that those men might still have an opportunity to procreate (Wisker).
Procreation is, in fact, highly problematic in this society, where deteriorating environmental conditions have rendered most women sterile. Most men may be sterile as well, though in Gilead male infertility is officially non – existent, and the infertility of a couple is always attributed to the woman. The officials of Gilead have declared artificial insemination or any other technological intervention in the process of fertilization to be unnatural.
As a result, the handmaids are to be impregnated by ordinary sexual intercourse, though this intercourse occurs as part of a highly ritualized ceremony that is anything but natural: the wife looks on while the husband and handmaid have sex in a manner designed to remove all semblance of sexual pleasure, at least for the handmaid, though one suspects that the husband may take a preserve delight in imposing his power on a subjugated woman (Wisker).
In this book, religion is used as an aspect which is to enhance the fear of God. This is owing to the fact that when one goes against God, there is the likelihood of punishment. This gives a reflection of how things are in the current society.
The fear of God has been used to discourage people off the perceived evils which are going on in the society. Some of the illustrations in this book have been borrowed from the book of Genesis, for instance, the case where Rachael insists that her husband Jacob sleeps with the handmaid to conceive. This is a major biblical theme which is pronounced in this book.
Essentially, Atwood depicts how ambiguous the fundamentalists are using the bible to describe or to discuss the social on goings within Gilead. As the case is, currently, we are living in a society where there is a lot of ambiguity with regard to religion. People are using biblical explanations to justify their life styles in an age where there are no clear cut boundaries about what ought to be followed and what ought not to be.
There is an aura of hypocrisy which has bedeviled the society then as it is the case in the current society. This has been illustrated in the case where women’s role is defined as child bearing, as described in Atwood’s book, “Adam was not deceived, but the women being deceived was in transgression ” (Chapter 34, pp 221).
In Atwood’s dystopian Handmaid’s Tale, the power of language is equally evident. Women in the republic of Gilead are not permitted to read. (Judd, one of the architects of the Republic, is credited with saying, “Our big mistake was teaching them to read. We won’t do that again” [p. 307]).
The shops are known by their pictorial signs alone, women are expected to keep silent or to utter only approved phrases, and playing scrabble with a woman is indecent. Yet the rebels use a system of manual signs, a silent language to communicate. And the Handmaid finds her closet message in Latin scratched there by the previous, now dead, Handmaid.
This brings to the core the power of using language to shape ideologies. Essentially, the current American society has grappled with this concept.
Individual women, whether they are struggling with discrimination in the workplace, abuse in the home, everyday sexual harassment, the aftereffect of rape, or any of the other isolating conditions so common in patriarchy, can begin to reduce their resulting Societal Stockholm Syndrome by claiming language as their own.
This book indicates the subversive potential of language, not only reminding us how language has been and is used to alienate women from our experience but also inviting us to consider the everyday audacity of private and public language use as a form of mental liberation.
Atwood focuses on women and sexuality as principal targets of the religious totarianism of the Republic of Gilead. In this Christian theocracy, marriage is promoted as a social goal, though it is only available to those who have reached a certain social status. Indeed, wives, while they enjoy higher status than handmaids, are literally “issued” to successful males as rewards for loyal service to the community.
In addition, women in this society exist not as individuals but as members of well defined groups, corresponding almost to brand names (Wisker). Among the upper classes, women function principally either as wives (who serve as domestic managers), domestic servants or handmaids. In the lower classes, however, “Econowives” have to play all of these roles.
There are also “Aunts” who serve to train and discipline the handmaid and “Jezebels” who are officially though covertly, sanctioned prostitutes used to service foreign dignitaries and important government officials. Women who cannot or will not play one of these roles are labeled “Unwomen” and are exiled to the “colonies,” where they are used for hazardous duties like cleaning up toxic waste, much of the American landscape having been polluted to the point of being inhabitable.
