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Everything we know about Gilead, we find out from a handmaid named Offred. The story was written to represent the future, but is now the past so is the historical present. Al the information we find out is released to us very slowly. The republic of Gilead is now under a dictatorship like totalitarian rule, which is highly patririarchal. The book is set out to be a fictive autobiography, and is written in a non-chronological order. This is to confuse the reader to show Offred’s confused feelings in this society.
The first things we find out about the rules in Gilead are referring to sexual, or any other feelings that may result in a person rebelling against the society. The handmaid’s role in the society is very important, and they are given special “schooling” to teach them how to become good handmaids. This so called schooling is more a way of taking over their minds by means of indoctrination.
At these places, called red centres, the women are treated more like animals than people “they had electric cattle prods slung on things from leather belts”.
This just shows how harsh the rules in Gilead are. Offred is a very strong character, and insists that she will not give in to the society “the door of the room-not my room-I refuse to say my”. Her determination is not strong enough though, and although she thinks she has beaten the indoctrination, she has not. She frequently makes references to Aunt Lydia and the sayings that have been drilled into her from the red centre “the republic of Gilead, said Aunt Lydia, knows no bounds.
Gilead is within you”.
This quote also shows how Gilead uses the Bible for means of indoctrination. The republic is based largely on a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint, but also appears to be hugely influenced by Islamic acts. Gilead uses the Bible, but twists words and meanings for its own gain ” Gilead is within you” this originally said “God is within you”. As only the most important members of the republic, such as commanders, are allowed to read, it is very easy to change things around without anyone noticing.
The handmaid’s are not allowed to read, and they have passages of the Bible read to them during the “ceremony” in which the commander has sex with his handmaid to try to get her pregnant. As they are not allowed to read, even things like shop signs are changed just to pictures so they cannot be tempted to read, so as not to Islamic parts of the society are mainly in the way in which women are viewed, and the dresses that the women have to wear. In the Muslim religion, the women are seen solely for the purpose of having children, as are the handmaids.
Islamic women are no allowed to be viewed by men in a sexual way, so they must cover them selves from head to toe exactly the same as the handmaid’s uniform. The punishment system is also more like an Islamic one, not Christian. Punishments in Gilead are used as deterrents for the culprit as well as the rest of the society. In chapter six, we learn of the extreme measures that this society will go to, to enforce rules. Offred visits “the wall” with her shopping partner Ofglen.
The wall is a place where the bodies of men who have committed acts, which the state fells is punishable, are displayed. This is to act as a deterrent and a warning to others. The act where the men are killed, is called the “salvaging”. This is ironic, as salvaging is where you try to save something, but in this case, people are being killed. The republic justifies the name by saying that the people who are killed are bad, so they are just saving the others from whatever acts have been committed.
The wall is also another indication of how well indoctrinated Offred really is. She regularly visits the wall, and sees sights that we would find totally unacceptable, and inhumane, but she hardly bats an eyelid. All this now seems totally normal to her, and she cannot remember that it is not acceptable. Other religious influences link into the clothing that the handmaids wear. The “wings” which shield their faces could also be seen as a metaphor for the wings on an angel, which is perceived as a giver of life, which is basically what the handmaids do.
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