‘The handmaid’s tale depicts a world where all citizens are victims of the totalitarian regime.’ To what extent do you agree?
Through the analysis of ‘citizens are subjected to physical oppression’, it is evident that both the men and women of the Gileadean society are victims to some extent, however the women, particularly the Handmaids are the biggest victims of all. Margaret Atwood’s allegorical novel, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a dystopian novel set in a totalitarian theocracy in which the female population has become threateningly infertile. Atwood presents a society where freedom for women is restricted because of the extreme policies set by the regime of Gilead. In this torment society, the men are confined by the rules of Gilead and are forced to have intimate relationships with women. On the other hand, women are stripped away from their individuality and are assigned to various classes such as Handmaids, Wives and Marthas.
The ‘Republic of Gilead’, is described by a woman called Offred, the main protagonist and a Handmaid. Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving one. Offred’s freedom, like most women within the novel is completely restricted. Handmaids are regarded as second class citizens as they cannot hold any property or be employed. Instead, they are forced to have wordless sex with the Commanders every month. “we learned to lip read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In this way we exchanged names from bed to bed.” This demonstrates the severity of oppression in the society of Gilead, Handmaids are striped of everything even their real names. “My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because its forbidden.” Atwood demonstrates that the narrator is trying to convince herself that her name is separate from her identity, she is losing hold of her individuality and uniqueness.
The Commander is presented as a complex and changing character in the novel. The Commander is cool and is collected on the surface but underneath he is bitter and corrupted for the world he has created which is now known as the ‘Republic of Gilead’. The commander can be seen as a man that is torn between two worlds, he was one of the founders of Gilead yet still enjoys the pleasure of the old society he managed to break. It can be seen as “he has made his bed now and he can sleep on it.” However, the commander is confined by the rules of Gilead and are forced to have intimate relationships with the Handmaids. The commander and his wife are both oppressed through their social status and duties they must strictly adhere to. Throughout the novel, it is evident that the commander himself suffers from loneliness and lack of intimacy. “Better never means better for everyone…it always means worst for some.” This quote refers to how Gilead was created with an interest of making a better world. However, now it is seen as a dystopian society with a regime that abuses its power.
While the Handmaids are just a commodity, there are two groups of women who have a certain amount of power in the Republic of Gilead. These two groups appears to be the aunts and the wives. Although their power is not absolute like the Commanders, the wives and aunts are equally as oppressive towards the Handmaids. The wives oppress the Handmaid out of sheer jealousy, they despise the idea of other women making love to their husbands and they are also envious of the Handmaids’ ability to bear children. During the sexual acts, the wife holds the Handmaids’ hands the entire time: “This is supposed to signify that we are one flesh one being. What it really means is that she is in control, of the process and thus the product.” The fact that the wives and aunts are given authority to physically punish the Handmaids proves their dominance in the female hierarchy.