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The Handmaids Tale – Social Situation Handmaid’s

Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaids Tale belongs to the genre of  anti-utopian (dystopian) science fiction where we read about a woman’s fictive  autobiography of a nightmarish United States at the end of the twentieth century  when democratic institutions have been violently overthrown and replaced by the  new fundamentalist republic of Gilead. In the novel the majority of the  population are suppressed by using a “Bible-based” religion as an excuse for the  suppression. How does this work and why can the girls, the so called Handmaids,  be considered the victims of society? Also, in what way does Gilead use biblical  allusions?  That is some of the questions this essay will give answers for.


To begin with the so called Handmaids are girls who have only one purpose in  life which is to reproduce. They are women who when have reached the age and  maturity to reproduce have been taken to Gilead where they are tattooed with  four digits and an eye (Gilead’s tattoo which works as a passport in reverse)  which immobilises them, in contrast to the winged male eye which is the state  symbol. Then they are re-educated at the so called Red-centre, the name  emphasises female sexuality and how they are taught there can be linked with  brainwashing. They are told how lucky they should feel because they have been  saved from the primitive and cruel outside world where women are being raped and  maltreated. Other things they learn are numerous sayings and mottos of the  Red-centre like “Pen is Envy” which is based on a Freudian psychoanalytic theory  which presents “penis envy” as an essential element of femininity, and a mark of  “woman’s natural inferiority to men”. So knowing this, are they actually better  of in Gilead? There they are “valued only in terms of their biological  usefulness as child bearers” due to that the birth rate in the society has  fallen to a catastrophically low level because of deadly pollution and sexually  transmitted diseases which cause sterility and infertility. They are known by  their Commanders first names, Of -(name of commander), this to underline their  function as sexual objects without individuality.


Moreover, apart from being deprived their own names Handmaids are also  deprived legal rights. They live at a Commander’s house where the commander that  they are assigned to, (for reproductive purposes), is their only hope for  freedom. This because if the Handmaid gets pregnant after one of the monthly  “impregnation Ceremonies”, where the commander’s wife is also present, she  becomes a “wife” and is not sent to the Colonies and a sure death as an  “Unwoman”. (those who does not conceive a child and therefore not considered  real women). During their stay in the Commanders household they are under  constant surveillance from his wife and other female servants. Ordinary things  like reading and writing as well as to close personal friendships are forbidden.  These facts are enough to realize that it is far from a privilege to be taken to  Gilead as a girl. So now to the question how they manage to brainwash the  Handmaids to, if not to be happy with their situation then at least to accept it  and in some cases believe that they are well taken care of.


It can be said that in Gilead they use a various number of ways, several  related to religion using biblical allusions. The name Gilead itself is named  after a place in the Old Testament which “projects the ideal image for an  embattled state, run on fundamentalist religious and patriarchal principles”.  Other means used are titles. For example the soldiers of Gilead’s army, so  called Angels, fight in battalions with names like “Angels of Apocalypse” and  Angels of light”. Furthermore the Gardians (members of the Gileadean police  force) have the official title of “Guardians of Faith”, all these titles sound  very pure and good. Therefore to be surrounded by them must contribute to give  the Handmaids a feeling of safety and that they are protected from something.  Now this is an illusion too in a way because the Handmaids have no real idea of  how the outside world is or who the enemy actually is. To stop them from  starting a riot they are given information that the Angels are victorious after  this and that battle and also they are sometimes summoned for Prayvaganzaz where  they pray for and honour the successes the Angels achieved. When no news are  passed on to them about the wars and they are not summoned to the prayvaganza  they can still se the results of the Angels work in front of a wall where people  are regularly hanged up to show what happens to those who do not obey the rules.  They all have sacks over their heads to cover their faces but each and one of  them are signed which tells what they were condemned for.


To sum up, the dystopian science fiction novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, written  by Margaret Atwood describes a futuristic thought of what happens when a new  fundamentalist republic is introduced in the United States and how they use  Biblical allusions for propaganda. This they accomplish by distorting the source  of the Old Testament, as well as other religious documents, in a rhetoric  representation to fit the interests and ideologies of the Gileadean society.  Continuously the so called Handmaid’s are women taken to Gileadean for  reproductive purposes where they are brainwashed to believe that they are  protected from a cruel outside world. Now that is what they are told to believe  but the truth is that they are abused even worse as they are deprived their  identities totally and used as well as thought of as fertilization tanks.  Therefore it can be said that the only real victims in the novel are the  Handmaids.

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