The Handmaid's Tale as a Warning to Society
Margaret Atwood's renowned science fiction novel, The Handmaid's Tale, was written in 1986 during the rise of the opposition to the feminist movement. Atwood, a Native American, was a vigorous supporter of this movement. The battle that existed between both sides of the women's rights issue inspired her to write this work. Because it was not clear just what the end result of the feminist movement would be, the author begins at the outset to prod her reader to consider where the story will end. Her purpose in writing this serious satire is to warn women of what the female gender stands to lose if the feminist movement were to fail. Atwood envisions a society of extreme changes in governmental, social, and mental oppression to make her point.
Early on it is evident that the authority of this society has been changed from a theocracy to a totalitarian government. The first sentence reveals that the current living quarters of the main character, Offred, are located in "what had once been the gymnasium" (3). The narrator recounts the past fifty years in this place from felt skirts of the fifties to the green spiked hair of the nineties. Then she turns to describe its transformation into what resembles an army barrack but is actually functioning as a kind of prisoner of war camp. In these few short sentences, Atwood has described the conditions of a place called Gilead, which is located in what used to be called the United States. In chapter four the author reveals that the current government is waging a war against the church. This is evidence that this society has shifted away from recognizing God as its supreme authority. The narrator then mentions that church song...
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... the past, Offred continues to hope that her husband, Luke, is still alive. She reveals this as she observes the bodies hanging at the wall and comments that she feels relief because, "Luke wasn't a doctor. Isn't" (44). Not only does she defy the system be refusing to accept this society as the end of all things, but she also persists in hoping that she will someday awaken from this nightmare and things will be the way they used to be.
The ending of the novel is intentionally lacking direction because the author wants the reader to ponder its ending. Were it not for the fact that we, the readers, know that Offred lives to tell her story, we would be left like the people of Gilead, without hope. However, Margaret Atwood's point is that just as naturally as a caterpillar weaves its cocoon to grow wings and fly free, so to must the wings of women be.
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