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Feminism in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Feminism in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood explores the role that women play in society and the consequences of a countryís value system. She reveals that values held in the United States are a threat to the livelihood and status of women. As one critic writes, “the author has concluded that present social trends are dangerous to individual welfare” (Prescott 151).

The novel is set in the near future in Gilead, formerly the U.S., at a time when the population rate is rapidly declining. A religious regime has taken over, and women are used as breeders to boost the declining birth rate among the Caucasian race. Women are owned by men and are breeders. In the New World Order love doesnít exist, but the act of love is the only form of intimacy.

Atwood gives readers a firsthand look at the second class treatment of women through the eyes of Offred, the handmaid. Offred has been ripped away from her husband and daughter to become a breeder for someone whom she doesnít love. How does a person respond to this type of situation?

Atwood reveals Offredís struggle by introducing the foil character, Moira. Moira doesnít get to tell the reader her story; rather, it is told through Offred. This narrative choice accentuates the difference between the two women. Both women dislike the situation in Gilead. However, while Offred resigns herself to her lot, Moira rebels against the regime. Moiraís character unfolds with her escape from the rehabilitation centerña risk none of the other handmaids, including Offred, would ever dare to take. In fact, Offred is frightened with the idea of escaping, not because of the consequences, but more because she is ìlosing the taste of freedomî and findi…

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… voice their wants and needs. In this particular exchange, Atwood reveals both the difference between the sexes and their need to be on a more intimate and equal platform.

While The Handmaid’s Tale conveys the oppression of women, it also reveals the significant role women have in society. Atwood gets the point across that just as they can be oppressed by men, women can equally oppress themselves. Through Offred’s eyes, comparisons between today’s society and the possible consequences of one’s attitudes are examined. The Handmaid’s Tale slowly uncovers the many facets of women and the vital role they have as members of society.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books: New York, New York, 1985.

Prescott, Peter S. “A long road to liberation”. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jean C. Steve. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

Symbolism and Loss of Identity in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Symbolism and Loss of Identity in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred recounts the story of her life and that of others in Gilead, but she does not do so alone. The symbolic meanings found in the dress code of the women, the names/titles of characters, the absence of the mirror, and the smell and hunger imagery aid her in telling of the repugnant conditions in the Republic of Gilead. The symbols speak with a voice of their own and in decibels louder than Offred can ever dare to use. They convey the social structure of Gileadean society and carry the theme of the individual’s loss of identity.

All the women in Gilead wear color-coded uniforms. The colors parade their social status and/or role in the reproductive process. The ‘Aunts’ who run the Rachel and Leah Re-Education Center wear brown; they are responsible for the indoctrination of the handmaids. The ‘Marthas,’ who wear green, are the servants. The ‘Wives’ wear a type of Virgin-Mary blue, which signifies their inability to bear children. The handmaids wear red robes and white peaked hats which resemble nuns’ habits. Thus, they personify a religious sacrifice; they are like “temple prostitutes doomed to a kind of purdah in perpetuity” (Rigney 117). In addition, the red color of their clothing symbolizes their fertility.

The color-coded uniforms that the women wear does more than just signify their functions. Along with the names/titles of characters, they symbolize the individual’s loss of identity. No distinguishing mark of a woman is considered; rather, she is lumped with a group in which she is defined only by her social and reproductive function. Essentially, the color-coded uniforms strip each woman of her i…

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…litical enemies. The foul and suffocating air of Gilead symbolizes the claustrophobia as well as oppression of its inhabitants (Rubenstein 109-110).

In The Handmaid’s Tale some symbolic tools such as dress codes and characters’ names reflect the social standings of individuals in the Gilead society. These same symbols and others such as the mirror draw attention to the loss of individual identity, a theme present throughout the novel. Still others like smell or hunger convey the atmosphere

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