Hypothesis: Margaret Atwood successfully uses the theme of control over people to not only create a believable dystopian society in ‘The Handmaids Tale’ but to show how people can be consumed by ideals of society that it justifies them controlling weak people.
“There is not enough love and kindness in the world to give any of it away to imaginary beings.” this quote by Friederich Nietzsche a German philosopher shows how people in our world can be so consumed with the ideals of religion and how they are controlled by religion to be so prejudice and even violent to other people who do not believe in their religion. The Handmaid’s Tale is a very good example of how if this control or ideals get out of control how far they can go, This book is an amazing book to read as a warning of what can happen in the future. This message is enforced as all the events in the book have happened before in history, “The past repeats itself.” the book is teaching us to not be so complacent with our society. Control is a word that comes up in my mind when I read this book, control over the characters, control over the setting of Gilead, the control symbols have over the people of Gilead and the control through the themes such as gender roles within the Handmaid’s Tale.
Our Protagonist, Offred is at the total control of the Republic of Gilead, she is Handmaid of the Commander and Serena Joy because of her position in this society a lot of control is exerted on her from the powers within the society. Handmaids are treated as a motor for reproduction of the population and nothing else which makes them dehumanized. “There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” This quote from Aunt Lydia shows the control that Offred is experiencing as Aunt Lydia is brainwashing her into believing that the protection that the state is giving her outweighs the importance of individuality, self-identity, and freedom of speech. Aunt Lydia saying that woman should be grateful that they now have freedom from instead of freedom to which the woman should be very grateful for. Aunt Lydia’s words seen ridiculous because it is obvious that the Handmaids have far less freedom than their previous lives. Offred is often seen reflecting on the society she lives in now and the society she grew up in, she comes to the conclusion that her life as a Handmaid has far less freedom that her previous life but she cant do anything about it because she is getting controlled by the powers in the state of Gilead. This is not say that before this time Offred would not be completely free as a woman in our world today are still not completely free and don’t have the same rights as men an example of this is the gender pay gap. Offred’s character is warning us of the dangers if religion gets out of control and how although what we have now is not perfect a religious dystopian society isn’t either.
The color red is a very prominent symbol within the text and represents the control that the Republic of Gilead has over the Handmaids. The handmaids are enforced to wear conservative cloaks and vails and both of these are red. The color red is commonly associated with shame by the handmaids which shows a powerful form of control that the republic has over the handmaids. This control breaks down the handmaid’s egos and pride that they have previously had and makes them more susceptible to control without them protesting and causing other setbacks. Offred also expands the meaning of the symbol and the control it has over the handmaids by using it to describe blood. The state allows the handmaids to punish those who have broken the rules of the society. These punishments often involve a lot of blood which links the colour red to another form of control the Republic of Gilead has over the handmaids, control from fear. “I look at the one red smile. the red of the smile is the same as the red of the tulips in Serena joys garden, towards the base the flowers are beginning to heal.” This quote about the colour red shows the control that the republic has over the handmaid’s sexuality and their reproductive organs. This is just another layer to the seemingly never-ending control the state has over the handmaids as they are forced to conceive babies and have them for others without being able to nurture and raise the baby, obviously playing with the handmaids mentally as the mother instinct in them isn’t allowed to care and raise for their child.
Eyes are constantly seen throughout the book, they represent some of the key topics of the text such as paranoia, surveillance and Gilead’s authority. Our protagonist Offred sees this symbol appear multiple times throughout the book, she sees it everywhere from a tour guide to her own ankle tattoo. This symbol controls the handmaids and the other people of the society by paranoia, when people see eyes they instinctively feel like there people watching them, the state of Gilead uses this to control people as there are always eyes watching you and it makes the people less like to rebel against the state if they know that there are always people watching. “And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.” this quote from when the ‘eye’ van has arrived at the commander’s house shows this paranoia from Offred, she describes getting into the van as not knowing if she is stepping into darkness which represents death or stepping into light which represents the hope of escaping Gilead. This just adds to the control of paranoia that is getting exerted on her by the state which nearly drove her to kill herself which in this moment of the quote she is wishing she did kill her self. One of the most complex eyes that we see within the text is a plastered over light socket in Offred’s room. She interprets it as a blinded eye, one that could previously see but now cant. Offred later learns that one of the past handmaids hanged herself off this light fixture which adds to the blinded eye interpretation but also makes it symbolize death but also freedom from Gilead at the same time. These eyes that appear constantly throughout the text are very similar to the eyes in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The eyes in The Great Gatsby represent gods watchful eyes, the place in which the eyes are located is ironic because they symbolize gods eyes yet they are in the valley of the ashes which is full of dodgy activity such as adultery. These eyes aren’t as controlling as the ones in the Handmaids Tale yet they both serve the purpose of representing ‘gods’ power.
Religion and Theocracy is a prevalent theme that the society of Gilead is based on. religion and religious language enter into every part of the society from everyday greetings such as ‘blessed be the fruit’ to the stores being named things such as milk and honey which appears multiple times within the bible. but one of the biggest references to the theme religion in the text is Ofred her self as her job as a Handmaid is based on the biblical precedent of Rachel and Leah. Her sole purpose is to serve as a fertile body that can carry on adulterous relationships so that infertile woman such as the commander’s wife can have a family without the use of adoption and other means that are seen ‘unnatural’ according to the bible. This practice I see as being no different to rape, these women are forced and controlled by the state to engage in sexual acts with people who they have no ‘sexual or emotional’ connection with. In the case of Moira Offred’s best friend who is a feminist and gender equality activist religion punished her as later in her life she realized she was lesbian and this opposed Gilead’s ideals. She was punished for gender treachery but managed to escape the society. Ofred is often seen thinking about Moira and remembering some of the experiences they have had before the Republic of Gilead was established. she remembers being harassed by people of the public like a person in a coffee shop for being a slut just because she was wearing active wear. This is something the Republic of Gilead uses to control people by offering them protection from prejudice but this is highly ironic because they are also being prejudice to people like the Handmaids by making them submit to the power of the state and being controlled by those higher than themselves. “I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.” This quote from our protagonist Offred shows us this control that the state has over the handmaids, she is completely ashamed of her body as she is being controlled into becoming a sexual being that’s only service to the world is to reproduce. Which is proven as she is determined to not look at something that determines her position in society so much.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margeret Atwood is a very influential book to read especially in the time of the world we are in today due to many of its prevalent themes. One of the key messages that I have taken from this book is that if we don’t do something to how the world is being run today, religious idealist leaders can easily take over and manage the world in a dystopian way that is disguised as a Utopia at the surface. Another key message I took from the book is how corrupt and hateful religion is, the message is strong that if religion isn’t controlled it will get out of control and start to control others lives and how they live weather that would be identifying in the LGBTQI+ community or identifying straight and cisgendered.