Societal Reflections in “The Handmaid’s Tale”: Unveiling Parallels

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Abstract:

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, is a novel that brings up questions about women’s rights, freedom, and oppression. Atwood gives you a look into a society run by men in a place called Gilead. This novel helps shed some light on how Gilead and our society today are similar in many ways. Atwood also uses the different roles in this novel to help the readers have an understanding of what category or usefulness women have in a society based on men’s beliefs.

Gilead: A Contradictory Society of Men and God

Atwood makes a society that is run by men but also by God. Gilead is supposed to be run by God’s word, but yet the people of Gilead are contradicting his word and punishing their people. Obviously, the book is more intense than the society that we live in today, but it reflects a lot of the same issues in our society, just in a more dramatic way. Women today still deal with the fear of walking alone and men raping them. Also, women aren’t treated as complete equals to men in our society today; Men are still often paid more at the same job as a woman. We have more freedom, as in the novel, but as a whole, women are still restricted to certain things that men are not.

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Loss of Power and Identity: Handmaids’ Plight

This novel shows the lack of power and freedom that the women of Gilead have. The women here have their names, kids, husbands, wives, homes, power, jobs, money, lives, and much more all taken from them. In this novel, they have women called handmaids, that are women who travel from house to house and basically get raped every month that they ovulate in the hope of giving a commander and his wife a baby.

These handmaids are to go by their commander’s name, so the main character of the book, June, now known as Offred, describes the ceremony or rape as, my red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it, the commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating, too, would be inaccurate because it would imply two people and only one is involved. This showing that the act of the ceremony is involuntary, which would be defined as rape in our society. Also, the fact that the handmaids go by their commander’s name shows that the men have power over the women in this society.

Control over Women’s Bodies: A Reflection of Reality

In The Handmaid’s Tale, men have power over women’s bodies. They control when they have sex, how they have sex, and what happens to the mother and the baby. In Gilead, killing a baby would be the worst thing that you could do, and you would be punished and killed for it. This relates to the society that we live in today because men in the government control what rights women have over their bodies and their babies.

Men have the right to change the law and punish women who want to end a pregnancy without the women having any say in it.
Another reality that forms from The Handmaid’s Tale is the homophobic views. In the book, they would punish the gays and send them to the toxic wasteland for them to die, or they would hang them. In today’s society, it might not be as harsh, but gays are still publicly shamed and not accepted completely by society. It wasn’t until recently that gays had the right to marriage.

Homophobia and Victim-Blaming: Perpetuating Prejudices

The book also has a part where Janine is telling all the other handmaids that she got gang-raped. And as they were all sitting there listening to her story, one of the Aunts said, “But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up a plump finger. Her fault, her fault, we chant in unison. Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us. She did. She did. She did. Why did God allow such a terrible to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.” This shows that in the book, they shamed the girl for sexual assault, constantly reminding Janine that it was her fault. This happens in our society today, often times the girl that gets raped or assaulted is told that she must have dressed a certain way or given the wrong impression.

Manipulating Faith: Distorting Beliefs for Control

The society, Gilead, is supposed to be run by God’s word, and often times, when people think of God, they think of positive things and forgiveness. But yet, this society is so negative and far from forgiving. This is because the society is really run by chosen pieces of the Bible chosen by the commanders. Which, in reality, isn’t run by god at all, more the men. They use the bible and God as a distraction to the women to feel somewhat equal so that they don’t want to fight back or rebel.

For example, Offred states, “If you have a lot of things, said Aunt Lydia, you get too attached to this material world, and you forget about spiritual values. You must cultivate poverty of spirit. Blessed be the meek. She didn’t go on to say anything about inheriting the earth.” Showing that the Aunts always would just use partial verses from the bible instead of adding the full verse to show the right side of things. This creates a false image of God to the women of Gilead, so it makes it look like the commanders aren’t the bad guys and that they are just pursuing God’s plan.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel that brings light to the everyday reality that we live in today. In Gilead and today’s society, it shows men the true power that they have over women’s rights and freedom. This novel also gives the readers a deeper understanding of what oppression is and how serious it can get. This novel creates a false sense of what a good society should look like. When reading The Handmaid’s Tale, it might seem as if they live in a harsh society, but we are living in that same society every day.

References:

Atwood, M. (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books.

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Societal Reflections in "The Handmaid's Tale": Unveiling Parallels. (2023, Aug 28). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/societal-reflections-in-the-handmaid-s-tale-unveiling-parallels

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