The Handmaid's Tale Through a Feminist Lens
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The Handmaid's Tale: Through a Feminist Lens
The only purpose of women in Gilead is toreproduce
"I used to think of my body as aninstrument, of pleasure, or a means oftransportation, or an implement for theaccomplishment of my will" (Atwood, 84)
Since Gilead created their owninterpretation of the bible, theyuse it to justify what they do towomen
The handmaid's names are taken away andare changed to "of", and the name of thecommander
Ownership of their belongings were givento their closest male relative
They're not allowed to hold jobs and assets
The new Gilead regime removed women'sright to financial independence
Most women have very little contact withmen. Women are expected to support eachother in times of birth, death and sickness.
Women are not allowed to read or write
Atwood draws similarities to radicalfeminists, such as Offred's mother. Offredrecalls a scene in which her mother andother feminists burn porn magazines.
"I threw the magazine into the flames. Itriffled open in the wind of its burning; bigflakes of paper came loose, sailed into theair, still on fire, parts of women’s bodies,turning to black ash, in the air, before myeyes"(Atwood, 43)
These feminists ban expressions of sexuality(such as porn magazines). Gilead also usesthe feminist rhetoric of female solidarity and“sisterhood” to its own advantage to controland "empower" women without the need ofmen
Atwood's target of feminism was thereligious right; implying the dark side offeminist rhetoric
In today's media construct, there is a constantstruggle with showcasing women as objects ofdesire. Having many inequalities between thesexes, creates a lot of issues.
There has been too many cases where awoman’s credibility or character has beenattacked in the wake of sexual assault intodays society.
Connection to The Handmaid's Tale: Once amonth the male head of the householdperforms a “ceremony” in which heessentially rapes the handmaid in hopes thatshe becomes pregnant. If she does, and hasa successful birth, the baby is then takenfrom the handmaid and given to the coupleto raise as their own.
"It’s Janine, telling about how she wasgangraped at fourteen and had anabortion" (Atwood, 81)
There are many countries, religions anddress codes that force women to coverthemselves up so as to not “provoke” men.
Connection to The handmaids tale: Womenare divided into “categories” depending onwhat they contribute to society. Wives wearthe puritan colour blue. Handmaids are inred. Marthas, who do most of the cookingand cleaning in the rich households, weargreen etc... and for the handmaids, eyecontact is completely forbidden.
There has been a heated debate aroundabortion, women’s rights, and the U.S.government’s role in all things fertility.Whether that be IVF or surrogacy (which isessentially a handmaid by differentstandards)
Connection to The Handmaids Tale: Anyunmarried woman who is able to bear children istrained to become a handmaid, a servant who issent to live in the home of a rich, barren couple inpower.
Rape and Sexual Violence
Sexual violence, particularly against women, is veryprevalent in The Handmaid’s Tale. The Commanderand the Aunts claim that women are betterprotected in Gilead, that they are treated withrespect and kept safe from violence.
The most important, sexual violence whichis apparent in the novel, is the ceremonywhich compels Handmaids to have sex withtheir Commanders.
In one scene, the Handmaids tear apart withtheir bare hands a supposed rapist (actuallya member of the resistance). Gilead claimsto suppress sexual violence, but it actuallyinstitutionalizes it.
Religion and Politics
Gilead is a theocracy (a government wherethere is no separation between state andreligion). Gilead's official vocabularyincorporates religious terminology andbiblical references.
Politics and religion sleep in the same bed inGilead, where the slogan “God is a NationalResource” dominates
Domestic servants are called “Marthas” inreference to the New Testament; the localpolice are “Guardians of the Faith”;soldiers are “Angels”; and theCommanders are “Commanders of theFaithful.”
"There is something reassuring about thetoilets. Bodily functions at least remaindemocratic. Everybody shits, as Moirawould say"(Atwood, 252)
"Replaced the serial polygamy common inthe pre-Gilead period with the older form ofsimultaneous polygamy practiced in the OldTestament times" (Atwood, 305)
All of the stores in Gilead have biblicalnames: Loaves and Fishes, All Flesh, Milkand Honey. The automobiles also havebiblical names like Behemoth, Whirlwind,and Chariot.
Offred is a great representative of women ingeneral before Gilead. She didn't considerherself a feminist, and she feared feminismwould alienate her from men.
Now Offred understands that feminism onlyforces women to recognize their naturalalienation from men.
Handmaid for The Commander
Her real name is unknown
Was previously married to a man namedLuke, and had one child
A close friend of Offred, and is stronglyopposed to Gilead
Moira is a dynamic character because shewas very independent and determined.Whereas at the end of the novel shetransitioned to a prostitute in order to befree
Has a lot of power, but is careful not toabuse it
His relationship with Offred goes frompowerful and overbearing to casual, and heallows her to play scrabble with him (whichinvolves creating words) which is banned inGilead for many
Bitter and selfish character throughout theentire novel character doesn't changemuch
She's jealous of Offred because she wantsThe Commander all for herself
Walks with Offred everyday when they gointo town
Ofglen is a static character because she hadthe same views as Offred, especiallyconcerning the resistance
Ofglen commits suicide because sheknew that the "eyes" were coming forher
Restriction of Freedom
Freedom being achieved throughrepression; "There is more than one kind offreedom, said Aunt Lydia, Freedom to andfreedom from" (Atwood, 24).
Freedom to is negative while freedom fromis positive
The handmaid's are only allowed to wearlong red dresses and white bonnets which conceal their body and face,stripping them of any identity
"So little time to change our minds, aboutthings like this. Then I think: I used to dresslike that. That was freedom" (Atwood, 33)
The Power of Language
Offred explains that everything is are-interpretation of something else, and thatnothing is an exact description of the truth
Atwood's well integrated themesthroughout the novel develops the power oflanguage and that the unity as one createspower.
Atwood is widely viewed as a feministwriter, and The Handmaid's Talepresents a complex feminism point ofview
Atwood explores feminism in this novel,highlighting the flaws of a society likeGilead
"To achieve vision in this way, this journeyinto a darkness that is composed of women,a woman, who can see in darkness while hehimself strains blindly forward" (Atwood,101)
Historisicm Reading and Writing
In Gilead, almost all women are bannedfrom reading and writing. Words areconsidered influential works which caninspire ideas of freedom and change -which is not approved of
In the past, reading and writing was notcommon for women.
Atwood did a great job at incorporatingmany issues which women facedthroughout history
Only a few higher up members thecommunity are permitted to readin write
Atwood reflects the use of individuality andthe use of free words throughout the novel
The Colour Red
When worn by the handmaid's, itsymbolizes fertility. Red suggests theblood of the menstrual cycle andchildbirth
The handmaid's red garments alsosymbolize the ambiguous sinfulness of thehandmaid's position in Gilead
"I don't want to look at something thatdetermines me so completely" (Atwood,63)
The Eyes of God are Gilead's secret police
Their name and symbol (the winged eye)symbolizes eternal watchfulness
A document in which old writing has beenscratched out and new writing has beenplaced
Symbolizes how the old world has beenerased and replaced, partially, by a neworder
Symbolizes the direct link between thepuritans and their sexual heirs in Gilead
Centre of Gilead's power Offred lives here
Considered to symbolize beauty and fertility
Flowers have ovaries, much like women do,symbolizing reproductive organs
They are given attention because they'recapable of growing and blooming, just likewomen
"The red of the smile is the same as the redof the tulips in Serena Joy’s garden, towardsthe base of the flowers where they arebeginning to heal"( Atwood, 40 )