A Comprehensive Essay On The Handmaids Tale Literature Essay

1942 words - 8 pages

Literature Essay
Context is a major influence in the construction of texts, The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood was written in 1985 so the context of the time is reflected in the novel. Personal and social context are critical when writing a novel and Atwood’s views and beliefs are shared in the novel. Atwood is a feminist and environmentalist and she gives a warning to the future to what could happen in the worst case scenario. Many movements and situations occurred in the 1980’s and these all would’ve played a part in the construction of the text. The cold war was reaching its climax and sexually transmitted infections were on the rise. At the time the novel was written Ronald Reagan was president of America and Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of England. This was a time of conservative parties in control in the western world. The Religious groups of the time had gained more influence due to this, and women’s rights were feared to be taken away again. The Handmaids Tale is based on these events and Atwood uses the text as a warning to the future.
Margaret Atwood’s personal context was important in the construction of the novel The Handmaids Tale. Atwood is Canadian and she is a very well educated women. Her views and beliefs are present in the novel and her context also is shown. In the Novel, Canada is seen as a safe Haven for the people of Gilead and the place where all the people are trying to escape to. This is not a coincidence but Margaret Atwood’s context influenced her decision to make Canada to be a safe zone and a place where there is still hope for the people of Gilead. In Canada Atwood attended the University of Toronto, Atwood is well educated and also attended Harvard and Radcliffe University. She taught at many Universities also and her love of education is reflected in the novel as Harvard University is a prominent setting in the novel. The School is used as a headquarters for ‘The Eyes’ and it is also used as a prison. This is ironic as University is usually where people go to find themselves and have the freedom to choose their own futures and where knowledge is obtained, is where the women are being held as prisoners and oppressed, and also they are forbidden from reading the books. Atwood views on knowledge and education are present in the novel, the Library where knowledge is contained is treated like it is a temple. Margaret Atwood’s personal context has a major influence in the construction of the novel The Handmaids Tale.
Margaret Atwood was Canadian and born in Ottawa, Ontario and was very environmentally aware. Atwood grew up with a passion for the environment which can mostly be attributed to her father who was an entomologist. The environment was important to her and she has lived in many in many countries and experienced many different environments. In the novel there has been a nuclear war and the environment is damaged because of this. Atwood is serving a warning to what could happen in the future if the conflict in the cold war was to end in the nuclear bombs being used. In the 1980’s the cold war was reaching its climax and there was fear was that the world would be destroyed in the process. The people in the 1980s were living in a constant state of fear that nuclear war could break out at any moment. In the novel the world is heavily polluted and wars have made a lot of North America uninhabitable. The damage to the environment also lead to the humans becoming infertile and having other fertility problems, only one out of four children which are born are healthy enough to survive for even a short period of time. “The air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up, and meanwhile they creep into your body, camp out in your fatty cells.”(pg 122). This quote shows that the whole world has been ravaged by chemical pollution and Atwood is giving an insight as to what may happen if we continue down the path that we are going down.
The Handmaids Tale discusses themes about women’s rights, Margaret Atwood is a feminist and her context and also the social context of the time influenced the construction of the novel. In the 1980’s there was a shift to the conservative parties as Ronald Reagan was president of America and Margaret Thatcher was Prime minister of England. At the time feminist groups were fearful that this change in government would result in “a return to traditional values”. Atwood is commenting on this by taking this to extreme and showing what could happen. Gilead gives women almost no rights and or control over the society. Their roles are only Wives of the commanders, aunts, Martha’s, Handmaids and econowives. These roles all pertain to serving men in some way. The roles of women are all servants to the men because the women are seen to only help the men rather than be in any control, this shows how oppressed the women are and it also reflects the society that Atwood is trying to create. The women are all group and their individuality is taken away as they must all conform to the society. Aunt Lydia in the novel says “This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will be ordinary.” This quote shows the women are forced to just accept that this their new life. The handmaids are especially oppressed as they only have the option to reproduce or to be sent to the colonies which is effectively a death sentence. In the novel it says “We are two legged wombs that’s all”, this quote shows how the handmaids are not respected or treated well. They are only used for their reproductive abilities and outside of that they are useless and have no purpose. The Handmaids have no identity and they are losing themselves, The Handmaids have their names taken away and eventually all become is a husk of who they used to be. Atwood’s feminist views shaped the construction of the novel and the way it presents gender roles. Atwood criticises the roles that society places on men and women, this is influenced by her own context and the context of the time.