It is worth noting that in this novel, we have a woman protagonist, Offred, with whom we sympathize, as readers, and who invites us to share her perceptions of events and disempowerment in Gilead, a republic controlled entirely by male power or patriarchy and based on the value of reproductive capability. Essentially, women are initially of high value but refused the opportunity to read and make their own decisions, make choices of how to live and who live with and are unable to own their own possessions and move.
This novel has clearly brought out issues which deal with representation of women’s roles, constraints, gender, sexuality and power, the management and control of reproductive rights, feminist themes, issues and reading practices (Wisker). In literary terms, it is also interesting to consider how and if women might write differently from men, other than treating different issues or similar issues differently and this leads us to thinking about the use of language and imagery.
The outlook for women in this possible future which has been offered in this book is indeed miserable, reduced to bodily functions and roles of handmaids, wives, or housemaids doing chores in the formal household system, or in the proletariat outside, as econowives.
In this critique of reproductive technologies and a dehumanizing control over women’s power and individuality Atwood imagines a future which has reversed all the equalities and achievements of the twentieth century. These include the achievements of the suffrage movement. Women in the novel are reduced to back to being owned by men rather than being able to own property, their own bodies and futures. In chapter 28 the turning point is seen.
This is a powerful moment and a shocking chapter. Offred and her husband Luke, along with their daughter, are living an ordinary life when, in the course of the week the president is shot, the constitution revoked, and armed bodies of Special Forces – troops of some sort – patrol the streets and control everyone’s actions. This position in the future is contrasted with the moments of equality, hard earned in the 1980s, and the beliefs, actions and visions of feminists in that period.
In conclusion, reading the novel in the twenty first century we can have a more distanced perspective on the views of 1980s feminism, on the kind of outcomes they would never have sought, and on the ways in which (while they have many rights in the western and parts of the Eastern world) they are frequently reduced to state disempowerment under extreme or fundamentalist regimes.
Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid’s tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986. Print. Wisker, Gina. Atwood’s the Handmaid’s Tale. Chennai: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010. Print.
The Handmaid’s Tale Essay
In the book, The Handmaid’s Tale, the republic of Gilead presents a different environment with different rules from those of the former order before the conflict and establishment of a new order. The new laws criminalize the women’s right to own property, have jobs, and even read by justifying it as a necessity to mitigate the effects of pollution that renders most women infertile and puts the society in danger of extinction.
One of the strategies that the government applies in mitigation of the population’s sterility is provision of handmaids to upper class citizens for reproduction purposes. The handmaids’ main duty is to conduct coital interactions with their commanders (male masters of their households) for reproductive purposes in an event that the people refer to as ‘the ceremony’. During the ceremony, men have sex with their handmaids while their wives watch. Most handmaids comply with their duties reluctantly mainly out of fear for their lives.
Offred copes with survival as a handmaid in Gilead by applying the use of calculated rebellion in her actions throughout her stay. The calculated rebellion entails keeping the old order memories alive, misbehaving intentionally during shopping, having a secret affair with the Commander outside the ‘Ceremony’ and sleeping with Nick, entertaining Ofglen’s proposal to spy on the Commander, and engaging in forbidden acts whilst visiting the Commander.
Offred’s acts of rebellion
It is important to note that Offred’s loss of her family owing to their attempt to escape from Gilead plays a significant role in the methods she chooses to apply in her rebellion. Offred, a handmaid who plays the protagonist in the story, finds several ways of coping with her new situation mainly through the application of calculated rebellion.
This assertion means that she weighs her actions in terms of pros and cons before implementing any rebellious act. Throughout the story, she voices her rejection of the objectification of women in the society, but chooses her moments carefully during her outward projections of such rebellion. Throughout the book, there is evidence of her rebellious nature, though the acts seem trivial in relation to the gravity of her situation, and thus they do not alter the society’s sense of normalcy.
One of the ways in which Offred uses calculated rebellion as a coping mechanism is evident when she goes shopping with Ofglen, a fellow handmaid. Although going shopping does not constitute rebellion, her behavior during the shopping trips does.
