The Handmaid’s Tale’? Essay
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These women strongly believed that men were the enemy. Moira is Offred’s symbol of hope and normality, shown when Moira first enters the ‘Red Centre’ still wearing her jeans, and declares ‘this is a loony bin. ‘ From Offred’s point of view Moira is the symbol of a female hero, but to the Gilead authorities she is a ‘loose woman’ with a criminal element. Moira is a strong willed character who will not conform, shown by her escape form the ‘Red Centre’.
To the other women of the centre, Moira represents everything they would like to do, but do not dare. ‘Moira was our fantasy.
We hugged her to us, she was with us in secret, a giggle; she was lava beneath the crust of daily life. In the light of Moira, the Aunts were less fearsome and more absurd. ‘ Even when Moira has escaped the life of a handmaid in Gilead, and works as a prostitute at ‘Jezebel’s’, she still expresses her dissidence, as she remains a declared lesbian, and her dress is a deliberate travesty of female sexuality. Although Moira is bold, and seems successful, she does not manage to escape fully. She has been consigned to the Brothel where she will remain for a few more years, before she is sent to the colonies.
Atwood shows here that even the most confident and rebellious of women, cannot ever fully escape from this dystopia. Another form of feminism represented in the novel, lies within the character of Offred’s mother. Rather than the extreme feminism represented by Moira, Offred’s mother represents the ideas of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, who campaigned for women’s social and sexual freedom. She is also strong willed as well as firmly set in her ways as a political activist. Offred’s mother possesses the same energy as Moira to resist the classification.
Although she is referred to mainly in Offred’s fragments of memory, she is also seen on film at the ‘Red Centre’, marching in a pro-abortion march as a young woman. Moira later reports seeing her as an old woman working in the colonies. Offred’s mother’s pro-abortion views contrast dramatically with the views held in Gilead where conceiving to give birth is a priority. She defends her position as a single mother, and accuses her daughter of political irresponsibility. Her feminist ideas are quite extreme even in today’s society, especially concerning her views of men.
‘A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women. Not that your father wasn’t a nice guy and all, but he wasn’t up to fatherhood. Not that I expected it of him. Just do the job then you can bugger off, I said, I make a decent salary, I can afford day-care. So he went to the coast and sent Christmas cards, ‘ Offred’s mother wanted a woman’s culture, and that is what happened, although not in the way in which she had hoped. Her life from before is remembered and acknowledged, but not in the way in which she had hoped.
Rather than being remembered in history for her passionate views of women’s rights to freedom, she is immortalized on films shown to prospective handmaids as an example of an ‘unwoman’ who helped bring about the downfall of society. For all of her efforts she still lives life controlled by the regime, working in the colonies. Both she and Moira were bold and confident, with strong passionate views on the rights of women, yet neither of them successfully escaped the rules of the new government, and so both remained trapped. As well as her mother, we are also made aware that Offred does have a daughter.
She is never named, and she was taken from Offred at the age of five, after an unsuccessful escape attempt. The love in the relationship of Offred and her daughter is a direct contrast to the surrogate duty of the handmaids. If a handmaid has the baby of their commander, the child is given immediately after birth to the Wife. This is shown in chapter 21, where Janine is pushed out of the way from her newborn baby to make way for the excited Wives. A handmaid never gets the opportunity to bond with their child, so another right stripped from them, is their identity as a mother.
In the society of Gilead, the Aunts are indoctrinators of the system. They play one of the most crucial roles in the novel, as it is their duty to train and brainwash the handmaids into fulfilling their duties. The Aunts carry out their training from the ‘Red Centre’, and have a teacher-pupil relationship with the handmaids rather than the mother daughter relationship implied by their title. Whether or not they actually believe in this new regime, the Aunts must outwardly show their dedication and devotion to it.
Due to this, it is impossible for a handmaid to get close to an Aunt and build up a friendship. If women were able to build up friendships in Gilead, then their power would be able to grow, which would be seen by the state as a disaster and a failure. Handmaids are also stopped from building friendships and alliances amoung them. Although they do go shopping in pairs, there are only set phrases made by the government that they are allowed to exchange. ” ‘Blessed be the fruit’ she says to me, the accepted greeting amoung us. ‘May the Lord open, ‘ I answer, the accepted response”
The handmaids would stick to these phrases in case the other was a spy. If it became publicly known that a handmaid was not a true believer, she would be punished. Offred knows that she should not try to speak to her shopping partner Ofglen, in case she is a spy. ‘The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers. ‘ Another factor preventing the handmaids from building up friendships is the fact that one of the predominant emotions that they feel towards each other is jealousy. They secretly wonder who has managed to conceive, and stare enviously at the stomachs of those who have been successful.
The Aunts themselves are of an older generation, who perhaps felt that the introduction of this new regime would bring back a more traditional, safer way of life, which probably increases their determination to enforce it. The most memorable of the Aunts is Aunt Lydia, as her words seem to haunt our narrator. The Aunt’s lessons are obviously very well calculated, shown by the fact that Offred has memorized many of Aunt Lydia’s phrases. ‘Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry grounds or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. ‘
These words emphasize the pressure on handmaids to succeed in conceiving and quietly conforming to the dictatorial regime. However, a more sinister side to the Aunts is evident in the ‘cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts. ‘ Although the Aunts are women ruling women, they are still not permitted guns as the men are. Although the Aunts are women with great power, the ultimate power is still held by men. Another issue that Atwood focuses on is the oppression of women. Within freedom should come security, and within security should come freedom.
In Gilead there is no middle way between these ideas, Atwood searches for one throughout the novel, but does not succeed. In Gilead, women are supposed to be more secure than they have ever been. Their bodies and abilities to reproduce are worshipped by society. Apparently, crimes against women have been erased, and there is neither rape nor violence toward women. However I feel that this is not true in Gilead. Sandra Langdon states that ‘the ceremony’ is not rape, but it is a functional procedure carried out by Offred and the Commander ‘this act is not love, copulation, or rape. ‘
I think that the ceremony, where a commander tries to fertilize his handmaid, is rape. During a ceremony, the handmaid is held tightly between the Wife’s legs, while the commander tries to fertilize her. The only active involvement in this act is by the commander and his wife, and the handmaid is passive. Also Moira receives the horrible foot punishment when she first tries to escape from the ‘Red Centre’, and I see this as violence against her. She is punished by injury to her feet, as this is a part of the body not involved in reproduction. Aunt Lydia makes it clear that the womb is the only important body part of a woman.
‘For our purposes your feet and hands are not essential. ‘ Women in Gilead are enslaved into the idea of being protected. The women in the novel are told that they are more intelligent than men, and are protected from them, but they are also told that men cannot control themselves around women. They still have fear for men and have to tip-toe around them. Aunt Lydia conveys this idea to the handmaids. ‘Men are sex machines…. They only want one thing, you must learn to manipulate them, for your own good,’ In this novel Margaret Atwood gives a bleak message about women.
At the same time that she condemns Offred, Serena Joy, the Aunts and even Moira for their complacency, she suggests that even if the women gathered strength and stopped complying, they would be likely to fail to make a difference. This is because no matter what a woman does, she can never change her biology, which is the thing that puts her in this position. No matter what opinions women have, even if they are brave enough to also express them, they will never be able to change the fact that they are the ones with the womb and ovaries; they are the only ones who can bear children.Laura Moylan 16/12/2003 Word count: 2563
Bibliography Letts Explore Literature guide – The Handmaid’s Tale : Sandra Langdon www. google. com : November 2003 www. novelguide. com : November 2003 www. sparknotes. com : October 2003 www. bookwolf. com : October 2003 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.