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The Handmaid’s Tale as a Biblical Allusion

The Handmaid’s Tale: A Biblical Allusion

Imagine a country where choice is not a choice. One is labeled by their age and economical status. The deep red cloaks, the blue embroidered dresses, and the pinstriped attire are all uniforms to define a person’s standing in society. To be judged, not by beauty or personality or talents, but by the ability to procreate instead. To not believe in the Puritan religion is certain death. To read or write is to die. This definition is found to be true in the book, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) by Margaret Atwood. It is a heartbreaking story of one young woman and her transformation into the Gilead society, the society described above. In the book, we meet Offred, the narrator of the story. This story is not the first to create a society in which the only two important beliefs in a society are the ability to procreate and a strict belief in God. It is seen several times in the Old Testament, the Bible. The Biblical society is not as rigid as the Republic of Gilead, which Margaret Atwood has built, but it is very similar. The Handmaid’s Tale holds several biblical allusions.

The first biblical allusion is that of the Republic of Gilead. Gilead is mentioned several times in the Bible as a place of fertile lands. The Bible states, “To the east [the Israelites] occupied the land. . . , because their livestock had increased in Gilead” (Numbers 32:1, NIV) and “The [tribes], who led very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock” (1 Chronicles 5:9, NIV). The Biblical land of Gilead was a land of prospering livestock. Families and tribes came to Gilead because of the land’s lush, green and fertile soil. The Republic of Gilead was also…

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…n individual, but each person is noticed only by the clothing that they wear. Imagine a country where the husband is the head of the family, and no other members of the household hold any rights at all. Imagine a country where reading and writing are crimes punishable by death. One can imagine, but no one can comprehend the pain and suffering and emotional death that one must acquire to live in a society such as the Republic of Gilead. This story of the future may very well be a story of the past; a story based upon principles found in the Bible, but taken so literally and enforced so strictly that the country becomes a theocracy to hate.


Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986.

The NIV Study Bible. Barker, Kenneth: General Editor. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1995

Dreams in Young Goodman Brown and in the Life of Its Author

Dreams in “Young Goodman Brown” and in the Life of Its Author

The entire allegory of “Young Goodman Brown” is incoroporated into a dream, depending on the reader’s interpretation of the Hawthorne tale. In his own life Hawthorne had dreams and made personal use of them.

In 1847 Edgar Allan Poe, reviewing Hawthorne’s tales in “Tale-Writing: A Review” for Godey’s Lady’s Book, has this to say about his dreamy approach to writing:

Now, my own opinion of him is, that although his walk is limited and he is fairly

to be charged with mannerism, treating all subjects in a similar tone of dreamy innuendo [italics mine], yet in this walk he evinces extraordinary genius, having no rival either in America or elsewhere; and this opinion I have never heard gainsaid by any one literary person in the country

Hawthorne’s dreamy approach to life began at a very young age, as mentioned by James Russell Lowell in “Hawthorne” in A Fable For Critics (1848).

His mind developed itself; intentional cultivation might have spoiled it…. He used to invent long stories, wild and fanciful, and tell where he was going when he grew up, and of the wonderful adventures he was to meet with, always ending with, ‘And I ‘m never coming back again,’ in quite a solemn tone, that enjoined upon us the advice to value him the more while he stayed with us.

“Young Goodman Brown” opens with the young Puritan husband leaving his wife for the evening so that he can secretly attending a witches’ meeting in the middle of the forest. As he leaves the house:

“Dearest heart,” whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, “pr’ythee, put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep i…

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…-oriented that his philosophy of life includes dream imagery.


Benoit, Raymond. “‘Young Goodman Brown’: The Second Time Around.” The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 19 (Spring 1993): 18-21.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc.,1959. 247-56.

James, Henry. Hawthorne.

Lowell, James Russell. “Hawthorne.” In A Fable For Critics. 1848.

Martin, Terence. Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1965.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Tale-Writing: A Review.” In Godey’s Lady’s Book, November, 1847, no. 35, pp. 252-6.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.

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