The setting of The Handmaid’s Tale – known as Gilead – is a totalitarian government, originally based on Old Testament patriarchy. This structure forbids rival loyalties or parties, so all loyalty must be for the group of men that govern the State. Such a structure means that women are assigned ‘roles’ according to their biological ‘usefulness’.
These ‘roles’ are divided into six legitimate categories of Wives, Daughters, Aunts, Handmaids, Marthas and Econowives. Each category of women is required to perform their task properly, whilst obeying the rules set down for them by the patriarchal government. To illustrate, each group has different functions in the society, but still no one woman is able to act as an individual. The handmaids, for example, have been reduced to the ability to create another life, their fertility –
“We are for breeding purposes…There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts…We are two-legged wombs…”
With each rule that governs their lives comes a punishment for disobeying it. Though being unable to express any sort of individuality is difficult for the women of Gilead, the thought of being hung at a ‘Salvaging’ or t...
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...t…Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other’s, anymore. Instead, I am his.”
This doubt is overtaken by her love for him, as it should in all sturdy relationships. So when it comes to asking Luke about her thoughts –
“…I was afraid to. I couldn’t afford to lose you.”
Her need to be loved by him had taken over her idea that he enjoyed the power, she couldn’t live with out his love.
The ritual relationships of the regime leave the contenders feeling powerless and trapped within the rules of their roles. Despite this imposed ‘role-playing’ true relationships still exist – in secret – since it is in the nature of the human condition to form emotional attachments and to love. In the end, Atwood makes it clear that it is our ability to love that makes us human and this cannot be denied.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaids Tale.
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