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The Handmaid's Tale is regarded as one of the best feminism-focused dystopian books ever written. The Gilead totalitarian state, which the novel calls, is highlighted. It was formerly a part of the United States and is supported by religious fundamentalism. Coherently, it is believed that most of the women with this background are infertile and sterile, leaving just a tiny minority who are known as "Handmaids." Such women are under pressure to become pregnant for incredibly rich and superior couples. New England is the setting for Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel, which she wrote. Atwood is a Canadian novelist. Such a dystopian novel's emphasis on totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and patriarchal authority is one of its key characteristics. The story appears to center on a dystopian world where women are subjected to repressive social control and are largely infertile owing to environmental pollution, necessitating handmaids to become pregnant.
The Handmaid's Tale focuses on the legally controlling the reproductive system of women which is politically and morally unethical. It is because of the Gileadean state's desire to control and own women's fertility that has caused suffering to Offred and the other Handmaids. Certain details have mentioned the Gileadean state or the motive to control the fertility of women. The theme has focused on the religious sect that focused on the declining birth rate has focussed on the environmental pollution that has caused health concerns with the aversion to gender roles. In The Handmaid's Tale, an argument has been brought forward where it is believed that there is no perfect society as such, although with extravagant change it could be achieved. Moreover, the theme of rebellion and oppression has also been displayed in The Handmaid’s Tale where the focus has shifted to never stop fighting and giving up.
Offred is the ultimate protagonist who is the narrator of the novel and around which the storyline revolves. Offred is intelligent, kind, and perceptive. She has undergone enough faults that have turned her into a human being but not so that she turns into an unsympathetic figure. Her character is what makes her special as she is a standard woman who has been placed in an exemplary outlook. Offred is not a crusading hero, taking into consideration the failure in the attempt to flee from her husband and daughter. She is been described as a feminist activist mother who has made Offred feel uncomfortable most of the time. As the story progresses, Offred recites her relationship with Luke that commenced when he had been married to someone else. Furthermore, the friendship of Offred with Ofglen is portrayed as well as the member of the resistance that has a thrilling experience of bringing Gilead down.
The Republic of Gilead is displayed as a society that follows cruelty, injustice, and violence. As far as The Handmaid's Tale is concerned, the Republic of Gilead has been depicted as something that has been highly structured with a patriarchal society that focuses on white supremacists. This has comprised of men that are of high positions (such as Commander) who have demanded women to fulfill certain responsibilities and roles that comprise taking care of the house (such as Marthas) and handmaids (such as Offred). The Dystopian society comprises no happiness altogether, where their freedom is tormented. Such a regime restricts individual citizens from the fundamental rights that are present in society. Under such a republic and government, the political system is distorted and it is the women who face immense difficulties concerning this. This type of totalitarian dystopian society is a depiction of the government's control over the people through religious and educational institutions.
The Gilead Republic has a different outlook on women altogether. Although, previously three categories of women had been discovered, in the Gilead Republic six categories have been identified. These comprise of Marthas, Handmaids, Wives, Econowives, Aunts and Unwomen. The Gilead Republic has controlled woman and their fundamental rights that have focused on women being merely a womb with mothering being their main role. Such a society has stereotypical thinking against women and has taken them to be slaves to men. The Republic of Gilead expects women to obey men who are considered to be more rational and have better knowledge about life as compared to the women of this society. Such social classes have distinct roles in the Gilead Republic that have enabled them to perform different roles for men. In “The Handmaid’s Tale” Atwood in her novel the sexuality of women is extravagantly manipulated where they are controlled and appropriated by men.
In the time before Gilead and the events leading up to the regime, the life of Offred has not been a peaceful one. Previously, she and her mother had regular quarrels and clashes, as her mother was interested in feminist rallies as compared to her daughter. Although, it had been cleared out earlier that the Rallies were specifically done to meet friends. Her mother though being an active feminist has chosen to be a single mother. It was seen earlier that before such advent, Offred had an active involvement in the University where she had developed a close friend called Moira. She describes her previous life to be very happening where she was involved with a man that had been married named Luke, eventually, they both got married and gave birth to a daughter child. The previous life of Offred was considered to be less stressful as she had temporary witness to the pleasures of life which later was taken away permanently.
