The Handmaids Tale is a book full of biblical allusions, before Atwood begins the text an epigraph gives us an extract from Genesis 30: 1-3 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacobs anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in Gods stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
This principle from the Bible is used throughout The Handmaids Tale, the principles being that it is the idea of both assemblages that a womens duty is to have children and that it is acceptable for a man to be angry if a women can not produce a child. Both these beliefs show that in jointly the Bible and The Handmaids Tale, women are completely defined by fertility and are classed as walking wombs. The Handmaids Tale recreates the selected stanzas from the bible with Jacob, Rachel, Leah and the two handmaids. The tale is an Old Testament story about surrogate mothers, on which the novel is based.
The section gives biblical precedent for the several practices of Gilead, by doing this it paves the way for Atwood to comment on patriarchy where women are undervalued and abused in all walks of life. The idea is also expressed later when we discover the Red Centre governmentally known as the Rachel and Leah Centre. As the basis of the novel it is replicated many times throughout the text, for example, it is found in the family reading before the monthly ceremonies, and in Rachels plea give me children, or else I die. This clearly lays emphasis on the threat to the Handmaids life.
By failing to produce a child, they will be classed as Unwomen and sent to the Colonies to die. Atwood, to coordinate with biblical references has employed a biblical name for the place where the book is set. Gilead is the name Atwood saw fit to call her town. The fundamentalist Republic of Gilead is named after a place in the Old Testament, a mountainous region east of Jordan. Gilead is closely connected with the history of patriarch Jacob, and the prophet Jeremiah was a Gileadite. Gilead is run on fundamentalist, religious and patriarchal principles. Gilead itself is mentioned in the bible in Hosea 6.
Gilead is a place of evildoers, tracked with blood The evildoers mentioned are robbers and harlotry, the prostitution obviously occurring in Jezebels, the local brothel in Gilead. The communal ethics of Gilead are based on the Old Testament, where patriarchal supremacy is justified as the commandment of God. Atwood uses biblical place names in The Handmaids Tale such as All Flesh,Milk and Honey and Jezebels. Milk and Honey is a representation of hope. In the Old Testament, Moses took his people through the land of Milk and Honey in order to set them free.
Atwood has used this as a place name in order to give the reader and the Handmaids a sense of hope, so that they may one day be set free also. This is also fashioned by the people of Gilead being prohibited from protesting because they are notified that in the future God will recompense them for what they have endured in the past. In doing this they offer hope to a society that has an exceptionally modest amount. Jezebels is also a biblical word meaning prostitution, and is the name of a nightclub in The Handmaids Tale which the commander regularly goes to. Passages from the Old Testament are modified to suit the teachings of the new regime.
For example, the loss of Eden would be blamed directly on women, whereas infact both Adam and Eve ate the poisoned apple offered to them by Satan. The governmental body of Gileadean regime changed different passages in order to promote the society that they are aiming to develop. As only important members of the Government have access to the Bible, important meaning all male, they are able to put the Old Testament into new contexts. This is done because the Bible, and on a whole religion, is seen throughout the world as being unanswerable and the supreme truth, as from the mouth of God.
Ironically, these Government officials seek to play God themselves by ordering the setting up of the regime and by changing the teachings of the Bible to the population. The modification of the bible enables to government to have a much tighter control over the people of Gilead. I. e. , Aunt Lydia said a quote, which she claimed was from the Bible but because the bible has been altered, so much she was wrong it was actually a quote from Karl Marx statement about capitalist methods of production.
In such a society as Gilead it is clear that the leaders understand the power associated with language, it is an instrument of ideological control, and when put into the wrong hands, can be a main source of repression. Old Testament figures/names are given to the law enforcers in The Handmaids Tale such as the Guardian Angels and the Eyes of the Lord The roles that Atwood has created for women have biblical significance also, like in the Handmaids which have already been linked to the Jacob and Rachel story, and also the Marthas who are the servants, they have been given their name because Marthas were the women who served Christ.
The handmaids use specialised greetings provided by the authoritative figures. Blessed be the fruit May the lord open These greetings are reinforcing what the Handmaids are there for, to reproduce. They are speaking the words of others from the Bible and have lost all their identity; this also shows how language is power. They have even lost their names as a sign of their loss of identity, for example, June to Offred, Of Fred, Fred being the name of her commander.
Gilead is made to appear a religious society through the soul scrolls providing Serena Joy with birth prayers, which is in itself ironic because the soul scrolls are created and sold by businessmen pretending to be priests. Gilead also appears religious through the Bible readings, place names, greetings and gatherings, but although Gilead appears this way, religion is an element of human control and can be used to exploit human beliefs, as the Bible and religion are rarely questioned and it is seen as unanswerable and supreme. The Bible in The Handmaids Tale is used and abused selectively.
All of the allusions mentioned are an example of how effortlessly power is occupied through language. By people such as the Commander taking control of a nation of women, and exploiting their power by controlling what is taught, what they can teach themselves and the words that they can use. Soon all of the women will become brainwashed, simply because it is made nearly impossible to defy the rules set out in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. All of the biblical allusions are also used to generate a categorically patriarchal society.
The Old Testament has been used to justify the treatment of women in both their name giving and their prostitute like treatment. Because the Old Testament states that women are solely child-bearers, they are used for sex in order that they reproduce. The women are given subservient roles such as Handmaid, Martha and Jezebel, which the Bible can collaborate as being subservient. Gilead employs biblical quotation to endorse patriarchal interests, but it uses them very vigilantly and often inaccurately (I. e. , Aunt Lydia with the Karl Marx and Bible mix up).
Men hold the key to language preventing women to have expression and identity, men keep the Bible to themselves, only the commanders are allowed to read it. Offred also edits her biblical references, for example, the lords prayer in chapter thirty where she changes the norm and asks for the things that she really wants. Just like the commander and the teachers of regime do in order to get what they want. Now we come to forgiveness. Dont worry about forgiving me right now. There are more important things. For instance: keep others safe, if they are safe. Dont let them suffer too much. If they have to die, let it be fast.
You might even provide a heaven for them. We need you for that. Hell we can create ourselves. Gileads official discourse is a hybridised rhetoric, which combines biblical language with traces of American capitalist phrases; for example, in God we trust is the motto on the dollar bill. Marxism and feminism. It uses and abuses the bible in the same way as it uses the slogans of the liberal ideology it has overthrown. The Handmaids Tale is a blunt warning to modern society, Atwood underlines that all the points in her novel have occurred in the world previously, and if propaganda establishes itself it could take place again.