“Handmaid’s Tale” Literature Analysis Free Essay

Written in 1985 by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel that presents a totalitarian theocracy that has replaced the United States and forces the few fertile women left to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving. The main protagonist in the novel is referred to as Offred and she is a handmaid in the newfound Republic of Gilead. Being a handmaid means that she is owned by a male commander, and is required to perform monthly insemination ceremonies with the goal of producing a child for him and his wife. Offred’s freedom, like the freedom of all women in this Republic, is completely restricted. They have been reduced to state property and the “Eyes”, Gilead’s secret police force, watch their every move. What may seem like a terrifying fictional future in this story, is actually more realistic than anyone ever thought. In fact, two main fundamental principles that are challenged in the novel such as gender equality and a female’s right to protect her own reproductive system, are being significantly questioned today. That could assist in explaining why this 1985 novel has recently topped best-selling charts, as it speaks to the fears of readers in the country about the dangers that their human rights are in.

A common theme in The Handmaid’s Tale explores the oppression of women in a male dominated society. In the Republic, every privilege is stripped away from women. They are told how to dress, how to act, and also that they aren’t even allowed to read store signs. Ultimately, this is all done by the men of Gilead in an effort to control women’s minds and bodies. The idea of gender equality is not one that is supported in the society in which Offred and all of her fellow Handmaid’s live. There are two quotes in particular from the novel that further demonstrate how unequal the balance of power is within the Republic. In the first quote from Offred she says, “They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then” (Atwood 34). This quote exhibits how Offred is reflecting on the past. It shows the twisted ordeal of how women are forced to be/act in Gilead. They had the choice of how to represent themselves, however, nowadays they are confined to either being a wife, handmaid, or aunt.

In another quote Offred explains, “My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others” (Atwood 99). This statement shows how Offred falls into the suppressive ways of the Republic by valuing her own name as worthless. The idea that Handmaid’s must be identified as “Of” their commanders name, makes them feel like a lesser version of themselves. This recurrent theme of gender inequality in the novel can be related to the United States workplace as women continue to be underrepresented in high-level, highly paid positions and overrepresented in low-paying jobs. A statistic from the Institute for Policy Studies states that, “women make up 63% of workers earning the federal minimum wage, a wage rate stuck at $7.25 since 2009. By contrast, women represent only 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 firms” (“Gender Inequality”). That data suggests that the workplace is generally dominated by males and that there is little room for female advancement. In addition, women of color and transgender individuals experience particularly higher levels of poverty, unemployment, and other economic hardships. Gender discrimination is a sad part of reality in this country, and since this novel brings much attention to the issue, that could be why it has had a renewal of popularity.

Another common theme in The Handmaid’s Tale investigates female reproductive rights. In this novel, the patriarchs of Gilead want to control women’s bodies, their sex lives, and their reproductive rights. Women are required to submit to state-sanctioned rape by their commanders, and are not permitted to have any romantic love of their own. In addition, the women frequently see the bodies of slain abortionists on the wall which drives home the point that giving them authority over their bodies is considered to be a horrifying crime. Two specific quotes from the novel assist in explaining how women had very limited rights to their own bodies. One quote from Offred says, “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping” (Atwood 88). As Offred sits in the bath, she contrasts with how she used to think about her body to the way she thinks about it now. Before, her body was an instrument, an extension of herself, but now her body is only important because of its “central object,” her womb, which can bear a child. Offred has internalized Gilead’s attitude toward women, which treats them not as individuals, but as objects important only for the children that they can bear.

Another quote from Offred states, “Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us” (Atwood 14). This quote shows how the handmaids are cloaked in red as a reminder of their fertility. Red not only symbolizes menstrual blood or blood resulting from birth, but it is a constant reminder of a threat of death if they were to behave disobediently. Discussions of female reproductive rights are extremely prevalent in today’s world, and that could be an additional reason as to why this novel has regained popularity. Due to the tense political climate currently in this country, as politicians are threatening the possible overturn of the Roe v. Wade case, feminists have taken it upon themselves to form a movement to advocate for barriers to government involvement in certain matters such as birth control methods. They will not let the federal government take away their rights to their own bodies like the Republic of Gilead did in the novel. In addition to the current fight to keep abortion an available option for all women, the recent #MeToo movement also greatly relates to the theme of female reproductive rights. As huge waves of women are coming forward with sexual assault allegations, it shows how they will no longer allow male figures to abuse them. As the novel deals with rape culture, more women are reading it and are making sure that their voice is heard so that they can steer clear of being a victim of sexual violence.

Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, may be considered as a fictional story however, it touches upon many important and controversial topics that are being dealt with in this country today. Two of the topics include gender inequality and the unfair ways in which female reproductive systems are handled. Even though this novel was introduced 32 years ago, it has had a significant renewal of popularity because Americans are able to relate to the story more than they ever have. The novel provides a foundation for further discussions regarding how the nation must deal with these problems so that citizens never have to live in a society like that of the oppressed Republic of Gilead.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Literature Review

The Handmaid’s Tale is written in the extremes set in Cambridge, England. It follows a non-linear storyline, meaning the story is not in chronological order causing the plot points to be revealed through flashbacks. The first few chapters are dedicated to heavy descriptions of various settings and there are no definitive descriptions for the various terms used in the book. This world created in this book is based in a highly patriarchal system where, through the government (The Republic of Gilead), women were seen as lesser humans who must be devoted to men in higher positions. To do this, they guise the protection of women in order to control the women’s minds and therefore, their bodies. Men in lower positions were also restricted in certain aspects but not as much. The narrator, who comes to be known as Ofred, is a handmaiden- symbolized by their red coloured clothing. Her name was given to symbolize the man she was meant to dedicate her life and body to in order to produce an heir. Handmaidens are likened to slaves of the household; they are owned by the commander, of which there are many – all male. When serving a commander, handmaidens are assigned to a couple. The handmaiden then participates in a sexual ritual in which the hope would be the production of a pure offspring. This ideology was ingrained in order to combat the falling birthrates.