Previously, the life of Offred was pretty much happening and interesting, although she did have quarrels with her mother which made her think otherwise. It has been witnessed that Offred, in comparison to her present life, remembers her past a lot more. There is a more recollection of the past which Offred makes, she says that out of all the memories she has of her past, it is her dear friend Moira that she misses. Offred reminisces about most of the time that she spent with her dear friend at the University. In the present life, Offred is not happy with being a Handmaid. She vividly quotes “If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending.” She also compares how her previous life has been happening, and compares to the freedom that had been taken away from her. In regards to her autonomy, she quotes, “Tell rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden”.
The ritual or ceremony is a very prized possession in the Gilead society, it has been described as “washed and brushed like a prize pig”. The ceremony starts with the Handmaid being bathed, where later on a gathering is taken place where the reading of the Bible and prayer is taken place. This is taken over by the patriarch of the house. During the commencement of the ceremony, everyone is clothed mostly. The ceremony is not supposed to be sensual rather the purpose of such ceremony is to ensure that a child is conceived. For this, both the Handmaid and the Wife have to lay on their backs on the edge of the bed, where the Handmaid is supposed to lie between the legs of the wife. The head of the Handmaid should be against the abdomen of the wife with the arms raised over her head to hold hands with the wife while ensuring the intercourse takes place. This symbolizes “a unity in the flesh” in the Biblical context.
Gilead is exposed to significantly low rates of reproduction, the significant reason is definitely because of the change in the environment, but at the same time for the dependency on Handmaid to produce children as well. The prime stereotypical thinking is that they think that such a segment of society is made to take all the turmoil and pain. It is the Handmaids who have been given the responsibility to conceive and bear children from the couples that are unable to do so. In the story, it is the Commander and his Wife, whom Offred has been given the duty to conceive. Such oppressive rituals tend to oppress women leading to suppressing their individuality and maintaining the hierarchy of power. The Gilead society has termed a man’s body to be capable and a woman’s body as abnormal when it comes to reproductive rights. The women of Gilead's society are taken to be efficient based on the reproductive capability that they possess.
In the Gilead society, the Commanders are considered to be important and potent individuals who have a strong hold over the decisions and working of the household. In The Handmaid's Tale, the Commander is perceived as a strong personality who makes constructive decisions in the household. An unorthodox relationship is developed between the Handmaid and the Commander when they engage themselves in a game of Scrabble during the night study. Although the story depicts him to be a man of some extreme stereotypical thinking and someone who is oppressive and demanding, he is a man with a pleasant character, with a well-meaning. The commander’s wife is generally considered to be infertile and they are only involved in increasing the population of Gilead with the assistance of the Handmaid that has been assigned. Serena Joy the wife of the commander has only specific roles in the house and is exposed to more freedom as compared to the Handmaid.
Offred being the central character of the novel has said evidently that somewhere her past life was comparatively better. She now feels that her life has become more constrained and compact with her freedom being stripped away by being a Handmaid. It could be said that Offred’s passivity to the situation is a contrasting act of resistance to other women who belong to the Gileadean regime. The life of the Handmaid is something that does not have much adventure and is filled with color, the reason being that the life they lead is extensively controlled. Some of Offred's inner thoughts that have been depicted in the novel are the gnawing descriptions that have been made of the world revolving around her. The hardships that she has undergone are something that has created a significant impact on her life. It can be said that the significant reflections on what she could perceive could be depicted as a form of resistance that Offred showed concerning the treatment that she got.
Offred was not the only Handmaid who had been involved in resistance there were other characters that were involved and facing the same situation as her. The previous life as described by Offred was far better than the constriction that she had been living in. She makes a mention of Moira, one of her best friends from the University. She is a staunch feminist and a lesbian who is a true picture of female resourcefulness and true independence. Moira has stark behavior, as compared to the other women in the novel. Although there have been several mentions where Moira has tried to escape and yet she manages to get away from the Red Center. She is a person who is a true depiction of the meaning of resigned to her fate, which depicts a true picture of a totalitarian society. Ofglen on the other hand, is another Handmaid who accompanies Offred to shopping and is an active member of the subversive "Mayday" underground. It was earlier revealed that Ofglen was found to hang herself rather than ultimately facing the torture.
