In The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood explores the role that women play in society and the consequences of a countryís value system. She reveals that values held in the United States are a threat to the livelihood and status of women. As one critic writes, “the author has concluded that present social trends are dangerous to individual welfare” (Prescott 151).
The novel is set in the near future in Gilead, formerly the U.S., at a time when the population rate is rapidly declining. A religious regime has taken over, and women are used as breeders to boost the declining birth rate among the Caucasian race. Women are owned by men and are breeders. In the New World Order love doesnít exist, but the act of love is the only form of intimacy.
Atwood gives readers a firsthand look at the second class treatment of women through the eyes of Offred, the handmaid. Offred has been ripped away from her husband and daughter to become a breeder for someone whom she doesnít love. How does a person respond to this type of situation?
Atwood reveals Offredís struggle by introducing the foil character, Moira. Moira doesnít get to tell the reader her story; rather, it is told through Offred. This narrative choice accentuates the difference between the two women. Both women dislike the situation in Gilead. However, while Offred resigns herself to her lot, Moira rebels against the regime. Moiraís character unfolds with her escape from the rehabilitation centerña risk none of the other handmaids, including Offred, would ever dare to take. In fact, Offred is frightened with the idea of escaping, not because of the consequences, but more because she is ìlosing the taste of freedomî and findi...
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... voice their wants and needs. In this particular exchange, Atwood reveals both the difference between the sexes and their need to be on a more intimate and equal platform.
While The Handmaid's Tale conveys the oppression of women, it also reveals the significant role women have in society. Atwood gets the point across that just as they can be oppressed by men, women can equally oppress themselves. Through Offred's eyes, comparisons between today's society and the possible consequences of one's attitudes are examined. The Handmaid's Tale slowly uncovers the many facets of women and the vital role they have as members of society.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. Anchor Books: New York, New York, 1985.
Prescott, Peter S. "A long road to liberation". Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jean C. Steve. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.
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