“Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.” (pg. 33) This is what Aunt Lydia says to the main character Offred. Offred says the Red Center is a palimpsest. In reality the entire novel Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a palimpsest, or a document with old writing scratched out and new writing replacing it. The old world has been erased and replaced, but only partially, by a new order. Women can no longer take for granted the freedoms feminism won and now pays the price. Margaret Atwood explores the ideas of the sexual slavery women are reduced to in this impossible utopia and how a totalitarian state is a prison for all those inside. She uses setting, irony, and symbolism. This new world order came about nearly over night. Women were torn from the lives they once lived. The birthrate had been decreasing so to solve this problem the state assumes control over women’s bodies. Women cannot vote, hold property or jobs, read, or do anything else that might allow them to become subversive or independent and thereby undermine their husbands or the state. Despite all of Gilead’s pro-women rhetoric, such subjugation creates a society in which women are treated as subhuman. They are reduced to their fertility, treated as nothing more than a set of ovaries and a womb. In one of the novel’s key scenes, Offred lies in the bath and reflects, “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping.” (pg. 73) She is contrasting the way she used to think about her body to the way she thinks about it now. Before, her body was an...
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