Dystopian novels comprise individuals in an oppressive society that defies the acts of the government through resistance. There are wider resistance movements that have been depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale. Some of the instances might include conversation, theft infidelity, and many others that have a significant impact on Gilead's stability. The main thing that has grabbed the attention is the strict and totalitarian regime that has impacted society in a significant manner. As far as controlling and resistance of women are concerned, Gilead uses two main devices that have controlled women in such a backdrop. Firstly, the degree of language that had been used which uses oppresses women or restricts them from having their autonomy. Secondly, the use of violence is another oppression that has been used. This shows that as far as the Gilead stability is concerned treating women is termed as an object as they are considered to be less superior than men.
The Gilead Republic has been a society that comprises backward thinking and treats women of different categories. Considering this, the Aunts play a mediating role in indoctrinating the Handmaids. They make them understand the importance of destiny and fate and how they play a crucial role in society. Considering this, they instruct the Handmaids that fate is something that they have to accept when it comes to filling the role. In “The Handmaid’s Tale” Aunt Lydia is given the responsibility of working at the “Red Center”. This institution, operated by Aunt Lydia offers women like Offred and others detailed instructions for becoming Handmaids. Mostly, Aunt Lydia is seen to appears in the flashbacks of Offred, where her way of instructions and details haunt her daily life. Aunt Lydia inserts the drum of ideology and slogans, into the minds of the women, this is for the case in which such women do not comprehend such psychology and ideology.
Coherently, The Rachel and Leah Center which was known unofficially to be The Red Center was established to make the women well aware of the duties and responsibilities of a Handmaid. Taking reference from Biblical characters such as Leah and Rachel. Such Biblical characters have inspired such Handmaids as the breeders of the Republic of Gilead. The women who are chosen to serve as handmaids ensure that a proper uniform is followed when it comes to entering The Red Center. It was located in the secondary school with a fresh fence surrounded by barbed wire which was additionally guarded by the Angels. Their autonomy was so tarnished that even while going to the toilets they were accompanied by Aunts and kept under strict surveillance. The mental torture was so much that they were not permitted to leave the institution until they were handed over to a Commander. Education concerning the Gilead belief system was provided to the Handmaids which constricted them psychologically making them feel suffocated.
Offred the central character of the novel has faced many hardships and sufferings throughout her entire life. She remembers her past life and compares it to the constricted life that she has been living making her realize it was way better earlier. It can be said that all the Handmaids that Offred shared thoughts and communicated with have a similar situation altogether. Ofglen whom she often went shopping with is one of the characters she had been close to. She understood and found a common ground of feeling and hardship that they both were going through. Later on, when she found out that Ofglen had hanged herself she started to realize that their autonomy was something that had been stripped away from them. Although Serena treated Handmaids to be tools and regarded them as “Little whores, all of them”, she tried to treat Offred the same way. Offred on the other hand showed acts of rebellion in which she is seen to resist the oppressive treatment that had been given to her. Offred has been seen to be involved in acts of theft, where she had stolen butter thought to be a skin lotion which depicts her strong willingness to be unique.
Serena Joy the Commander's wife is seen to dislike Offred as she cannot stand someone inferior to be treated the same way as she. As per the assumption of Serena Joy Offred is seen to be equivalent which she cannot take in. She makes an assumption that Offred is having an affair with the Commander which aggravates her even further. According to her psychology, Offred is just a mere tool that is no more than an asset or property for him. Such opinion and mindset depict her strong dislike for Offred as she thinks that the relationship with her husband is the prime reason why her marriage is falling apart. In a climatic interaction between Offred and Serena, it was a conspiracy that was devised by Serena to set her up for intercourse with Nick. Through her evil conspiracy, Serena was looking to go against the rules to ensure that Offred gets pregnant, which may seem generous but ultimately the baby shall be Serena's. Moreover, to make things difficult for Offred Serena constructs a picture of her lost daughter on one condition if she sleeps with Nick.