For instance, Offred sways her hips mimicking the way the Guardians move (Atwood 22). Acting in such a way is indicative of her rejection of the societal view of her as a lesser human being to the Guardians. Swaying her hips is her way of stating that she is more than just a ‘womb on legs’ and is just as feminine as the Guardians.
Additionally, Offred and Ofglen go beyond the wall where dead bodies of rebels hang. This aspect does not comply with the principle of absolute obedience that handmaids learn at the Re-education Center (Red Center). Additionally, going to the wall appears as an act of sympathy considering Ofglen’s affiliation with the Mayday rebel group. The government authorities do not favor actions that imply sympathy to the rebel group thus the two risk attracting punitive action from Gilead’s law enforcement authorities.
Secondly, although the main purpose for having handmaids in Gilead is for reproduction purposes, Offred takes her relationship with the Commander further by engaging him emotionally away from the commander wife’s watchful eye (Atwood 154).
Such a relationship also goes against the objective for the establishment of the Ceremony, which is to ensure that the wife has control over the handmaid’s interaction with her husband. Offred entertains her personal relationship with the Commander as a show of her rebellion, power, and to some extent obedience to her master. It is thus safe to say that she chooses this form of rebellion as it bears little potential for punishment.
A similar comparison to this type of rebellion is Offred’s rejection of the doctor’s offer to impregnate her and save her from her duty to the Commander. Although the doctor represents an authority figure, she has no qualms rejecting his offer. Another example indicative of Offred’s choice for calculated rebellion is her acceptance of Serena Joy’s offer to have sex with Nick and get pregnant in exchange for information about her daughter, who gets lost at the onset of the rebellion during their attempt to escape (Atwood 205).
Her choice to accept the offer and have sex with Nick represents her rebellion to authority as the rules outlaw such affairs. However, this move is a calculated show of rebellion because she weighs the rewards of her choice against possible disadvantages before accepting the offer. Since the offer affords her a chance to obtain information about her daughter and have sex with a different man without the possibility of punishment from Serena Joy, she jumps at the opportunity and embraces it gladly.
Additionally, Offred conducts her affair with Nick for a period longer than that which she agrees with Serena Joy and does so secretly. Her behavior then constitutes rebellion against her master’s orders and Gilead’s rules in general.
Offred’s recollection of memories greatly affects her perception of the new order and acts as a rebellious act against the formation of new ideologies and the government of Gilead’s efforts to instill new principles into the society. The government of Gilead goes to great lengths to ensure the enforcement of their perception of gender roles. However, the government also understands that voluntary compliance with the principles by individuals is crucial for a successful overhaul of principles that prevailed during the old order.
For this reason, the authorities established the Re-education Center (Red Center) and staffed it with women in charge of instilling the new principles to women and especially for handmaids (Atwood 25). At the Red Center, the handmaids learn about what their masters expect of them and what constitute punishable offences.
However, Offred chooses to hold on to ideologies on the old other with regard to women, thus defeating the purpose of the entire re-education process and serving as a rebellious act against the new order. For instance, in one of her flashbacks, Offred thinks back at the amount of pride that she had for her body during the period when she was married to Luke. In her opinion, her body was for her pleasure as well as her husband’s own.
She compares the perspective with her new situation in which the government values her only for her fertility, which lies in the decision to make her a handmaid to a sterile couple. She states that due to the state’s perception, she feels like a ‘womb on legs’, which is a probable feeling for many handmaids in Gilead. Thus, in order to ensure she does not lose herself, she holds on to her memories of her old life and the previous regime.
Offred’s willful association with Ofglen after discovery that she is a member of the outlawed rebel group, Mayday, also constitutes an act of rebellion as the government discourages such behavior. Offred goes to the extent of entertaining Ofglen’s proposal to spy on the Commander (Atwood 169), even though she does not act on the thoughts, probably due to the potential consequences that spying would cause if the Commander or Serena Joy caught her.
