The handmaid’s tale is an imaginary novel written by Margaret Atwood a Canadian author. The novel was published in the year 1985 and was set in the New England where the Christian supremacist overthrows the United States government. The novel is a two faced or a double narrative reflecting on the night and other events, where a woman called Offred tells the story in the first person speech. The first narrative is about the Offred’s tale that emphasizes that the female should adopt the possessive form of Fred and forbidden to use their birth names. And the handmaid’s tale that focuses on the lives of women and role in society. The book depicts many themes, but the most common ones are the gender, politics and religion. Gender is quite evident as women are seen to be treated discriminatively, with no rights and as immoral sex objects. Religion is depicted as a source of the government power that is theocratic. Another theme that is touched on in the novel is politics that has close ties with religion and power that is manipulated to control people. In the novel Offred describes the society she is in and how women are grouped into classes that are kept for reproduction purposes.
The novel consists of three major characters Offred who is the narrator of the novel and one of the women kept purposely for reproduction (Atwood 515). Serena joy a former evangelist and the wife of a commander who is described as infertile. The commander, a powerful member of the government believed to be behind the Offred narrative and very immoral. The novel setting divides women into classes. The handmaids are the fertile women who are only tasked to bear children for the wives of the commanders. The aunts are the ones that monitor and train the handmaids, the only class of women that are allowed to read and write in society. The Marthas are rather the older women in society and infertile holding high domestic skills. Another class of women is the Econowives that are women believed to have are married to low ranked men inn society and are thought to possess all domestic functions of a woman. The book has received discontent over the years due to its adult themes and explicit content, its depiction of a negative view of religion. This paper will discuss the themes of politics, religion and gender to analyze their role in presenting the tale as feminism.
The novel is based on theocracy meaning the state and the church are combined to form a government. Additionally, religious languages and the Old Testament that is also the source of justification for the characters in Gilead govern the society. Women have been used in the text to display the roles likened to the biblical ones, for example, Offred’s role as the handmaid is a biblical reflection of Rachael and Leah. The story showed how servants would carry on with adultery and allow the infertile women like Serena joy to have a family. Another scene of feminism displayed in religion when the commander is seen to recite some bible verses every morning to justify his immorality with other women to get children because of his wife’s infertility. The theme of religion has been dominated by feminism, because even the bible verses have been twisted to fit the theocracy of the state that is seen to be so rigid.
An example where it puts the aunts to pray words that are not in the bible just because they are not allowed to read, so they are not in a position to confirm. There are scenes of women linked to religion clearly displaying that the text brings out feminism. The issues of women not allowed to work or participate in any social or political activities in the pretext of protecting them from sexual exploitation as supported by religion is a lame excuse to deny women their freedom of speech and expression. There is another issue in the novel where religion and feminist meet, and this is childbirth and the claim that it did not require any anesthetics (Atwood 515). From these scenes, it is clear that the novel uses religion to portray conservative feminist practices.
The novel is a feminist one where women have been involved in political, religious and in gender issues like sexuality and gender roles. In the political sector, women bodies have been used as political instruments. To b begin with the government which was formed by the name Gilead as for the purpose of responding to the low birth rates. The United States government which was overthrown had a structure which was characterized by the religious trappings and the rigidity in its political hierarchy. The government as operating on the goal of controlling the reproduction through the use of the women. The goal of the state’s government was to control their birth rates in the country. The birth control was enhanced by their state’s government through an assumption of the complete control of the women bodies by use of political subjugation. The women in the state’s government were treated in a way that they remained dependent and submissive to their husbands and the state. Women could not vote, could not own property and they could not get jobs or education. Lacking such enablers of the life, women would react in accordance to their husband and will of the state (Blackford 261). Therefore they were treated as the bodies to achieve political desires of the politicians.
The Gilead pro-women rhetoric argued that subjugation led to the creation of the society where women were being treated as a subhuman. Despite that, women were reduced to their fertility where they were treated in no other was other than a set of the womb and ovaries. This can be evidently in one of the scenes in the novel, where off red lied on the bath and reflected that, before the formation of the Gilead government, she considered her body as an instrument of her desires where she was made of the flesh surrounding a womb where it had to be filled so as to be in a position to be useful. Gilead government was formed so as for deriving women out of the individuality so as to make women to be able to reproduce for the future generation (Blackford 261). This indicates that the women in the story were used by the politicians for the achievement of their political ideologies.
The novel comprised of the feminist movements, where in chapter 28, off red remembers her mother who was a passionate feminist. The off red mother was involved in the matching for the for the abortion rights, pornography banning, and other women issuers during the regime of the Gilead government. Offred was embarrassed by her mother’s feminist activity when she was young. Her mother used to lecture her for an act of being not grateful for her rights (Atwood 515). Where Offred was not aware that her right of owning property would have taken away if it were not for her mother.
Offred in the novel represents the feminism where she represents all women before the formation of the Gilead government. Before the Gilead government, she was not able to consider herself as a feminist. She had a fear that feminist will alienate her from the men in the society. She not accepting the feminism after witnessing her mother quarreling with Luke where her mother argued that she was involved in cooking due to feminism. Offred recognizes that women movement leads to forcing women to diagnose their natural isolation from men. The womanly leads to the creation of the alienation. This witnessed in the case where Offred losses her job and she is unable to request Luke whether she required a new order (Blackford 261).
Again, Atwood is recognized as a feminist writer. According to Atwood, she argued that that the thrilling that was perceived in the nature of the Gilead interviews was due to traditionalist and the feminist standpoint which is being practiced at the time when she wrote the novel. According to the Moira one of the novels mouthpiece, he argued that living with only men will be helping in solving problems that women were facing. In the society, most of the activities of Gilead regime was to provide for the women. Women can support each other at times of illness, delivery, and demise depicting their participation in helping each other. Women were involved in teaching each other during the Gilead government (Blackford 261). Women in the families worked together in fulfilling the femininity roles in the society.
To conclude, the novel has used the themes of religion, politics and gender to display feminism. Women characters play a major role in the religious forum and acting on the same to display their feminist abilities, there is a blend of religion and immorality where women are used to act biblically to bring out the immoral sides of humanity. Other scenes include women being used to perform sexual act perceived to be carried out for cleansing. In the political sector, feminism is played where women serve a role of sex objects of the powerful leaders and are used to give birth for the leaders. From the text, gender has been used to show feminist side of the novel, women have been classified in different categories depending on their abilities to give birth, work and their age. The novel is carefully constructed to tackle the feminist issue by blending in the three major themes of politics, gender and religion. And from the general view the novel is purely based on the feminist’s point of view.
Atwood, Margaret. “The Handmaid’s Tale And Oryx And Crake In Context.”? PMLA? 119.3 (2004): 515. Print. Neuman, Shirley. “Just A Backlash’: Margaret Atwood, Feminism, Handmaid’s Tale.”? University of Toronto Quarterly? 75.3 (2006): 863. Print.
Blackford, Holly Virginia. “The Psychology Of The Handmaid: Margaret Atwood’S Novel Parables Of The Possessed Canadian Character.”? AmeriQuests? 3.1 (2006): 261. Print.
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