The Handmaid 's Tale By Margaret Atwood Essay

The Handmaid 's Tale By Margaret Atwood Essay

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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 a Professor, states, “Many modern and postmodern texts are essentially ironic, in which the allusions to biblical sources are used not to heighten continuities between the religious tradition and the contemporary moment but to illustrate a disparity or disruption” (52). The religious foundation of Gilead has echoes of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the evangelical Moral Majority Christian movement of the 1980s that occurred around the same time Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. The danger in extremist movements such as these is that there is so much power available in religion that it is easy for people to take advantage of others’ blind faith and corrupt the system. Mervyn Rothstein’s New York Times article "No Balm in Gilead for Margaret Atwood" quotes Atwood: ' 'Novels are something else. They aren 't just political messages …The book is … a study of power, and how it operates and how it deforms or shapes the people who are living within that kind of regime.” Atwood criticizes p...


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... her work, not because that milieu control her thinking but because that is the world she engages when she sits down to write” (116). The late 1970s into the 1980s was a time of fundamentalist revolutions, whether it be targeted at the state like in Iran or aimed at individuals like in America. Atwood watched these movements and how quickly they progressed into a power struggle. In the Bill Moyers interview, Atwood says she “made it a rule for the writing of this book that [she] would not put anything into it that human societies have not already done,” referring to the human pattern of reverting to religion in times of hardship only to end up under the complete control of a select few. She writes The Handmaid’s Tale as a parable, warning of the dangers of allowing religions to play too large of a role in society so that the leaders have complete power over citizens.

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