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‘ Throughout the novel, her language creates a strong sense of loss and longing for her past life as she spends most of her free time reminiscent of it. There is a huge contrast in the ways she refers to her past and present lives. Her referral to the past is positive, sexually charged, affectionate and full of energy. Painful as they are, she has many moments of great nostalgia where we get an insight into what her life once was. Her present is described with great disappointment and disaffection. Her life now is unbearable, a life without basic human rights.
‘We learned to whisper almost without sound’, shows, although it may be minute, clear resistance. ‘… we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space’, communication was cut off at its most basic level. Without the freedom of being able to engage in conversation, touch has almost become their primary form of communication. ‘Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June. ‘ The names show that the women cannot be looked at as a collective group but as an individual person, an individual case. Each woman will have her own story.
The importance of the names shows that up to this point the regime have been unable to strip the women of their identities. All the women share something, a unique bond. They are all there for the same reason but each one will differentiate from the other depending on the way she reacts to the regime for example, two contrasts, Offred (accepted the regime) and Moira (rebelled against the regime and paid the price) and Offred and Janine (she chose to ‘brownie nose’ but ultimately became a victim of the regime). ‘Not all of you will make it through.
Some of you will fall on dry grounds or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted’- Aunt Lydia The lip reading is another form of resistance/rebellion and shows that the women are not in total submission to the regime. In chapter 2, Offred sits in a room which at first seems like a pleasant change from the harsh atmosphere of the gymnasium. However, her description of the room demonstrates that the same rigid, controlling structures that ruled the gymnasium continue to constrict her in the house. We are made aware of the extent of the ridiculous restraint enforced by the regime.
‘They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to’, ‘When the window is partly opens-it opens partly… ‘, ‘… a picture, framed but with no glass’. The room is like a prison in which all means of defence or escape by suicide have been removed. She wonders if women everywhere get issued exactly the same sheets and curtains which underlie the idea that the room is like a government-ordered prison. In the opening chapters of the novel we are introduced to two other leading characters in Serena Joy (the Commander’s Wife) and Nick (a guard who is also supposedly a member of the resistance, Underground).
Offred’s reactions to both are quite contrasting yet there are also issues of convergence. With Serena Joy, Offred desperately wanted to like her. ‘I wanted then, to turn her into an older sister, a motherly figure, someone who would understand and protect me’. However, she was disappointed at the realization that that was nearer to impossible than it was possible. With Nick there was an instant mutual, sexual attraction between the pair however, she is quick to dismiss it, her suspicions getting the better of her.
She suspects that he may be working undercover as an ‘Eye’ for the regime. Nevertheless, she is flattered by Nick’s response to her but she doesn’t know how to cope with it. Serena Joy makes it quite clear that she despises Offred while Nick’s leering at her shows his appreciation for her however, we can conclude, quite safely that Offred is (initially at least) fearful of both Serena Joy and Nick and we believe that she dislikes them both. This proves that the society is founded on mistrust and fear.
In chapter four there is more evidence to support this: ‘their youth is touching, but I know I can’t be deceived by it. The young ones are the most dangerous, the most fanatical, the jumpiest with their guns. ‘ Protection is an important theme that runs throughout the novel. The heart of the ideology that underlies the founding of Gilead is that ‘Women were not protected then’. Sexual violence against women pervades the Handmaid’s Tale. The prevalence of rape and pornography in the pre-Gilead world justifies to the founders their establishment of the new order.
Freedom to and freedom from’, Aunt Lydia describes that in the days of anarchy (the recent past, pre-Gilead), it was freedom to do as was pleased and ‘We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice’. Now they were given freedom from such obscenities and violence. In the Gileadian society it is claimed that the women are better protected, that they are treated with respect and kept safe from violence. Yet, while it claims to suppress sexual violence, Gilead actually institutionalises it as represented through Jezebels (the whore house).
More importantly, sexual violence is apparent in the central institution of the novel, the ‘Ceremony’, which compels Handmaids to have intercourse with their Commanders, almost like a consented rape. Conclusion. Gilead is a theocracy, a government in which there is no separation between state and religion, its official vocabulary incorporates religious terminology and biblical references. Domestic servants are called ‘Marthas’ in reference to a domestic character in the New Testament; the local police are ‘Guardians of the Faith; soldiers are ‘Angels’; and the Commanders are officially ‘Commanders of the Faithful’.
All stores have Biblical names: Loaves and Fishes, All Flesh, Milk and Honey. Even the automobiles have Biblical names like Behemoth, Whirlwind and Chariot. Using religious terminology provides an ever present reminder that the founders of Gilead insist they act on the authority of the Bible itself. Atwood’s creation of Offred is representative of an average woman. She was conventional in prior times, married with a daughter, husband and career. She has been abruptly interjected into a new society which she has no recognition of, a society which has prescribed answers to personalised questions.
‘”Blessed be the fruit,” she says to me, the accepted greeting among us. “May the Lord open,” I answer, the accepted response. The engenderment of the Stalinist regime is very similar to that of the Gileadian society in the novel, in the sense that little changes occur day by day that eventually add up to one discovering that everything is different and civil liberties are no more. Atwood said: ‘There is nothing in the book that doesn’t already exist, has existed in recent history. ‘ Offred is both numbed and stunned by the regime.
She barely shows signs of life and although she shows minute resistance, we are fearful of her possible acceptance and total submission to the regime. Gilead’s women have to lead a life bound by slavery. They are stripped of all personal possessions, ‘… my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I had earned myself. I think about having such control. ‘ their memories and finally their identities. They are all replaceable, categorised objects, made to wear uniforms and often named to be defined in relation to the men (Of- Fred= Offred) .
A Commander’s wife would quite simply be a ‘Wife’ and more significantly the handmaids whose names indicated which man they were currently rendering service. The segregation and powerlessness of all their positions prevents them from recognising their common enemy: masculine power. 1,916 words. October 2003 Miss. Slocombe Nasima Begum 12B Pg 1of 4 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Margaret Atwood section.