The society in Gilead claims to be beneficial for both men and women as it makes women safer. The government justifies its actions by saying that rape and pornography were too high to just be ignored and the new society protects women. The society had become corrupt and needed to be changed. The society is based on the social issues in the 1960s and 1970s. There was a ‘sexual revolution’, the conservative parties of the west were seen as threats to this movement. Feminists feared that all the liberations of the evolution would be undone. Atwood takes this to the extreme and shows what could happen in a “return to traditional values”. The social context of the time heavily influenced the text as Atwood was commenting social issues that were present at the time of writing the novel. These influences lead to Atwood’s construction of the political system of Gilead and their beliefs. The government says it’s protecting women and this society is best for everyone. “The Pornomarts were shut, though, and there were no longer Feels on wheels vans and Bun-Dle Buggies circling the square. But I wasn’t sad to see them go. We all knew what a nuisance they’d been.” This quote shows how sexualised the society had become as there were “sex-mobiles” and they had all been taken away. This quote also shows that this was a positive action and it was a good thing that these were taken away. The government had fixed some issues but took their control too far but still felt justified in their actions as they felt what they were doing was the right thing to do. The commander says to Offred “We’ve given them more then we’ve taken away”. The commander is a voice for the government in this situation, the commander is saying that the women have been given more than they have had taken away. By this he means that the women had been given a safety from the threat of rape and sexual violence from men. They were allowed to walk the streets alone because they were in no danger. Any man that was convicted of rape was sentenced to death and was literally torn apart by the women. The man was really a member of the resistance but he still served as a message to the men as what would happen if they were to attack any woman. The Government in Gilead controlled the women but felt their actions were necessary in order to fix their society and protect the women, and this was reflected by what was actually was happening in the 1980s as Ronald Reagan was the President of the USA and Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain. These were conservative parties and the feminists of the time feared that there would be a return tradition values and Atwood was criticising this and was showing a possible future if this return to traditional values was taken to the extreme.
The Handmaids Tale was written in the 1980s and its themes and the way the text was written are heavily influenced by the social context of time and also the personal context of Margaret Atwood. Atwood’s personal context influenced the way she portrayed Canada in the novel. Canada is said to be a safe haven and Atwood is Canadian so her decision to make Canada as one of the only good places was not a random decision. Atwood was also well educated, her passion for knowledge and education lead her to use Harvard University as one of the main settings and have an important role in the novel. Her passion for the environment is also addressed in the novel as she discusses the damage that humans can cause to the world through pollution and nuclear war. This is heavily influenced by the social context of the time as the cold war was reaching its pinnacle and people were scared this would lead to the devastation of many countries and the environment. Women’s rights and gender roles are discussed in the novel. Atwood’s personal context of being a feminist and also the social context of the time shaped the way that this theme was presented in the novel. She is criticising the stereotypes that society places on women and what a return to traditional values entails, she does this through the jobs the women in Gilead have and how they all involve serving men is some way. The government of Gilead felt justified that their actions were the best for everyone as they had taken away issues that were present in the time. The over sexualised society had been taken away and women were now safe from sexual violence from men, but they took the power to far and took away their freedom as well. Context was important in the way The Handmaids Tale was Written, Atwood’s own context and the context of the 1980s were important influences on the construction of the text. Atwood said “There's nothing in the book that hasn't already happened” This shows that she drew heavily from social issues at the time and was commenting on them in the novel.


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