A Handmaid's Tale
- Length: 1650 words (4.7 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
A Handmaid's Tale
A new society is created by a group of people who strengthen and maintain their power by any means necessary including torture and death. Margaret Atwood's book, A Handmaid's Tale, can be compared to the morning after a bad fight within an abusive relationship. Being surrounded by rules that must be obeyed because of being afraid of the torture that will be received. There are no other choices because there is control over what is done, who you see and talk to, and has taken you far away from your family. You have no money or way out. The new republic of Gilead takes it laws to an even higher level because these laws are said to be of God and by disobeying them you are disobeying him. People are already likely to do anything for their God especially when they live in fear of punishment or death. The republic of Gilead is created and maintains its power structure through the use of religion, laws that isolate people from communication to one another and their families, and the fear of punishment for disobeying the law.
The new law would follow God's law that all are brothers and sisters, and according to Aunt Lydia will cause women to live in harmony together and support each other. The wife of the commander, Serena Joy was an strong advocate for submissive female roles and gospel singer before the war and the formation of Gilead. Since the creation of Gilead, she was forced into the submissive role of a housewife. Serena spoke on television about the sanctity of the home and how women should stay in the home. After taking on her new housewife role, "She doesn't make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home but it doesn't agree with her. How furious she must be now that she has been taken at her word" (chapter 8, pg.46). Serena has failed in producing children which is the purpose of woman's life in the beliefs of the Gilead society. She is jealous of Offred because Offred serves as a constant reminder of her failure. She is also resentful of the sexual relationship that Offred must have with her husband.
Serena must only show acceptance and gratitude toward fertile Offred, feeling any resentment toward her is against the law and even punishable. Woman must accept their new roles. Serena, a once powerful and accomplished women, is now seen as a failure because she can not do the simple task of bearing children. The laws keep Serena from being able to feel any emotions, but hidden within herself she places the blame of infertility on Offred. Offred is supposed to be her new fertile womb but she or the other Handmaids before have not been able to become impregnated. According to the values of society, Serena is a defeated woman, while Offred is the hope for the future. The republic of Gilead is very smart. They have everyone transfer the blame onto one another and not unto the failures of the law. The law does not allow women to have any form of conception other than penile stimulation but use the bible to allow for other fertile women to replace the barren. This religious act causes the wives to feel unimportant and as failures to their husbands as they are forced to watch him have sex with other woman. This power structure is kept strong by making failures out of oneself and because God above and his servants here on earth are always watching. Women are made into sexual objects and are made to feel unimportant . The government is never viewed at fault. If something does not work right it is because someone is going against Gods law not and not because the government is corrupt.
All pride and dignity is taken from the women in Gilead. They are isolated from their families and are tortured by the memories of them. Offred is taken from her family who tried to stay together by escaping the new society. When Offred and her husband get caught they were separated and there child was taken away from them. Through out the book, Offred was haunted by the memories of her child screaming out to her. The law forbids her to feel any emotion for her daughter. Offred is in constant risk that someone will see her pain. Not only is she tortured by the thoughts of what could have happened to her child and husband but in her new role, she is raped continually by the Commander. She must allow him to use her sexually or she will be put to death either immediately or slowly if sent to the colonies. She complies because she can't turn to anyone. Her family has been taken from her. She has no money and has no way out. She is made to believe that she is lucky to have this home. Lack of communication to others and separation from those she once new gives her and the others no choice but to comply. Even if they can escape as Moira had they will be caught and those who aided will be tortured and hung. Moira and her helpers were brutally punished. The cost of being caught for most is a small price to pay than complying to the new laws.
The one thing the law did was to "force you to kill, within yourself." (Chapter 30, pg.139) No one ever goes unwatched. Offred and Ofglen along with the other handmaids travel in twos. They are not allowed to communicate in great detail or to even see each others faces because if they are caught doing so, the eyes will come for them. It is too risky to openly show any feelings or ask unnecessary questions because there are spies and microphones everywhere. Even those seen as powerful men such as the Commander had laws and eyes watching them. The law here makes itself powerful because it keeps even those in power under eyes. There are frequent checkpoints and people everywhere that were watching. There is a question to the beliefs in those around them, if they do or say something unlawful the other must turn them in because there are severe consequences if they do not. The people in this society will kill one another by telling on them. A person so powerful a the Commander has to hide Offred as he takes her to a night club. Even those in power are unhappy. Since they believe that they are powerful, they think that they can get away with what they want. He does this by owning forbidden things and by secretly trying to have an unlawful relationship out side of his marriage. Although the law has its defects it intimidates its followers and threatens punishment from the eyes and spies. Examples of the disobeyers are being hung on the jail Wall. Their have been so many hangings that those hung are eventually seen as inhuman. The governing officials of Gilead keep people under their control by making all women in the district attend Salvagings where all handmaids watch and symbolically consent to the execution of women who's crimes are not announced. It is a secret reminder of "what [they] may be capable of after all" (chapter 42, pg. 275). All must be afraid that they will be found out.
Religion is used to make people fear going against God because they will be punished. The new society follows a patriarchal law that women must obey their male counterparts. The book opens our eyes to a male dominant society and it takes religion to a whole new level. No matter how much a women is contained, a society can not exist with out child bearing women but if they are infertile they are not seen as women and gotten rid of. Here, women are slaves and sexual objects to males. Women must not speak unless spoken to and only in short positive responses. Women are solely kept for the bases of producing children . In this society women are punished because since biblical times, they have been transgressors. They must now be subjects unto their husbands because "Adam was not deceived, but the women being deceived was in transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved by childbearing (Chapter 34, pg 221). Here the society degrades women because they are unholy. Their importance is only to bear children. Women are shamed thru the bible and are unclean if they serve no purpose. Gilead remains in control by silencing these women. Women are like caged birds. When you think you are releasing them to freedom, they return because that is what they are trained to do. Their belief of freedom is different to them and their leaders or trainers make them feel that this is the way of life. Those in control remain in power because they take all forms of living and make its followers believe that the new way is a better freedom and God will save them if they follow.
As the relationship draws to a near end, the victim is left with a choice. To face all dangers by leaving even if this means suicide or to comply with the rules until she is eventually killed. In Offred's eyes she had no future. "The best way to predict the future, is to create it" (anonymous). Offred had no other choice but to trust Nick and escape. That was her future, she created it.
All feeling had been removed from her. She had no trust, could not love (not even for her new love Nick), and no self respect. She had allowed the "bastard [to] grind [her] down." ("Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" Chapter 9.pg 52) Her religion, family and the law were now dead and had abandoned her.