The last calculated act of rebellion involves Offred’s choice of activities when she meets the Commander for their secret visits. Offred chooses to keep the power she wielded in her life before the new order by playing chess and scrabble (Atwood 139). Scrabble and Chess are both games that require a certain amount of intelligence.
Therefore, by choosing to play the said games with her master, Offred implies her superior status to other women, considering that the law forbids such behaviors. She also implies her equality with the Commander, who is a representation of the men in the society in that story.
During the visits, the Commander also lets Offred indulge in reading magazines (Atwood 157), a concept that the administration frowns on. As stated earlier, the government at Gilead makes fervent efforts to ensure that the female population in the new republic adheres to total submission, which the governance considers crucial in ensuring that every fertile female commits to re-establishing numbers in the currently dwindling population.
By reading magazines, Offred passively rebels against the perception of women as child-bearers by presenting women as intellectual beings with needs similar to those of men. It is important to note that the Commander, a senior member of the society, is present and encourages Offred’s behavior. Therefore, even as Offred indulges in her ‘guilty pleasures’, she does so with the knowledge that the likelihood of punishment is slight.
Offred favors calculated acts of rebellion to outright rebellion as they present lower risks of punitive action from her masters and the government’s law enforcement bodies.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale, New York: Anchor Books, 1998. Print.
The Handmaid’s Tale vs. The Country Between Us Compare and Contrast Essay
The destructive aspects of totalitarian regimes attracted the attention of many writers during the Cold War era. One of the main issues that they explored was the state oppression of an individual who could eventually become alienated and dehumanized. Such themes as loneliness, control, and confinement occupy a prominent place in the novels and short stories of many authors.
This essay will discuss two works that eloquently illustrate the dangers of totalitarianism, namely, the novel The Handmaid’s Tale written by Margaret Atwood (1998) and the book of poetry The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché (1982). There are several similarities between these two works.
First of all, Margaret Atwood and Carolyn Forché show that the totalitarian states want to suppress people’s voices in order to make them isolated, confined and easily controlled. Furthermore, these writers show how the value of love, friendship and human life in general can decline because of people’s solitude and alienation. However, there is a significant difference between these literary works.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a construction of a dystopian society that might have never existed; to some degree it is a warning to the readers who should be aware of such dangers as sexism, religious intolerance, and religious intolerance.
In her turn Carolyn Forché focuses on the real experiences of people in El Salvador whose suffering went unnoticed for a very long time. More importantly, these descriptions can be more chilling than the imaginary world created by any writer who depicts a dystopian society. These are the main issues that should be discussed in this paper.
Similarities between The Country Between Us and The Handmaid’s Tale
It is possible to distinguish several themes that play an important role in these books. One of them is the acceptance of cruelty, violence, and injustice. They are no longer regarded as something outrageous or at least unacceptable. Margaret Atwood and Carolyn Forché show that people, who live in totalitarian regimes, become accustomed to the cruel behavior of the state and its injustice.
This issue is eloquently illustrated by Margaret Atwood (1998). In particular, the author describes a scene when Ofglen and Offred see the bodies of people who have been hung because of their alleged treason. However, one of the characters says, “This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will.
It will become ordinary” (Atwood, 1998, p. 33). Such a sentence can be uttered only by a person who often witnesses such horrible events. He/she eventually gets used to this cruelty of the government.
Similar atrocities have been described by Carolyn Forché who explores the experiences of people living in El Salvador. In this case, close attention should be paid to the poem called The Colonel. In this part of her book, the author refers to the man who carries a sack filled with “many human ears” and he does not even try to hide them (Forché, 1982, p. 17).
The author describes this horrible behavior in a very nonchalant way in order to emphasize that totalitarian regimes can turn cruelty into a norm or something can be tolerated. On the whole, this behavior occurs in those situations when people feel no attachment to one another and human life loses its value for them.
