TheHandmaid’s Tale – The Novel by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale has been described as one of the thought-provoking novels about male chauvinism, with women seen as beings who should be dominated and governed by men. Atwood tells the story of a dystopia characterized by stringent rules for women, where their freedom and associated civil rights are restricted. Portrayed as a Christian government, The Republic of Gilead, the newly formed society, is founded on extreme policies. The narrator and main character in the novel, Offred, serve as a Handmaid, which refers to some form of breeding tool or method for the new republic. Gilead’s various ideas and ideologies and the society “before” are compared and contrasted, presented through the narrator’s first-person narrative.
If the government were to exercise a great deal of control over my moves as narrated by Offred, I would have been bitter and worried. While it is common to encounter governments worldwide that still encroach their citizens’ civil rights, their cases are not as extreme as in Gilead. Gilead tends to create a pro-women rhetoric, portraying them as vulnerable, need protection, and help with the continuation of society (Atwood 196). Unfortunately, the approach taken to achieve this goal has succeeded in creating a community in which a disadvantaged woman is conceived and treated by men and advantaged women as subhuman. This society has reduced Offred and other women to their fertility and treat them as a combination of the uterus and ovaries, nothing more. Undoubtedly, if I were to experience this, I would have felt sad and angry about the state of things. I would be worried about the future, especially what would become of unborn and young girls. Typically, women value their bodies, considering the body as one of the instruments of their desire, but Gilead has taken away this pride.
Gilead’s high level governmental control is inextricably linked to the sensitive issue of “freedom from” versus “freedom to” because the new republic represents a transition from a free society to a state characterized by injustice and inequality. According to Offred, their former community was free from governmental restrictions before the revolution. Companies and people polluted the environment at will, prostitution and pornography were commonplace, with society meeting different types of violence to women (Atwood 56). While this was the case in the community “before,” Offred acknowledges that families were intact, and women could move freely. On the other hand, Gilead’s government has introduced new power structures, which perpetuate unfathomable gender inequalities. Offred and other women have moved from a relatively free society to one without freedom as they cannot vote, own property, determine their future, and hold jobs (Pettersson 5). Ultimately, while the former society featured several women empowerment issues, Gilead’s experience is harsh and retrogressive due to a lack of freedom.
Social and Cultural Issues
Gilead resulted from a revolution triggered by a wide range of sociocultural issues, including prostitution, pollution, low production rates, pornography, and gender inequality. Each of these issues has so far become more proactive than ever before. In particular, our present-day society witnesses intense about abortion, birth control methods, environmental degradation, and climate change, and gender-based discrimination in different social settings, including at the workplace, education sector, family, and politics. The society before Gilead is portrayed as one that failed to put women in their “rightful place” as child-bearers and tools for securing the next generation (Atwood 249).
Traditionally, women were expected to remain submissive and inferior to their male counterparts, which means they had no speech, job, right to own property and hold public office. A woman’s role revolved around cooking, raising children, and attending to her husband’s sexual needs. All these are depicted in Gilead and the society before women were subjected to use their bodies as a political instrument (Atwood 8). While our society has is increasingly investing in women empowerment in a variety of sectors and sociocultural aspects, some forces advocate a return to traditional values, including an abortion-free organization.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books, 2019.
Pettersson, Fredrik. Discourse and Oppression in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. 2010. Available at https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:321781/fulltext01.pdf