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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Handmaid’s Tale: By Margaret Atwood

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I believe the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was a genius’s masterpiece. The whole book is Offred’s diary that is found later and analyzed as one of the only pieces of evidence on the history of Gilead. By the end of the book, I started thinking about Gilead as a piece of history, and at the same time, the possible future. How do I know that I’m not going to end up just like Offred, trapped in a world that seems to just have shoved it’s way into my life? I cannot believe that this fate is in my future, because we are conditioned to believe that we can help circumstances. Humans tend to always believe we are going forward in life. We like to believe we are not like our parents, grandparents, or ancient ancestors. We like to believe that we do not have the same social environment as them. We like to believe that we are constantly progressing, and constantly eliminating obstacles, extending to a sort of utopia. However, Atwood makes us think, Where are we going? When we get there, where do we go next? If there really is a utopia in our future, how do we know when we have reached it? And if we do reach a utopia and know it, does the world end then, because it can no longer progress? Gilead is supposed to be the near future although outsiders may see the past � lack of freedom, captivity, sexism, discrimination, deprivation of education, war � everything our history books tell us not to do. Even in the “Historical notes” when Professor Pieixoto calls Offred’s Underground Femaleroad an “Underground Frailroad” (74) we see the same not so subtle sexism we saw two centuries ago.


It seems to me that most of Gilead revolves around the idea of a womb. A woman’s womb is considered a flower. Offred constantly mentions flowers � the lilies, the red, bleeding tulips that open up. Offred once finds Serena Joy hacking away at her flowers. I think she felt like her womb has disappointed her, and just as her flowers, her womb is useless. Offred gets two eggs in her breakfast every morning. Every morning, Offred examines her eggs; she admires them, treasures them, and almost worships them. Offred notes, “I think that this is what God must look like an egg…. If I have an egg, what more can I want?”(17). They are conditioned to believe their only value is in their womb.


The world of Gilead is almost entirely justified by biblical precedents. In the beginning, when God created man in his image, he then ‘took a rib’ from man (Adam) to create a ‘companion’ for him. Woman (Eve) is meant to be a follower of man. Of course, Eve is the one who defies God, and ‘makes’ Adam do so as well. I think the Bible is saying that women are trouble, and should not be given privileges. Atwood seems to play on this observation as well. In the ‘Historical Notes,’ Pieixoto repeats a quote; “Our big mistake was teaching them to read. We won’t do that again.”(8). Judd took the women’s reading and writing privileges away, therefore eliminating the threat of defiance or rebellion. This is entirely justified by the Bible.


The Handmaids are stripped of their names and given names such as Ofglen, Ofwarren, and Ofcharles. The name, Offred, suggests she belongs to Fred, the commander. To rob someone of their name is to rob them of their identity. They have no identity. This is vividly apparent when Offred is meeting with Ofglen and realizes it is a different girl that approaches her. Offred asks, ‘Has Ofglen been transferred, so soon?’ The woman says, “‘I am Ofglen.’ Word perfect. And of course she is, the new one, and Ofglen, wherever she is, is no longer Ofglen. I never did know her real name.” (5). Their name serves it’s purpose, to state who their Commander is, and that is all anyone ever needs to know or wants to know about them.


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‘The Ceremony’, I believe, is incredibly destructive to the whole community, all for the sake of procreation. Serena Joy cries every time she takes part in The Ceremony. She must lie in a room and watch her husband have sexual intercourse with another woman who is lying on her stomach. This gesture, to watch, is disgusting on its own, but the fact that it is her husband makes it worse. Not to mention the fact that she is not allowed to have sex with him herself. She cannot bear children on her own. This takes away from her womanhood and, I am sure, makes her jealous of Offred. The Commander feels as though he is sinning knowing what he is doing to his wife. Offred is being degraded, violated, abused, mutilated, used… and “the Commander is fucking.” (116). She must detach herself. There are no words to describe the horror of this act.


After the Commander has invited Offred into his office a couple of times, they must go to another Ceremony. Here the Commander has sex with her because it has become more personal. Later, Nick becomes a way for her husband, Luke, to live on, and she makes love to him.


Reading this novel now shocks me more, because the war is going on. I feel like Gilead is possible and is more likely now that we have so many nuclear weapons. I fear the day when Gilead takes over our society, and wish this day never to come.





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