Handmaid's Tale

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Many of the principles of Gilead are based on Old Testament beliefs. Discuss Atwoods use of biblical allusions and their political significance in the novel.

‘The Handmaids Tale' is a book full of biblical allusions, before Atwood begins the text an epigraph gives us an extract from Genesis 30: 1-3

"And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her."

This principle from the Bible is used throughout ‘The Handmaids Tale', the principles being that it is the idea of both assemblages that a women's duty is to have children and that it is acceptable for a man to be angry if a women can not produce a child. Both these beliefs show that in jointly the Bible and ‘The Handmaids Tale', women are completely defined by fertility and are classed as ‘walking wombs'. ‘The Handmaids Tale' recreates the selected stanzas from the bible with Jacob, Rachel, Leah and the two handmaids. The tale is an Old Testament story about surrogate mothers, on which the novel is based. The section gives biblical precedent for the several practices of Gilead, by doing this it paves the way for Atwood to comment on patriarchy where women are undervalued and abused in all walks of life. The idea is also expressed later when we discover the ‘Red Centre' governmentally known as the ‘Rachel and Leah Centre'. As the basis of the novel it is replicated many times throughout the text, for example, it is found in the family reading before the monthly ceremonies, and in Rachel's plea ‘give me children, or else I die'. This clearly lays emphasis on the threat to the Handmaids life. By failing to produce a child, they will be classed as Unwomen and sent to the Colonies to die.

Atwood, to coordinate with biblical references has employed a biblical name for the place where the book is set. Gilead is the name Atwood saw fit to call her town. The fundamentalist Republic of Gilead is named after a place in the Old Testament, a mountainous region east of Jordan. Gilead is closely connected with the history of patriarch Jacob, and the prophet Jeremiah was a Gileadite. Gilead is run on fundamentalist, religious and patriarchal principles. Gilead itself is mentioned in the bible in Hosea 6.8.

"Gilead is a place of evildoers, tracked with blood"

The evildoers mentioned are robbers and harlotry, the prostitution obviously occurring in Jezebel's, the local brothel in Gilead. The communal ethics of Gilead are based on the Old Testament, where patriarchal supremacy is justified as the commandment of God.

Atwood uses biblical place names in ‘The Handmaids Tale' such as ‘All Flesh','Milk and Honey' and ‘Jezebel's'. ‘Milk and Honey' is a representation of hope. In the Old Testament, Moses took his people through the land of ‘Milk and Honey' in order to set them free. Atwood has used this as a place name in order to give the reader and the Handmaids a sense of hope, so that they may one day be set free also. This is also fashioned by the people of Gilead being prohibited from protesting because they are notified that in the future God will recompense them for what they have endured in the past. In doing this they offer hope to a society that has an exceptionally modest amount. Jezebel's is also a biblical word meaning prostitution, and is the name of a nightclub in ‘The Handmaids Tale' which the commander regularly goes to.

Passages from the Old Testament are modified to suit the teachings of the new regime. For example, the loss of Eden would be blamed directly on women, whereas infact both Adam and Eve ate the poisoned apple offered to them by Satan. The governmental body of Gileadean regime changed different...
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