Fertility and Motherhood in The Handmaid´s Tale by Margaret Atwood
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Margaret Atwood sheds light on two concepts that are intertwined; fertility and motherhood. Nevertheless in Gilead these notions are often viewed as separate. The Republic State of Gilead views women as child-bearers and nothing more. In Gilead, these women are known as handmaids, who’s function in society is to produce children for barren females of a high status. Gilead also prohibits the handmaids from being mothers to their previously born children, meaning before Gilead was created, for instance, Offred, who is separated from her daughter. Thus it is evident that Margaret Atwood generates a state that views birth only as growth in population rather than the beginning of a relationship between mother and child.
The epigraph in The Handmaid’s Tale amplifies the importance of fertility in Gilead. The quotation at the beginning of the book ‘‘And when Rachel saw the she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said unto Jacob, Give me children or else I die...And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees,that I may also have children by her.’’ makes it seem that Gilead wants to go back to traditional values, thus manipulates its citizens that their ideology is correct since it corresponds with what the Bible says. Consequently, this state is telling its citizens that a woman’s worthiness only depends if she is able to produce or not. In fact women who are barren, and are not of a high class are sent to the colonies. The handmaids’s only purpose is further amplified through the rights Gilead abolishes; they can not communicate with others, in fact Offred says, ‘How I used to despise such talk. Now I long for it’ and are no longer able to go outside alone or without being spied...
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... is only alive in her dreams, she aches for her and fears that her child will not remember or even she is dead. Atwood writes about motherhood, and the irony lies in the fact that Offred did not have an ideal relationship with her mother even though Gilead’s system was not established, yet Offred who is separated for her daughter shows affection towards her child by constantly thinking and dreaming about her. Even though Offred felt pressured from her mother, she still misses her, ‘I want her back’ and she even reminisces about when she used to visit her and Luke.
Unmistakably, fertility and motherhood are associated together, yet Gilead seems to detract them from each other, just like they dismember the bodies of all their citizens. The fact that they make women believe that they are ‘powerful’ because they are fertile is what keeps them from escaping from Gilead.