Religious Symbolism and Structural Parallels in The Handmaid’s Tale and Romero

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Religious Themes and Symbolism in Romero and The Handmaid’s Tale

It is interesting to compare and contrast the films Romero and The Handmaid’s Tale through the structure of religion. The two films draw a comparison and similarities between elements that are significant to what David Chidester explains about normal religion. David Chidester states that “religion is about sacred symbols and systems of sacred symbols that endow the world with meaning and value.” Both films also develop an idea of religion as a guide to express values and resolve issues through biblical beliefs. In addition, the motto “REALLY BAD” also implies that religion exists as a language, letting people begin a debate that is very apparent in our world. Each film displays progressing dominance through courage, violence, and religious beliefs.

Religion as a Tool for Guiding Values and Resolving Issues

Each person’s religious beliefs differ due to the different values that people believe in. Religion is often viewed as a group of people who have shared beliefs and live their lives with a deeper meaning. Shared beliefs come in the form of worship and are something that happens regularly throughout society. In the film Romero, the main character displays courage by speaking out against his government in hopes of stopping the violence among his people.

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Archbishop Romero also showed compassion for his fellow Salvadoran people through his inspired faith. The film paints Romero as a conservative bishop who sides with the religious and political aspects. When his friend Rutilio Grande, along with an old man and a young boy, gets assassinated by the soldiers, this changes Romero’s overall viewpoint. He becomes determined to do what he can to save his people through his beliefs and what he thinks may fix things. An important context in the movie was how religious it was.

The people used important, powerful figures within the Church to feel protected. Although the Salvadoran government could not protect its people, they still listened to Romero due to his platform, and they believed in his Church. During this hard time, everyone remained faithful to their Church even though they knew that the government was against them. It was kind of like their faith in God was being tested, but they remained strong even when the Church was vandalized. Likewise, The Handmaid’s Tale displays the same sense of shared beliefs that come in the form of worship.

Within the film, the nus refer a lot to the Old Testament in a way to justify many of Gilead’s characteristics. In the film, Offred’s job as a Handmaid is based on the biblical precedent of Rachel. These films display how their faith is tested as well because the women have been stripped away from their freedom and personal identities. The Handmaids undergo a series of life-threatening situations that test their beliefs while seeking religious guidance. It gets to the point of whether God hears their cries. The two films display a fuck you to religion because of what they have been put through.

Religious Identity and Endurance in the Face of Adversity

On the other hand, the film Romero poses a promotion of peace through the Church. Archbishop Romero is all for his community and spreading the common good in a positive way. He basically took the opportunity to risk everything for his people and prove that he was willing to go the extra length for what he stood for. He had a bold vision of preaching the Gospel of the Bible. He also denounces injustice even if it means dying. This can be seen when Archbishop Romero risks his life after the soldiers vandalize the Church.

Romero walks back into the Church with no fear, even after being shot while at the ground of the altar to pick up important glass pieces. Just as Jesus did, he sacrificed his own life for his Church. However, the film Handmaid’s Tale displays a constructive role of government within the Church. The Church uses its platform to manipulate the handmaids into thinking they have been disobeying God with their lifestyles. They use their roles in a negative way to purify the Church. With a bold vision for preaching the Gospel, denouncing injustice, and maintaining a firm perseverance, willing to accept the cost, even if it means death.

Religious Symbolism as a Source of Power and Manipulation

In the movie Romero, violence is often used to react to certain situations to resolve issues or stop one from achieving their goals. This reaction often begins from the act of cultural differences. In the same way, violent behavior is displayed through the reoccurring murder acts that occurred within El Salvador. They presented how the government basically used its power to prevent the Salvadoran people from traveling to the voting polls simply to prevent them from speaking up for themselves during the election. The soldiers shot at the buses, which eventually busted the tires to prevent the people from traveling across town. The military used their power as an advantage since they knew they could do anything and had full control over the El Salvadoran people.

Throughout the film, a series of killings took place, which was a huge way the government could punish the people for rebelling against them. In like manner, in Handmaid’s Tale, the nuns placed fear among the Handmaids to show that they have higher authority by treating them as nothing more. The nuns used abortion and fertility in a negative way to brainwash the handmaids into thinking they have been living a sinful life. The nuns use biblical and religious texts to imply that there is a higher power that determines their fate.

Like Romero, The Handmaid’s Tale shows how one group uses their dominance over the other. The handmaids had the fear of standing up for themselves because of what may have happened to them if they disagreed. Towards the end of the movie, Offred takes the chance of rebelling against and murders the commander to win her freedom and escape. This shows how heroic she was to be able to win her freedom back.

Apart from violence, a series of cultural differences determines how people live and practice their lifestyles. The overall argument is that regardless of what values a person believes in, they will still get killed. Although one specific group believes one thing, that does not mean another group may believe in the same thing. The movie Romero presented how people were political prisoners. Their roles were between priests and Salvadoran people against government officials. They were not allowed to speak up for themselves, and they were viewed as disrespectful for simply speaking up for themselves. However, the movie Romero’ is completely about the prosperity and relationship between the government and the Church.

While the government remains oppressive and abusive towards the citizens of El Salvador, they turn to the Church for help against the continuous abuse of the government. Higher officials basically overrule and make decisions for the people because they are of lower class. On the contrary, The Handmaid’s Tale displays these economic differences through gender roles. The handmaids basically had no voice because they were women. They were expected to follow what the bible said they should do, which was birth children. The culture varies in different things, such as clothes, religion, and beliefs. Culture is the identity of a group of people living in a specific time, and they follow a set guide.

Many religious aspects are evident in each person’s definition of religion. Each person’s faith is also different. Religion can be defined as a group of people who have shared beliefs and feel their life has a purpose. Shared beliefs were put into action in the form of worship, which was very apparent in these two films. I also think these two films express how religion is a threat. To conclude, the motto, “REALLY BAD,” is a continuing array of debates that will continue to happen because there will always be one group that will be against religion and certain beliefs.  Just as David Chidester asserts that sacred symbols are becoming a really big factor in the lives of people because they use these symbols as a way to become physically closer to God.


  1. Chidester, David. Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa. University of Virginia Press, 1996.
  2. Romero. Directed by John Duigan, performances by Raúl Juliá, Richard Jordan, Ana Alicia, and Eddie Velez, Paulist Pictures, 1989.
  3. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Vintage Books, 1985.

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Religious Symbolism and Structural Parallels in The Handmaid's Tale and Romero. (2023, Aug 28). Retrieved from

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