Essays on The Handmaid's Tale

Essay Introduction

Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a thought-provoking dystopia that highlights the subjugated condition of women under patriarchal dominance. Atwood emphasizes the “loss of female identity in a male-dominated society” (Sahu). The Handmaid’s Tale follows the journey of the protagonist, Offred, an inhabitant of the totalitarian society of Gilead. This future state is a totalitarian dictatorship where women are oppressed, and their status is determined by their reproductive capabilities. Thus, the novel portrays both the “emotional and physical marginalization of women” in a totalitarian regime (Sahu).

Research Paper on The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale encompasses various facets of marginalization. Not only does it depict gender marginalization, where women are subjugated by men, but Atwood also explores the intersectionality of marginalized identities. The novel sheds light on how women can be disparaged by their own through social hierarchies, a notion often overlooked or neglected in society. Within The Handmaid’s Tale, language and social constructs are used to represent the plight of women’s marginalization or subjugation under male dominance. It also portrays how handmaids face further oppression within the female power dynamics in Gilead.

Argumentative Essay Examples on The Handmaid’s Tale

The most evident example of women’s marginalization within the novel is the power imbalance between men and women. The social hierarchy between genders is a vital element of women’s marginalization in Gilead. The hierarchy constructs power and dominance for men, while women are marginalized as subordinates. Men hold positions of power, such as government officials and security, placing them socially, politically, and economically above women. On the other hand, female characters are solely presented as child-bearers and laborers in Gilead.

Thesis Statement for The Handmaid’s Tale

Furthermore, the Commanders possess the largest amount of power in Gilead, and their wives’ power within the female dynamics in the novel exists solely because of their connection to a Commander. While the Wives hold the most power compared to other female positions in Gilead, a Commander’s Wife can only make decisions approved by her husband and can exercise her power solely at home. This depiction shows that her power is relative to her husband’s position (Stein).

Wives, like most women in the novel, are completely silenced within the governmental and political spheres of Gilead. Moreover, the social hierarchy among men is more flexible than that among women. Men can move between ranks, from Guardian to Angel, and may even acquire a wife. In contrast, women are fixed in their roles as Handmaids, Marthas, or Wives, illustrating that men are given more power and autonomy than women even within gender-specific hierarchies. Therefore, the power dynamics between men and women depict how the rights and freedoms of females in Gilead are largely excluded.

The Power Imbalance between Men and Women

Women are further marginalized within Gilead society through the erasure of their identities. Each woman is defined by a specific biological role associated with being a woman. Moreover, color-coded clothing is used to differentiate between social classes, effectively effacing women’s individuality in the novel. Handmaids wear long cloaks, and everything except for white bonnets or wings is red. Wives wear blue, and Marthas wear green (Atwood 33). Lois Feuer refers to color-coded clothing as a “submersion of the self” and highlights the constant threat of identity loss (Kirkvik). This lack of individuality brought about by categorization distinguishes the different “types” of women from each other, silencing their voices, restricting their identity, and discouraging individuality. Furthermore, a less apparent form of marginalization in the novel exists within the hierarchy of women.

Ideas on the Erasure of Women’s Identities

The men of Gilead maintain power and control by pitting women against one another. In fact, one could argue that women in the novel police and silence each other more than men do. In the earlier chapters, Aunt Lydia explains to the handmaids that “to be seen…is to be penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable” (Atwood 39). Aunt Lydia’s comment on “modesty is invisibility” adds to the idea of women marginalizing or silencing other women within the text. Aunt Lydia perpetuates the notion that handmaids are sexual objects, equating being seen with “penetration” or desirability. This insinuates that women have the choice between being sexual objects for men or being invisible altogether. The act of women oppressing and silencing other women upholds the patriarchy perpetuated by men in the novel. Characters like Serena Joy illustrate how their experience of marginalization makes them abusers of women in social and economic classes beneath them. Turning a blind eye to the abuse by the commanders only serves to further fuel the marginalization of women.

Marginalization Within the Hierarchy of Women

Lastly, apart from the “unwomen,” handmaids are the most silenced and excluded group within the text, lacking basic rights and freedoms. Handmaids cannot write, read, have friends, ask questions, or be concerned with their appearance (Kirkvik). Gilead reduces them to “containers,” “two-legged wombs,” and “ambulatory chalices,” rendering them devoid of importance or relevance apart from their reproductive abilities. Offred perceives herself as completely isolated from the people around her. Personally, she feels alienated from those with whom she is intimately involved, and publicly, she feels marginalized and politically dispossessed. Part of this subjugation stems from a lack of identity, which Atwood portrays by leaving the protagonist unnamed (Callaway). Instead, handmaids take on the names of their commanders, further emphasizing that handmaids are reproductive objects and property of their commanders.


In conclusion, The Handmaid’s Tale explores various forms of marginalization endured by women in a patriarchal and totalitarian society. Atwood adeptly captures the emotional and physical oppression experienced by women in Gilead, highlighting the power dynamics, loss of identity, and internalized oppression within female relationships. Offred, despite facing numerous restrictions and obstacles, manages to assert her leadership and maintain her identity through small actions, memories of the past, and the pursuit of personal satisfaction. In navigating the oppressive Gilead society, she carves out her own path, ultimately leading to an uncertain outcome.

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