The Bible and Western Culture

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The Bible and Western Culture 1. The Bible as Political/Philosophical Statement The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood The dystopia depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a patriarchal society that prides itself in the protection of women. The marked hierarchy of power and status revealed here cannot be denied and the society’s attitude towards women is as anti-feminist as many could ever imagine. The society in which those without power are not only weak but ignorant is reminiscent of the early Middle Ages when only the highly educated and powerful were able to read, and even fewer were able to read the Bible. The society described by Offred has almost a puritanical flavour to it. The Gileadean religious attitude is one based on only a few exclusionary Biblical ideas. Gilead is a perfect example of the danger of using the Bible too literally. Although Biblical references, themes, laws and images are found consistently in Gileadean society; the selective nature of the passages used by the Commanders for enforcing laws and ideas ensure that they will not be contradicted, but supported by the Bible. This phenomenon can be seen in the use of the creation story (Genesis 1-2); the story of Jacob’s wives Rachel and Leah (Genesis 30:1-8), and the ideas of salvation as seen by the Gileadean society. The story of creation found in the first two chapters of Genesis is alluded to and explicitly used in The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is recounted rarely by those who are not in a power position and always to reinforce the ideas and laws set out by the Gileadean society. The Commander of the house where Offred is stationed reads to the household periodically, with little variation and always with the same purp... ... middle of paper ... ...ers they forbid all reading, and in fact one of the men suspected to be the Commander in Offred’s household in the Historical Notes is credited with having said, “Our big mistake was teaching them to read. We won’t do that again.” The use of the Bible in this novel is to establish laws within its society; this is not so different from many accepted societies of today, except in that there is no freedom of interpretation, and that the religious laws of some, must apply to all in Gilead. Bibliography Atwood, Margaret, The Handmaid’s Tale Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1985 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962 Wilson, Sharon R., Thomas B. Friedman, and Shannon Hengen, ed. Approaches to Teaching Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Other Works, New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1996
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