In many cases, they are hardly concerned with the suffering of other individuals. This is one of the issues that should not be disregarded because it occupies an important place in Atwood’s novel and Forché’s collection of poetry.
Another idea that both authors examine is solitude of individuals and their alienation from one another. In particular, they show that in many cases, authoritarian states deprive a person of opportunity to communicate with people who are dear to him/her. Such a strategy enables the government to make people confined and controlled.
To a great extent, this issue is addressed by the authors. For example, one can mention the poem The Visitor by Carolyn Forché (1982). In particular, the author describes the experiences of a prisoner who hopes that his wife’s breath will be “slipping into his cell each night while he imagines his hand to be hers” because he can retain his dignity and humanity only in this way (Forché, 1982, p. 15).
When a person is deprived of this opportunity, he/she is more likely to follow the will of the state. The theme of solitude is also examined in Margaret Atwood’s novel. For instance, one of the characters says, ‘I was so lonely, she’d say. You have no idea how lonely I was, And I had friends, I was a lucky one, but I was lonely anyway’ (Atwood, p. 122).
In part, this idea can be explained by the fact that this individual cannot talk to anyone who can share her views and feelings. As a result, this person will pay no attention to the sufferings of other people. So, themes as loneliness and alienation are important for Margaret Atwood and Carolyn Forché because they strongly influence people’s attitudes and beliefs.
Apart from that, one should mention that these literary works highlight the hypocrisy of authoritarian states that claim to be virtuous and just. In most cases, the representatives of these regimes do not acknowledge that they only want to achieve power and ability to control people’s behavior. Moreover, they do not tell that they want to enslave the people of their countries.
These are the most important elements of their official propaganda. This is one of the questions that both writers pay attention to. For example, Margaret Atwood (1998) shows that the government of Gilead claims to respect the role of women in the society and their importance for the survival of the community. However, women are usually reduced to the status of concubines whose only role is the reproduction of the population.
Thus, the distinction between official propaganda and reality is very striking. To some extent, Carolyn Forché (1982) attaches importance to this problem in her poetic collection. In particular, the author shows that Salvadorian regime does not want to acknowledge that thousands of people could be imprisoned or even slaughtered by the state, even if they are completely innocent (Forché, 1982).
They can pretend there is no discontent with their policies or laws. This hypocrisy can be typical of many states, especially if they are authoritarian ones. This is one of the main problems that both writers want to emphasize in their books.
These are the main similarities between the works of Margaret Atwood and Carolyn Forché. On the whole, they demonstrate the destructive impacts of totalitarianism on a person. They can make people solitary and confined, because in this way, individuals can easily be controlled or manipulated. Under such circumstances, they are not likely to take any initiatives or independent decisions.
This is the most important idea the authors explore in their books. To a great extent, these literary works throw light on the experiences of people who fall victims of authoritarian governments. As a rule, these people are not attached to one another and they do not value interpersonal relations or even human life, and this is their greatest strategy.
Overall, these books are still worth attention because the dangers described by Atwood and Forché have not completely disappeared today. This problems depicted by these writers can be relevant to different communities even nowadays.
The differences between the literary works
Nevertheless, one should remember that The Handmaid’s Tale and The Country Between Us have several important distinctions. The readers should pay close attention to the genre of these literary works and the goals that authors try to achieve. First of all, one should mention that Margaret Atwood’s novel can be viewed as a classical dystopian novel.
It is aimed at describing a future society that is marked by racism, sexism, and religious prejudice (Atwood, 1998). These prejudices can still influence the ideas and decisions of many people. To a great extent, this literary work was greatly influenced by George Orwell’s 1984 because this author also shows how the state can control the private life of citizens and even their sexuality.
So, the author of this book relies on previous literary works about totalitarian states. In contrast, Carolyn Forché’s collection of poetry is based on real events that did take place in El Salvador. In this case, the narrator can be regarded as a direct witness of the events that affected thousands of people who were victims of the regime.
