The Handmaid’s Tale: The Woman as Less than ‘Other’
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in Gilead, a dystopian society in what used to be the United States. Gilead employs very religious ideologies, which leads to women having most of their rights removed. Since widespread pollution lead to dangerously low fertility rates, powerful couples are assigned handmaids, women who serve as diminished versions of surrogates. Their main function in the household is to participate in a “ritual”, in which their commander attempts to impregnate them. Handmaids have no freedoms outside of childbearing, and are not even permitted to have their own names. They are simply referred to as the possession of a powerful male commander.
The story of The Handmaids Tale follows a handmaid named Offred as she serves the Commander and his spiteful wife. As she goes about her extremely sheltered daily life, we see how she is only truly valued for her ability to bear children. She recounts a number of flashbacks throughout the story that detail her life before the totalitarian society took over, including anecdotes about her husband and daughter, her best friend Moira, and her time in a Re-education centre while training to be a handmaid.
The Handmaid’s Tale in-depth Review
However, the Commander requests to see Offred outside of their usual ritual, primarily to play Scrabble, which is against the law since women are not allowed to read. The Commander even asks to kiss her before she leaves, further complicating what should have been an emotionless relationship. Even though the Commander was one of the higher-ups of Gilead’s society, he was still unsatisfied with the inhumanity of their rituals.
At the same time that the Commander is going against the rules, Serena Joy goes behind her husband’s back and requests that Offred have sex with Nick in order to get pregnant. As she makes arrangements for the two to meet in secret, the Commander takes Offred to a club where she meets her old friend Moira working as a prostitute. She reveals that she was captured after escaping from their training facility, and chose to work at the club rather than be sent to the colonies, which are essentially labour camps. This situation exemplifies just how devalued women are in this society, as even if they are deemed impure, they are still used for their bodies in one way or another.
“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Afterwards, Offred and Nick began seeing each other frequently, and they develop an actual loving relationship, something that was not allowed to exist in this society. Ofglen, Offred’s partner, reveals that she is a member of secret organization known as Mayday, which acts as an underground railroad for women. However, Offred is so fixated on her relationship with Nick that she doesn’t even care. Shortly afterwards, all of the handmaids take part in a public execution known as a “Particicution”, where they beat a suspected rapist to death, who was actually a member of Mayday.
When Your World Turns Upside Down
At the end of the story, Ofglen hangs herself to avoid being captured by the Eyes, and Serena Joy finds out about Offred’s affair with the Commander. Before she is able to be punished, Nick calls for Mayday members disguised as Eyes to bring Offred to freedom. The book ends on a pleasantly ambiguous note, as it is never known whether she was actually able to escape, or if she was sent to prison.
The nation of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale demonstrates a failure to operate on its ideals. In an attempt to resolve the infertility crisis, Gilead’s leaders ultimately ended up eliminating genuine love from their society. Even though men had more rights than women, they were not permitted to engage in relationships, let alone speak with each other on their own accord. Furthermore, it becomes clear that both the Commander and Serena Joy are not happy with their lives, considering how they both manipulate Offred behind their backs. Gilead’s leadership claimed to be changing all of society for the better with the assignments they gave to handmaids, but how could this be so if everybody is unhappy in the end?
The Handmaid’s Tale Ralph’s Wrap Up
Perhaps most disturbing of all was how the Aunts, a league of women who indoctrinate the handmaids, subjected their own colleagues to this oppressive regime so that they could hold a scrap of power. It was detailed that women could become Aunts either because they didn’t want to be sent to the colonies, they wanted to have at least minimal freedoms, or because they actually believed and supported what the government was doing to women. It’s one thing for a man to believe in a doctrine that is desirable to him, but the world of Gilead didn’t benefit women in any way. Turning a blind eye to these injustices is what allowed them to persist, something that is all too commonplace in the world today.
Read More of Ralph’s Dystopian Reviews:
- Brave New World Analysis
- 1984 by George Orwell Analysis
- A Clockwork Orange Analysis
- Animal Farm Analysis
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Analysis
- Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We Analysis
- The Lathe of Heaven Analysis
List of all Dystopian Novels Ever by Ralph K Jones:
- Dystopian Literature of the 19th Century
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1900 -1910
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century 1910 – 1920
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1920 -1930
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1930 -1940
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1940 -1950
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1950 -1960
- 20th Century Dystopia Literature 1960 – 1970
- 20th Century Dystopia Literature 1970 – 1980
- 20th Century Dystopia Literature 1980 – 1990
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1990 -2000
- 21st Century Dystopia Literature 2000 – 2010
- Dystopian Literature 21st Century – 2010 -2020