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The Handmaid's Tale
The novel, The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood focuses on the choices made by the society of Gilead in which the preservation and security of mankind is more highly regarded than freedom or happiness. This society has undergone many physical changes that have led to extreme psychological ramifications. I think that Ms. Atwood believes that the possibility of our society becoming as that of Gilead is very evident in the choices that we make today and from what has occured in the past. Our actions will inevitably catch up to us when we are most vulnerable.
"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, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices (p. 176)."
In the society of Gilead, the most highly valued aspect of life is giving birth to a healthy child without deformities. Gilead was the aftermath of a nuclear world war (or some type of chemical mishap involving most of the world). As a result of this, some women and men are left sterile and unable to increase the significantly decreased population. The women who are fertile are placed in institutions where they are trained in the process of pregnancy and child bearing, those who are not are left to die in areas with concentrated radiation.
This society has undergone a change so extraordinary that it has taken us from one extreme to the next, leaving many people wondering what happened to make it so. The things that were most highly honored and respect are now treated with disdain. These changes were not all detrimental but the majority of them we could have done without. Ms. Atwood poses that humankind has a nature to develope, whether that development is for the empowerment or destruction of our society is unknown until the consequences take place.
"I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will...There were limits, but my body was nevertheless lithe, single, solid, one with me...Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I'm a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping (p.
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A strong emphasis is placed on striving towards bearing healthy children. This placed the women of Gilead in a very controversial position. They were overly protected and oppressed because their importance as reproduction machines outweighed their personal importance. They were no longer individuals, they were merely vessels, that were despised, used and then discarded. Their names are replaced with the names of those they work for, an action that served the same purpose for African slaves brought to America. These women have been dehumanized and placed under the jurisdiction of men who use a distorted interpretation of the Bible as their justification.
"Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing (p. 174)."
In times of extreme circumstances, there are usually extreme measures taken as solutions. The psychological and societal changes that occured while the civilization of Gilead was in reconstruction were inexcusable because fear does not cause progress but regress. In order to try to stabilize their society they were actually doing more to diminish it. It was all about power and a chance to obtain it and the mismanagement of that authority.