The names of the handmaids are similar in nature, the word preceding their “given” names denouncing their personal rights and making them an entity to be owned. All women are used to carry out bottomfeeder tasks but not all women are handmaids. The non-breeding and sterile women were of a different class. It was alluded that a handmaid that is deemed infertile, would be sent away to a camp where she would clean up toxic waste and would be referred to as an “unwoman” until she died. The women clad in green were servants of the household, and women clad in blue were called wives.

The story begins at the Re-education Centre, here handmaids are trained for their positions. The women are forbidden to speak and under heavy surveillance by the angels and aunts, who were the ones that taught the handmaids what they needed to know. Since her two previous assignments were unsuccessful for reasons never disclosed, Offred was assigned to her third and final commander. She always reminisces about her past life with her husband, Luke and her daughter whose locations are now unknown. She also remembers her friend, Moira, who reminds her of the freedom she once had. Throughout the assignment, Offred joins a resistance and participates in several illegal affairs – physical and psychological. These affairs eventually lead to her death by betrayal. Toward the middle of the story, Offred is raped but the group’s mentality of victim blaming leads everyone to turn against her. because she “lead them on” a rhetoric which is becoming only now becoming antiquated in our own society. Eventually after the successful birth of a female child by another handmaiden, Offread viewed sex evenmore as a mechanical act. This thought process continued until the commander started to take on an unusual infatuation with Offred, keeping this dangerous affair a secret form his new wife, Serera – an anti-feminist.

Loneliness, isolation and oppression are central themes in the book. Comparisons are drawn between Offread’s situation and that of the lover of a nazi guard whom days after denying knowledge of the internment camps and his guilt, committed suicide. This showed at the time that Offread was starting to go into a state of denial. She also develops a close bond with Olfgen who is part of the resistance. Nazis, persecuted Catholics, executes homosexuals (“gender traitors”), The women of the resistance have also began to employ radical behaviours which tears olfred between them. With the discovery that her lost daughter is alive and could possibly be tortured if she did not disclose information. Serena finds out that Offred went to the morally vile club with her husband, this causes Offred to contemplates suicide. A van under the command of the Eyes, the spies of the nation take offred away to her death in a colony camp without anyone knowing who ordered it. Though it was suspected that Nick had betrayed her.

The book overall gives us a glimpse of what a world under a specific set of rules would function. This world functioned as a unification of old religious teachings under a more or less relatable and familiar setting. It tests dangerous waters and is inflammatory in its writing. However, this gives us an unusual perspective – encouraging thinking that

The Handmaid’s tale is unlike any book I have read. The closest form of entertainment that I can relate it to is the book series NPC. NPC is a fantasy series in which the Non-player characters of a fantasy roleplay world, most similar to Dungeons and Dragons become sentient. In this world many player characters view the npcs as trash under their feet that are only used for one reason and one reason only – to take from them. However, the npcs under some tomfoolery become sentient – having accidentally ending up with the bodies of the player characters in their care. They set off to impersonate them and take their place as adventurers under the king. This relates very loosely to the handmaid’s tale where the character were functioning under one main set of rules. Offred was under the dissolution that her life the way it became after her failed escape was the way it was always going to be. The Npcs are similar in that fashion where they always believed their world was a certain way, not realizing that they were interacting with beings not from their universe. Not realizing that they were pawns to the people. Offred differs in this regard where she is perfectly aware that she is a pawn, and in the end her moves failed.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” By Margaret Atwood Review

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood shows us the literal impact of power and the identity of the people of Gilead. As it is shown and represented that commanders have the power and can do whatever they want but the handmaids rank in the lowest position and have no freedom and no right to speak. The handmaids also don’t have any identity and they get called by the name of the men they slept with. The identity, the freedom, the power, and the fear none of the handmaids can have all four things there will be one thing that they can’t have out of all four of these. The high power commanders were misusing and manipulating their power.

In Gilead, handmaids were not allowed to raise their voice or to tell they’re true identity to anyone. When Offred wants everyone to know her true identity but she can’t “My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden.” (Atwood 84). Offred mentions that she does have another name she wants to go by but she can’t use her real name. According to this, it shows that women’s (handmaids) can’t have their own real identity and have to go by their owner’s (commanders) name just like Offred would be Of’ Fred. When she meets Ofglen she does not know the real name that she can call her “‘I am Ofglen,’ the woman says. … whatever she is, is no longer Ofglen. I never did know her real name.” (283). It shows how every handmaid doesn’t get the right to have their true identity. It represents that handmaids don’t get involved with other people’s matters and can’t talk openly.

Nobody has the power to do anything except the commanders. As she says this while she was talking to herself “It’s difficult to resist, believe me. But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.” (134-135). As Offred mentions that forgiveness is the power and begging for it or stopping it is the greatest power. She believes that god can not be that unfair that he will not forgive someone. Even though she does not believe in religion, she still thinks that commanders were using their power in the wrong way and misleading the population of the Gilead. She knows that the majority of the Gilead’s population is misguided and manipulated by the commanders without their acknowledgement.

As everyone has to follow the orders that were given by the commanders and if they go against it it won’t be a good thing for them because as it mentions in the book whoever tries to oppose them will be hanged on the wall. The handmaids don’t get to have their own identity and have to go by the name of the commander there slept with. The two different ways of freedom were represented as a freedom to and a freedom from. The power or the freedom does not count in the dictionary of handmaids because the only people that have freedom and power are the one who rule over the Gilead and those are the commanders.

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