As per the given lines, “Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it is who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me that it amounts to the same thing” This line depicts the importance the power and compares that the consequences would be harsh as a Handmaid but lesser to the commander. Moreover, the relationship with the Commander puts Offred in a powerless situation where she feels vulnerable. Her autonomy and independence are something which she does not have control over which is the reason she cannot deny any plea made by the Commander, or else she would be handed over to the authorities. The relationship between Offred and the Commander could be said that she is under deep constriction concerning the threat of breaking the rules and death. This also simplifies that fate is something that cannot be controlled by herself, this dictates the power of willingness to survive.
Serena Joy another crucial character of the play had been a singer in the Christian television programme who later on went on to become the advocate for the women who were at home. To her at first, her role as a wife is pretty dissatisfying as she is unhappy with many things that the Gilead society has imposed on women. Comparatively, like her husband she is a hypocrite as well where she is manipulative and cruel within the system. She feels that she is constricted within the social boundary that she had created, to take out her frustrations she utilizes her power of oppression to suppress other women in the society as well. Offred describes Serena as an older woman who uses a cane, though her name depicts joy and peace she has none of those attributes. Serena Joy being a static character in the novel plays a mediating role, though she is depicted as a static character, she is difficult as well. She is cruel towards all the Handmaids and hurts them to feel powerful.
The Mayday Resistance is a mob of secret resistance that controls and handles a clandestine cell system, which works to bring down and oppose Gilead from the interiors. It was later on revealed by Ofglen to Offred that she was an active part of the “Mayday”. Through everything that Offred has gone through she now wishes to be a part of the resistance movement that is "May Day". She finds a way to make friends with Alma and is an active part of such a movement, she decides to contribute towards such movement through her. At first, Alma is distorted and resists such a movement by ultimately rejecting her proposal. Later on, she accepts it and gives her a task as a first assignment, which is to get a mystery package from Rachel who was present at the bar in the Jezebel’s club. As her part of the May Day Resistance Network, she was advised to hold the package until further notice.
It was following the Military Coup that the underground movement was undergoing where most members and the President had been killed, this led to the germination of the Republic of Gilead. It was the Underground Femaleroad resistance movement in which the organization was constantly involved in rescuing the targets from the regime of Gilead. This organisation helps other women and members by offering shelter to fugitives which are also known as “safe houses”. Such an organization also sometimes fulfills the job duties of a courier service which is to escort them out, such stations are in regular contact with each other. It was difficult while fighting against The White Supremacist in the Gilead regime which looked to intensify when a commander was assassinated in an effort that was coordinated that had been plotted against such a regime. It was the NATO, military of the US and American civilians that could successfully defeat Gilead in a few years.
Control is the ultimate factor that has been present in the society of Gilead, it has been dominated by all the respective aspects of the Gileadean society. Taking into consideration petty normalities, minors, and many other sects certain formalities had been hindered. It was the small normalities such as the restriction of clothes and the guidelines for who to keep sexual relationships with. In "The Handmaid's Tale" there have also been some acts of resistance that have been shown by Offred as well where she elucidates upon the reflections as to what she could perceive presently showing a form of resistance. Offred’s resistance was more than being a resistance mostly was luck. As far as the Gilead society is concerned such tiny rebellions are not considered to matter. It has been evident clearly that the women in the Gilead regime are the extent victims of such situations where most of them are exposed to complexity.
It is clear that the Gilead society comprises strict regulations that strip women of their autonomy, leading to a life that is controlled by the authorities. It can be said that the term Salvaging is used to relate to executions that are taking place in public in Gilead. Ceremonies such as the above ensure that the person who has performed Salvaging are the ones that are disgusting creatures and have no option other than being beaten up to death. It can be analyzed that many methods have been used in the Gilead society. The ultimate one is the use of language that helps to keep within limits the oppression of women. Secondly, the treatment of women to be a tool is another tactic used by Gilead to promote public executions. Such practices and actions that are used by the Gilead society and "The Handmaid's Tale are a kind of harsh and direct kind of oppression.
