The Importance Of Religion In The Handmaid's Tale

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Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, explores the concept of a dystopian totalitarian Christian theocracy, the Republic of Gilead, that overthrows the United States government at an unspecified point in the near future. Gilead enforces a highly controlled patriarchal and militaristic society based on fundamentalist biblical principles. This new order is necessitated by widespread infertility caused by toxic pollution and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as many women ceasing to want children. Younger, fertile women are now assigned to be Handmaids who are coerced into having sex every month with their assigned Commander to get pregnant and produce offspring for Gilead. Thomas C. Foster, in How to Read Literature Like…show more content…
Foster describes the importance of names in literature: “The naming of a character is a serious piece of business in a novel or play. A name has to sound right for a character … but it also has to carry whatever message the writer wants to convey about the character or the story” (53). An example of this method of naming is Serena Joy, who is neither serene nor joyful: “This is meant to be a time of silent meditation for her, but she’s not in the mood for that. There is loathing in her voice” (Atwood 95). Despite the connotations of her name, Serena Joy contradicts the ideals of serenity and joy preached in the Bible. The male citizens of Gilead are named for their jobs, “Commanders of the Faithful,” “Guardians of the Faith” (policemen), “Angels” (soldiers), and “Eyes of the Lord” (secret police). The soldiers called “Angels of the Apocalypse” or “Angels of Light” actually fight for the army, despite the expected holiness with the name “Angel,” implying these euphemistic angels fight a religious war. The “Eyes” are from a Bible verse that Gilead uses to justify spying on the people of Gilead: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to know himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him” (II Chronicles 16:9). The Commander reads this verse aloud each month at the…show more content…
It can be symbolic, thematic, biblical, Shakespearean, Romantic, allegorical, transcendent” (Foster 88). The Republic of Gilead is created “after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time … That was when they suspended the Constitution” (Atwood 174). The fundamentalist Christian movement “Sons of Jacob” stages this terrorist attack to create a common enemy, and then rapidly secures its power before citizens can realize what is happening. In an interview with Bill Moyers for PBS, Atwood states, “When societies come under stress … people start looking around for essentially human sacrifices. They start looking around for somebody they can blame. And they feel if only they can demolish that person, then everything 's going be okay.” The leaders of “Sons of Jacob” use Muslims as a scapegoat to distract the citizens while they take complete control of the country. The Angels of the Apocalypse, Baptist guerrillas, and Angels of Light are euphemisms for brutal religious sects fighting for supremacy: “… the Angels of the Apocalypse, Fourth Division, are
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