The Handmaid’s Tale: Patriarchal control & Gileads theology

This paper is going to utilize Margaret Atwoods novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Question 2 (that is highlighted in
red) will be the topic of the paper and what must be answered. I will provide background information that you
can use in the paper.
Gilead, women are politicized and controlled. The North American population is falling as more men and
women become infertile (though in Gilead, legally, it is only women who can be the cause of infertility).
Gilead’s treatment of women is based upon a narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, making women
the property of and subordinate to their husband, father, or head of household. They are not allowed to do
anything that would grant them any power independent of this system. They are not allowed to vote, hold a job,
read, possess money or own anything, among many other restrictions. A particular quote from The Handmaid’s
Tale sums this up: “The Republic of Gilead, said Aunt Lydia, knows no bounds. Gilead is within you” (This
describes that there is no way around the societal bounds of women in this state of government. Handmaids are
given two-year assignments with a commander and are called “Of [their Commander’s first name], such as the
novel’s heroine, known only as Offred. They are not allowed to marry or use their own names so when a
handmaid is reassigned, her name changes with her.
The sexes are strictly divided. Gilead’s society values reproduction by white women most highly. Women are
categorised “hierarchically according to class status and reproductive capacity” as well as “metonymically
colour-coded according to their function and their labor.
Women are segregated by clothing, as are men. With rare exception, men wear military or paramilitary uniforms,
which takes away their individualism as it does the women, but also gives them a sense of bravado and
empowerment. All classes of men and women are defined by the colors they wear, drawing on color symbolism
and psychology. All lower-status individuals are regulated by this dress code. All non-persons are banished to
the “Colonies” (usually forced-labor camps in which they clean up radioactive waste, becoming exposed and
dying painful deaths as a result). Sterile, unmarried women are considered to be non-persons. Both men and
women sent there wear grey dresses.
Offred is part of the first generation of Gilead’s women: those who remember pre-Gilead times. “The Republic
of Gilead.” Offred remembers the pre-Gilead days, when women were not protected: they had to keep their
doors closed to strangers and ignore catcalls on the street. Now no one whistles at women as they walk; no one
touches them or talks to them. She remembers Aunt Lydia explaining that more than one kind of freedom exists,
and that “in the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from.” (Atwood 24).
Having proven fertile, she is considered an important commodity and has been placed as a handmaid in the
home of the Commander Fred and his wife Serena Joy, to bear a child for them

The Wall, where the authorities hang the bodies of executed criminals as examples to the rest of the Republic of
Gilead. The authorities cover the men’s heads with bags. One of the bags looks painted with a red smile where
the blood has seeped through. All of the six corpses wear signs around their necks picturing fetuses, signaling
that they were executed for performing abortions before Gilead came into existence. Although their actions were
legal at the time, their crimes are being punished retroactively.
Offred is a slave name that describes her function: she is “of Fred”, i.e. she belongs to her Commander, Fred, as
a concubine.The names make more sense when preceded by the word “Property”: “Property Offred,” for
example. Thus, every time the women hear their names, they are reminded that they are no more than property

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