Jezebel was the name of the Club where all the high-ranking officials were present, it was named after an evil queen. Such a character has taken reference from a Biblical queen the manipulative one. The Queen of Israel who had been married to the King of Ahab, encouraged her husband to turn away from God, persecuted her followers, and committed various evil acts. The Jezebel’s club visit comprises high-ranking officials and women who have been dressed in clothes that are revealing from the past. Such women are seen to mix around with men that are of high quality and powerful. As far as Offred is concerned the Commander seems to enjoy showing her in the club which is generally forbidden against the law. Offred spots Moira in the club where she is seen in a very ill-fitting costume that comprises a Playboy bunny, it is after their sights meet that they pretend not to recognize each other.
The suffering of the female protagonist has been displayed in “The Handmaid’s Tale” where the theme of religious oppression has been underpinned. The suffering highlights the ill-treatment that has been surrounding the female protagonists in the novel. It can be said that though Gilead is considered to be a society that looks into the futuristic society it follows some disgusting stereotypes that have in all created a negative impact on the society altogether. Moreover, some of the principles that necessarily need to be followed are not seen to be practiced in the society of Gilead. One of the instances of hypocrisy could include the setting at Jezebel’s. This includes the total opposite of the value that has been given to sexuality, it comprises of reverse ideas that are being followed including the women being seen as a sexual tool to satisfy the desires of men. This opposes their ideology of women's wombs being considered to be sacred. Moreover, morality has also been frequently mentioned by the Aunts who are present at the Red Centre.
It was due to the external pressures and forceful impositions imposed both externally and internally that led to the collapse of Gilead. The totalitarian and economic regime that constructed the Republic of Gilead had taken over a majority of parts of the United States of America. Taking special reference to The Handmaid’s Tale, it has been highlighted as an antagonist of the novel. It can be said that it was the resistance that had been caused by The Mayday that gradually accumulated the evidence for all the betrayals and illegal practices that had been caused by Gilead. There had been a massive wave of infighting caused by the Commanders and such resistance groups. This tarnished and weakened the structure of the Gilead and their self-owned military group. A counterattack by such a resistance group gave extreme pressure and collapsed the Gilead after which the United States had been restored.
The ultimate academic analysis of Offred's story can be categorized into the 17th-century Puritan theocracy that had been prevalent in America, this has been similar to the political climate around 1980. Concerning the historical context, it has also been highlighted the appointment of Ronald Regan as the President and the country’s adoption of Christian conservatism as influences. The history revolves around the changes that had been encountered which includes a constitutional amendment that imposed the return of prayers to be made mandatory at school. It was also seen that there had been an active involvement in the political organisations which were Focus on the Family and Moral Majority. There is a contrasting link between the temporary rise in power that had been caused by such groups that feared distortions to be caused. This led to a contrasting change being caused in modern-day society which itself resonates with some of the Christian beliefs earlier.
The theme of enduring oppression and willingness has been depicted, where the treatment of women has been kept as a focal point. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the women have been shown a certain degree of oppression where they have been subjected to rigid control in all the spheres of their lives. Women in her journal have been subjected to mediocrity in their society. The Handmaid’s Tale has shown a theme of power, oppression, and resilience has been depicted in the novel, where it has been shown that the women are nothing but slaves and second sex. The entire setting has shown a world that is without any independence and autonomy with no self-opinion and choice for women whatsoever. The power of oppression has been shown when women have been enslaved. Resilience is depicted by the character Offred when she compares her past life to the current life that she has been living. The ultimatum of power has been depicted by all the supreme men which is the Commander.