To a great extent, this author combines poetry and journalisms, and this is one of her greatest achievements since she combines rich poetic imagery with realism. Therefore, one can say these books differ in terms of genre, style and background.
Secondly, one should bear in mind that the authors differ significantly when they describe the motives underlying people’s behavior and their attitude toward the state and toward others. In particular, in her novel Margaret Atwood (1998) strives to explain why people can easily become solitary and controlled.
In her opinion, people can act in this way, because they expect the government to offer some benefits to them (1998, p. 271). This idea is expressed by Offred’s mother who believes that people can consent to the policies of the state, “as long as there are a few compensations” (Atwood, 1998, p. 271).
The author describes some women who can be humiliated by the state, but they do not protest against their policies of the state, because they can have power over other women (Atwood, 1998). In other words, they try to reconcile themselves with the state and expect some rewards or benefits.
In contrast, Carolyn Forché (1982) demonstrates that in most cases, fear is the main reason why people can become alienated from one another. Those people, who have been depicted by the author, know that their friends and acquaintances can disappear, and they do not want to suffer the same fate. This is the main factor that drives their behavior.
For example, the narrator says, “If we go on, we might stop in the street, in the very place where someone disappeared’ (Forché, 1982, p. 9). One should take into account that totalitarian regimes can easily abduct people, especially when they disagree that with the decisions of the government.
This is why citizens may be reluctant to express discontent because they do not want to share the same fate. To some degree, their conduct is understandable. Therefore, it is possible to say that Carolyn Forché and Margaret Atwood look at people’s behavior from different perspectives.
There are other distinguishing features of these books. One can argue that Margaret Atwood’s novel can be regarded as a warning to the readers who should remember about the dangers of religious intolerance, sexism, and the belief that some groups of people should be subservient to others. Margaret Atwood (1998) examines the social phenomena that may exist in different communities.
However, she describes their impact when they are developed to full extreme. Nevertheless, one cannot say that this novel refers to particular historic events. The author intends to demonstrate people have to limit the power of the state. In her turn, Carolyn Forché (1982) strives to show that the horrors of dystopian novels can easily come true and in some cases, they can be more terrible.
Her intention is to demonstrate that such events can affect many people provided that no one protests against the cruel policies of the state. She wants readers to hear “the cries of those who vanish” because these people are not protected in any way (Forché, 1982, p. 9).
As it has been said before, the author acts as a journalist who tries to raise readers’ awareness about the atrocities committed against people, living in El Salvador. This is one of the goals that she tries to achieve.
Therefore, it is possible to distinguish several similarities and distinctions between these books. First of all, these authors demonstrate that the policies of the state can make individuals solitary, alienated, and confined. Moreover, these writers demonstrate the hypocrisy of the regimes that claim to respect the rights and dignity of citizens. Nevertheless, these literary works differ in terms of genre and purpose.
Margaret Atwood (1998) relies on the rich tradition of a dystopian novel while Carolyn Forché (1982) focuses on the feelings of people who suffered from the actions of a totalitarian state. Nevertheless, these works produce a long-lasting impression on the readers because they give them deep insights into the nature of totalitarianism.
On the whole, such themes as confinement, loneliness, and control play an important role in the works of many authors, especially those ones who focus on the adverse influence of state on an individual. In many cases, they can deprive people of their humanity and ability to take independent decisions.
Such writers as Carolyn Forché and Mary Atwood show that individuals can get used to cruelty or injustice because of fear or hope to receive some compensation from the state.
Moreover, their alienation and solitude decrease the value of human life. These writers warn readers about the dangers of these regimes. These works are worth attention because they eloquently illustrate the experiences of people who can be victimized by the state. This is one of the messages that these writers convey.
Atwood, M. (1998).The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor.
Forché, C. (1982). The Country Between Us. New York: Harper Perennial.
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.