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The Red Motif in The Handmaid's Tale
In the dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale" written by Margaret Atwood, the recurrent appearance of the color red draws an interesting yet perverse parallel between femininity and violence. The dominant color of the novel, red is associated with all things female. However, red is also the color of blood; death and violence therefore are closely associated with women in this male-dominated ultraconservative government.
We are first introduced to the color red when the narrator is describing how she gets dressed: "The red gloves are lying on the bed. Everything except the wings around my face is red; the color blood, which defines us." Here, we are unsure if Atwood is referring to blood as menstrual and feminine, or as the result of disobedience and the violence which results. The women of "Handmaid" are cloaked in red as a reminder of their fertility. However, in the context of Gilead, red is not just menstrual blood or blood resulting from birth; the red is a threat of death. Offred would later say, "I never looked good in red, It's not my color.
"Red tulips are also a recurrent image in "The Handmaid's Tale." Tulips, often seen as llonic symbols in many works, can be interpreted this way also. Tulips are women, and red tulips are women cloaked in red, red blood. On page 12 Offred narrates: "The tulips are red, a darker crimson towards the stem, as if they have been cut and are beginning to heal there." If a deeper interpretation of this thought is warranted, I would think the place where the tulip meets the stem in the neck of the woman, and as the government came in and stripped them of all power they "cut off their heads" in a way by depriving them of money, reading materials, and any type of education. Tulips, like the cloaks, are symbols of violence against females in the perverse world of Gilead.
A blatant use of red to relate women with violence can be seen on page 32: "But on one bag there's blood, which has seeped through the white cloth, where the mouth must have been. It makes another mouth, a small red one. . . This smile of blood is what fixes the attention finally." The men who are hanging are meant to scare, as Atwood clearly states, yet meant to scare who?
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Other than the three main instances of red in "The Handmaid's Tale," the reader can also notice the red umbrella, red lipstick, and red feathers on the costumes. In society, violence is rarely associated with such a large group. In Gilead, the fertile, obedient women are those surrounded by reminders of violence. Atwood uses her motif of all things red to show that femininity cannot be defined by any color without repercussions and hostile interpretations.