Gilead’s strict laws Essay
Gilead’s strict laws
In contrast, the presentation of Alison in The Miller’s Tale is of black humour, and an example of this is at the part near the end of the story where she humiliates Absolon, another interested suitor, in a very vulgar and insulting way. He tries to romantically pursue her but she is not very interested in him, and so when she is still with Nicholas in the house, she decides to stick her bottom out of the window for Absolon to kiss, instead of her face, which is what he had been expecting instead.
Nicholas then decides to follow her example by sticking his own bottom out of the window, little knowing that an enraged Absolon had gone and come back with a scorching coulter, ready to burn Alison, but instead burns Nicholas. Despite her wild and unpleasant character, Alison is rather lucky to avoid and escape any punishment, and that it is all the men who are hankering after her, who instead become ill-fated in shameful and unfortunate events.
However, with Alison and Abigail both being women, they are already in difficult positions in life, as they are both members of the slightly less important gender in their times, and each have their own individual obstacles to overcome. Abigail Williams uses her power in The Crucible to whip up hysteria in the town during the crazy period of the Salem witch trials. Her involvement starts after she has a short lived sexual affair with John Proctor whilst she is working as a house servant at his home.
Whilst John is in it just to fulfil some of his needs that he is not receiving at that time from his sick wife Elizabeth, Abigail sees it a lot more than just a fling. After what we know about her troubled life and what she has been through, it’s no surprise really that Abigail feels lonely and would jump at any chance she could have of some passion, love and affection, something she probably hadn’t felt in a long time, if at all. When Elizabeth finds out about the affair, she throws Abigail out of the house, who then goes on to live with her uncle, Reverend Parris.
Even after John has discontinued the lechery with her, Abigail still won’t stop trying to pursue him. She even goes so far as to manipulate Reverend Parris’s slave Tituba into using her black magic in the forest to cast a spell of death on to Elizabeth. This is rather shocking that someone could be so cruel enough to actually wish death upon someone else just to get something of theirs that they wanted and didn’t really deserve. Tituba is probably the only other person in the play with a lower status than Abigail, since she is in the unfortunate position of being a black female slave.
After Reverend Parris witnesses them with many other girls in the forest seemingly practicing witchcraft, they are all sent to court to be trialled. Abigail does not stop there in her quest to eliminate Elizabeth, so she decides to use the trial as an opportunity to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft in order to get her hanged. This whole vendetta of Abigail’s against Elizabeth Proctor is all mainly based on jealousy, and she does not care who gets hurt in her goal to get at Elizabeth and win over John Proctor.
Ironically enough, it is John himself who sacrifices himself at the end of the play for his pregnant wife, by confessing to witchcraft and being sentenced to death. Elizabeth Proctor herself is a rather decent and loving woman, who shows bravery, loyalty and strength. She does form a strong dislike for Abigail, which is understandable though since she had been her husband’s mistress whilst working as housekeeper at their home and Elizabeth also says to her husband “She [Abigail] wants me dead, John”.
She seems to have much faith in her marriage, since she is willing to make it work between them by trying to forgive her husband for the affair. She even decides to protect his good reputation by not letting the court know about his adultery. She also tells John Proctor at the end of the play that she is partly to blame for his cheating, since she admits to being a cold wife (being not sexually responsive) who could have treated him a lot better.
Elizabeth is another character who breaks a female stereotype, but in a very different way to Alison, as she is expected to always agree to sex but does not always. We can sympathise with Elizabeth because of the fact that she had been ill and was betrayed by her own husband, who had committed one of the worst moral crimes that a husband could do to his wife. She is evidently very hurt by it, and it would have taken a lot of strength for her to forgive him and move on. The positions of women in The Handmaid’s Tale are very different to that of where women rank in The Miller’s Tale and The Crucible.
Whilst women may have fewer rights than men in the other two stories, it is really nothing in contrast to the way women are treated in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women really seem to have it the worst in the very chauvinistic and patriarchal society. The women of Gilead are divided into different groups and ranks. The legitimate groups of women include the Handmaids, the Wives (of commanders), the Aunts, who train and supervise the Handmaids, and the Marthas, unmarried infertile women who are solely involved with domestic work.
And they are the lucky ones; the illegitimate women are mainly unwomen, such as those who are sterile, feminist or socially deviant. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is about a dystopian world where many women are taken captive as Handmaids, and they are used by the government of the Republic of Gilead, a fictional country within the borders of the United States of America, to help continue the human race. These Handmaids are the only women left who are fertile, and it is their duty to become pregnant by their assigned Commanders and have their babies, since the Commander’s wives cannot bear children themselves.
In the society in this book, women are blamed for everything when it comes to conception and childbirth; it is always thought to be the woman’s fault, any fault of the man is never even considered. Offred is one of the Handmaids, and she is the main protagonist and narrator of this book, telling us her personal touching story of what she experiences in this controlling world. Offred, like all the others Handmaids, is being controlled by this strict totalitarian regime that is based on religion. Firstly, she is forcibly removed from her own family, her husband Luke and their young daughter.
Earlier in the plot, the three of them had tried to escape across the border, but unfortunately they were all caught and separated from each other. Their daughter is taken away for adoption, whilst it is unknown what really happened to Luke. Offred is missing them tremendously and is frequently thinking about them and narrating these thoughts throughout the novel; she wonders where her daughter is now and what she looks like, and she wonders where Luke might be and whether he is even still alive or not.
All this information she tells us about her family gives us an idea of her background, and we have very good reasons to sympathise with her. Compelled by the regime into training as a Handmaid, they do all they can to strip her of her identity. They remove her name and give her the new slave name of Offred, meaning ‘Of Fred’, as she is now belonging to and property of a Commander named Fred. Other Handmaids are also given new names in the same way, such as Ofglen and Ofwarren.
Unlike like some of the other Handmaids, we are not directly told what Offred’s real name is, though it is implied at the end of Chapter One that her name is June, since all the names listed apart from that one are accounted for at some point in the novel. This treatment of the Handmaids makes it seem as if they are animals, or objects. In addition, all the Handmaids wear a uniform of red draping garments, symbolic of several relevant things such as menstruation, childbirth and sexual sin.
The clothes are also designed to cover up the curves and shape of the womanly body, in order to preserve modesty, much in the same way as many Muslim women do today. We get a deeper insight into Offred’s dreary and shocking job when she bluntly describes the ceremony. The way she describes it is that the Commander is “fucking” her, and that no other word or phrase, such as making love, copulation or rape, fit the situation quite rightly.
And the commander’s wife has to dutifully lie there with her and grip her hands, as if to pretend that it is she who is being “fucked”, and not Offred. This makes the situation all the more bizarre and uncomfortable for everyone involved. Out of all the female characters that we are focusing on, Offred is probably the most sympathetic. She arguably has the most difficult lifestyle to tolerate and suffer, but she mainly follows what is expected of her out of her society, and hardly does anything erroneous.
The only few times she does deviate from Gilead’s strict laws is when she has an illicit affair with Nick, the Commander’s chauffer, which is set up by Serena Joy in order to increase Offred’s chances of conceiving a child, as Serena Joy herself believes that her husband could be infertile, even though this is against the law for anyone to think. Offred proves to be the only heroine out all our female characters, since Abigail and Alison are both villainous antagonists in their respective stories.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 4 July 2017
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