It can be concluded that the dystopian world of "The Handmaid's Tale" is something that has restricted society, especially women from growing altogether. It can be said the Gilead society that has been depicted, has a more authoritarian government that has snatched the power of autonomy and independence from the people. The central theme that has been depicted here is the power of Religion which is mainly Christianity and the regulations that wrap it up. The novel refers to the Bible upon which certain regulations and laws have been constricted. Moreover, the other themes that can be depicted here are Rebellion and oppression, Fertility, religion, Loss of Agency, Consequences of the environment, Love, Agency loss, and Faith. Such themes have been mentioned to depict that such a society constrains the people which is especially women from making their own decisions depicting them are more incompetent than men.
The Red Cloak worn by women has depicted the treatment of oppression to women, this has seared the image of the soul with a clear picture of future dystopia. It can be said that the future dystopia that has been depicted here is where women have been forced to reproduce children for the elite class. This reproductive slavery is not only constrained till here rather they have no life of their own. Such women who were termed "Handmaids” ritualistically and routinely needed to have intercourse with the Commanders of the Gilead society. The novel has raised a “speculative fiction”, which states that the future would be unimaginable without any advances in technology from the present. The novel depicts every aspect that has been politically and socially present. In contemporary society, the political power of Christian fundamentals and women's ingenuousness has been mentioned and is somehow still present.
Margaret Atwood is seen to have a lasting impact on society with her works that she has done. It is because of her writings on the injustice and cruelty of women that she has been seen as a brilliant feminist which has made her known by many. Being a Canadian author born in 1939, she was inspired to write where she engaged herself in the writing of poems, plays, comics, and books at the age of 6. It was at the age of 16 that she decided to become a full-time writer and take it up as a lifetime career. Her writings are a true depiction of the exploring ideas concerning identity, gender, and power, and rewriting fairy tales has contributed significantly to Canadian Literature. She has shed light upon the rights and autonomy that should be given to women and also has contributed to contemporary literature by writing 35 books of short stories, fiction, literary criticism, poetry, and television and radio scripts.
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the finest pieces by Margaret Atwood which is a futuristic dystopian novel. It highlights the near-future New England, which is a patriarchal white supremacist that focuses on the Gilead society. The totalitarian government that has been highlighted here focuses on overthrowing the United States government. Moreover, the gender roles have been significantly placed in “The Handmaid’s Tale”, concerning the religious patriarchy. Such roles that have been given in the novel concern the men and women who focus on Biblical ideas and gender. One of the instances and references that could be used from "The Handmaid's Tale" is the role of Commanders that have been assigned to men of superiority. They are the powerful men who have been given the right to engage in economic, political, and social events. Secondly, there are events such as using extravagant violence and treating women as mere tools for reproducing children. Such an act is termed as an act of rape that compares women's bodies as a medium to fulfill the desire of men, there is no consent being asked regarding it.
Thirdly, the theocracy of Gilead has been depicted by the government where the Church and the state are seen to be together. One of the instances in "The Handmaid's Tale" is Rita's role as Martha, who was named as a New Testament kitchen worker. This shows the importance of the Biblical sentiments that have been into play which depicts the importance in the Gilead society. Fourthly, an evident example of hypocrisy has been depicted. For instance, in "The Handmaid's Tale" the setting at Jezebel's club has a transparent depiction of the reverse ideas of sexual morality and purity. This has been depicted by the Aunts at the Red Center who frequently used obstructive terms. Fifth, is the control over women’s freedom of reproduction. “The Handmaid’s Tale” clearly depicts women to be unproductive and incapable of doing anything without the consent of men.
The state Offred and the other Handmaid has shown suffering when it comes to controlling the women’s fertility. There is a clear depiction and highlight of the ill-treatment that has been caused to women. This includes the ceremonial confiscation which is held before and after the Handmaid is handed over to the Commander. The act of rape and torturing women and oppressing a certain class or society has been depicted here. It could be said that "The Handmaid's Tale" is a concrete metaphor for Life is Highway where there are a lot of difficulties concerning the life of women. The Gilead society has used a clear reference to the female bodies to be nothing less than objects, where the Handmaids are required to be dedicated to their roles. The roles of a Handmaid have been compared to that of a biological mother where the Gilead regime is depicted. In such a society male domination is considered to be superior where they are taken to be responsible and know the responsibilities of life.
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