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Essay on The Dystopia in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

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The Dystopia in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale


Offred is a Handmaid in what used to be the United States, now the theocratic Republic of Gilead. In order to create Gilead's idea of a more perfect society, they have reverted to taking the Book of Genesis at its word. Women no longer have any privileges; they cannot work, have their own bank accounts, or own anything. The also are not allowed to read or even chose who they want to marry. Women are taught that they should be subservient to men and should only be concerned with bearing children. Margaret Atwood writes The Handmaid's Tale (1986) as to create a dystopia. A dystopia is an imaginary place where the condition of life is extremely bad, from deprivation, oppression, or terror. Three ways she displays the dystopia are through the characters, the language and the symbolism.

The first way Atwood makes her dystopian novel believable is through the characters she uses. The characters are a big part in creating her dystopian society and contribute to the overall affect of the novel. Through the characters' actions and thoughts, the true dystopian society is revealed.

One example of an influential character is the Commander. A Commander is an elite man who has a Wife and gets to have a Handmaid. The Commanders might seem to be acceptable with the whole set-up; however, there are clubs (Jezebel's for example) where these men get to go and mingle with an array of prostitutes. The Commanders go to Jezebel's to get away from the strict society. This is a quote from when the Commander takes Offred to Jezebel's, which explains a little more about the rebellion displayed by going to the club. The Commander tells Offred, "No nicotine-and-alcohol taboos here! You see, they...


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..., take place in Harvard Yard. Harvard is the symbol of the world that Gilead has created. The place that was founded to pursue knowledge and truth became the center of torture and the denial of every principle for which the university was supposes to stand.

The Handmaid's Tale has definitely fulfilled Atwood's purpose of creating a strong dystopian society. It seems as though throughout the entire novel, all the things that Gilead has reformed to make a more perfect society has backfired. In effort to make the world better, it has actually gotten worse. The strong use of Gilead's language points directly to the dystopian way of life. Atwood's use of characters and symbolism lets the reader know that the whole setting of the novel is in a strong dystopian society.

Work Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. Boston: Mass. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1986.


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