The Handmaid’s Tale is one of Margaret Atwood most famous novels written during the spring of 1984, when the Berlin wall was still standing. Atwood creates a dystopia, which most authors invision as the world’s fate. The Handmaid’s Tale effectively portrays the United States as the modern day totalitarian society of Gilead, which was depicted as perfect by using the book of Genesis. Although the authors ideas are inherently and completely fictional, several concepts throughout his book have common links to the past and present society which the author herself calls a speculative fiction. The author uses a totalitarian system which includes aspects of Soviet system, to describe, deprivation, repression and terror with the use of biblical allusions and symbolism. Atwood imagines a world where absolutism is at reign, individualism is oblivious, and reality and history is simply a matter of opinion. The novel was written depicting the events going during that day and age such as women’s rights, politics, and the religious aspects.
Set in the republic of Gilead, an ultra conservative region within former US territory. The Republic of Gilead is surrounded by toxic waste and poisonous materials that harm the human and living being around it. Elders, homosexuals and anyone against the law including members of religious groups outside the norm are forced to clean the environment. Women who were once married or are capable of reproducing become Handmaid’s, or women who were obligated to reproduce babies for Commanders. These women are renamed for the Commander that they serve. Atwood’s protagonist is called “Offred” which signifies her title as a possession, she is Of Fred.
The name also suggests that she is an offering. These women are denied the right to vote, education and need a man figure to be able to survive. The novel starts in the re-education center, a former gymnasium where the handmaids are trained for their life of service. The narrator then describes the things that haunt the place, “I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of water, shot through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures.
..Dances would have been held; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light.
I remember that yearning… We yearned for the future.
” (Atwood 3) In Gilead this desire “yearning for the future” and so many desires have been completely detached, and the future that was illustrated is in fact gruesome. In the handmaid’s tale, we are shown one vision of what could happen when yearning for the future takes a form of grasping from the past. Atwood makes her dystopian society believable through the characters she uses.
The characters are a big part in creating her dystopian society and contribute to the overall effect of the novel. An example would be the Commander, due to his elite, hierarchy status he portrays; even by his wife.. At one of the ceremonies, Offred notices that the Commander is “preoccupied, like a man humming to himself in the shower without knowing he’s humming; like a man who has other things on his mind. It’s as if he is somewhere else” (Atwood 81) which can be translated as he even though the situation occurring then seems to pay no interest in him. Not to consider the facts that the Handmaid’s were actually being rapped. Another odd trait of the Commander is that he makes Offred his mistress but already has a wife.
The Commander chooses to have an emotional and sexual relationship with his Handmaid, but has a wife. This would not be the first time, due to the fact that the previous Offred committed suicide after being confronted by the Serena Joy. Symbolism is portrayed in this novel would be the color clothed uniforms to the color of the flowers in Serena Joy’s garden. Each color means a different role in society. For instance, the Wives wore blue to symbolize power, hardship and their strict state of mind. The Marthas, green because of their service, jealousy and misfortune. The Aunts wore brown. The color red appears throughout the novel, mainly that was the color of the handmaid’s’ dresses.
The color can symbolize blood, fertility and rebellion. But the color red being so prominent in this novel states that the women are fertile which is their main asset. Red suggested the blood of the menstrual cycle and childbirth.
“everything except the wings around my face is red: The colour of blood which defines us.” (Atwood 23) Handmaids are forced to have sexual relations with theirs commanders who are married men, therefore they are committing an act of adultery. Therefore the red also symbolizes the sinfulness of the handmaid’s position in Gilead. The novel has created a society in which the only two important beliefs in a society are the ability to procreate and a strict belief in God. As it is mentioned above, Gilead is depicted as perfect by using the book of Genesis. The Handmaid’s tale holds several biblical references , some are obvious then others but most of them have been altered. The most important in a state of opinion would be. “It’s the usual story, the usual stories.
God to Adam, God to Noah. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth …
. Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who bath withheld from the fruit of the womb? ..
and she shall bear upon my keens, that I may also have children of her.” (Atwood 88) This verse was read to the Handmaid’s everyday at breakfast and before the ceremony just to drill it in their minds, even though most of them know those were not the right textual evidence from the Bible. The police are called “Guardians of the Faith” which suggest that they are guarding the beliefs of Gilead. Another biblical allusion depicted would be the Angels, so they are called. But they were simply Guards.
“Carried by two angels” (Atwood 91) They are most likely driven from “Archangels” who symbolize strength, protection, and guardianship. “The Angels stood outside in with their backs to us. They were objects of fear to us..” (Atwood 44) Atwood explores a totalitarian society through the eyes of a women, since many book in that category written by men mostly depict the women as rebels who “defy the sex rules of the modern regime”, such as Julia from 1984.
” When they slaughtered congress we didn’t wake up, when they suspended the constitution, we didn’t wake up’ (Atwood..) Atwood uses characters, biblical allusions and symbolism through the eyes of Offred to portray an anti-heroine who has been stripped from her natural born right, but overcomes it with a kind of collateral beauty scenario. The writer intends to portray the perfect human society, but a novel of dystopia does the opposite. Reading this novel has opened many individuals minds and eyes to the worlds around us, and people expect progress.
Society expect that overtime the world and humans will become better at what they do, healthier, and richer trying to make a broken nation successful.