Thesis: In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood critiques blind faith and allegiance to ideology by using methods of allusions, symbols, and religious language to convey how the balance and shift of power of roles plays a significant part in a society.
In Offred’s previous life with Luke, her husband, she has a job in a library which involves transferring books to computer discs to cut down storage space and replacement costs. Although books were supposed to go to the shredder, sometimes Offred took them home with her making Luke say that she had a mind of an antiquarian (page, 173). An antiquarian is an aficionado/student of antiquities or things of the past, specifically, those who study history with particular attention to ancient artifacts, archaeological and historic sites or historic archives/manuscripts. This connects to how when in the Republic of Gilead she develops a realization and reflection of the past and compares it to the differences and records in everyday life while in Gilead. In general, especially in language and culture, many religions have an abundance of historical components recorded in archives/manuscripts, deeming the rich history an important factor to its present state and people’s faith and allegiance to ideology.
Before Gilead, women having jobs was considered normal and since many of the jobs reward work with a form of payment, people used to use paper money for shopping until Offred was age 9 or 10. In that time, many used plastic cards for many things excluding groceries until later. Offred states (on page, 173) how it seemed so primitive, totemistic, like cowry shells. The term totemisitic refers to a totem or a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people like family, clan, lineage, or tribe. This is one of the religious symbols Atwood uses to show how currency can be easily and blindly idolized and become a strong identity like religion. Cowry shells according to African legend, someone who is attracted to the shells could be family to the ocean spirit of wealth and earth, which can also represent the powerful Goddess protection, connected with the strength of the ocean. Atwood uses this allusion or reference to represent the importance of power and strength in a society.
Thesis: The major symbols/motifs Margaret Atwood uses in “The Handmaid’s Tale” contribute to the significance to the text like the color red, flowers, eyes, the motif of fertility, clothing/uniforms, and the chandelier to express the main ideas and concepts of/in the novel.
Atwood uses the color red in her novel which is closely associated with the handmaids. The color red is meant to symbolize fertility, however it is also related to blood which can bring life but can also have a connection to violence, menstruation, and childbirth. The color red is also the color of passion and sin having an effect of the handmaid’s role in Gilead when they are praised for their role of bringing new life into the world but as a cost, are forced into committing adultery each month. Women in The Handmaid’s Tale are often associated with flowers because flowers are the reproductive organ of plants which the handmaids are only valued for their reproductive organs. Wives in Gilead for example, Serena Joy tends gardens with flowers to maintain their beauty and fertility. The flowers continue to flourish even as the aging women and wives are not which is particularly evident with Serena who takes care of her beautiful garden even as feelings of unhappiness and bitterness grow. The entire house has flower wallpaper which could imply and represent how the reality of sadness and oppression is covered up by pretty images of flowers. In Gilead the Eyes or secret police symbolize the constant surveillance and strong presence of Gilead’s authority which is based on the eye of God. Many of the handmaid’s vision and other’s view of them is blocked by wings and eye contact like Offred has with the young Guardian which is not allowed.
The concept of fertility is one of the main traits in Atwood’s novel which is an necessary factor in Offred’s life due to the fact that her life depends on a successful birth giving her extreme pressure and anxiousness. Only her body functions are deemed relevant over her as a person in a very women restricted society. Besides body; clothing is also an essential identifier by using it as a method of control to establish power hierarchies and specifically dividing groups up. Atwood’s characters are strictly defined by their uniforms with its color. The hierarchies in The Handmaid’s Tale are found in the clothing the women are forced to wear. These major symbols/motifs Margaret Atwood uses in “The Handmaid’s Tale” all play a role in articulating the key perceptions used in the novel.
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