One of the main ideas in the novel The Handmaid’s Tale written by Margaret Atwood, is relationships and their importance as there is lack of intimacy and human contact which are both controlled and prohibited in Gilead. We can see that in this totalitarian society, all relationships are controlled strictly and monitored and there are boundaries which you must not cross. In this society, even sex is controlled. As a handmaid, you are obliged to have sex with your Commander at fixed times and this sexual event is named ‘the Ceremony’. The relationship between Offred and the three men in her life: the Commander, his chauffeur Nick and her husband Luke, are important to this theme of importance of relationships as these relationships are all very different from one another and we see the different ways in which they are important to Offred and what role they play in Offred’s life.
Offred is the protagonist in this novel and she is present in a society in which all relationships are strictly controlled and monitored, and where all human contact beyond that within a marriage, is forbidden. The society acts upon a fundamentalist view and has a distorted view of Christianity. Offred demonstrates just how basic and important a human need such as being touched, is. “I hunger to commit the act of touch,” says Offred. In this society, simple things such as the act of touch and love within a relationship have been banned. These are small things that Offred regrets not taking for granted in the past. “How much we took things for granted” says Offred. Offred is a handmaid and their role in Gilead is simply just to procreate for their hosts who are powerful but childless couples. “We are two-legged wombs” says Offred.
Even sex is regulated in this society, it isn’t a matter of choice or recreation. Offred as a handmaid, is made to have sex during certain times and the sexual act is called ‘the Ceremony’. In Gilead, pleasure is frivolous and unnecessary. You simply procreate to make babies. Kissing is forbidden as it is too much of an emotional attachment. Sex for Offred is something disgusting which she is forced to do in order to not be sent to the colonies. Sex in this society is simply for procreation and has no other purpose.
All of the relationships Offred has/had are significant but especially those with the three men in her life, the Commander, his chauffeur Nick and her former husband Luke.
Offred’s relationship with the Commander is both complicated and causes alot of problems. Offred is a Handmaid to him and his wife Serena Joy and they basically own her, hence her name shows this; it is a patronymic that clearly establishes ownership. The relationship between Offred and the Commander is a strictly regulated one where Offred is supposed to have contact with him only during ‘the Ceremony”, which is a grotesque threesome in which the Commander keeps trying to impregnate Offred who lies between Serena Joy’s thighs. “Which of us is it worst for? Her or Me” says Offred. In one way, the Commander is Offred’s “husband”, since in Gilead this is a legally approved/forced relationship, but in another sense she is also the third person in the triangle of the Commander, his wife and herself who is like a mistress which is ironic.
But the Commander is not satisfied with the official arrangement. Even though he follows the regime that introduced this system, he breaks the rules and summons Offred to his study in the evenings. The Commander is a fatherly figure for Offred. “I feel like a child summoned to the principal’s office” says Offred which shows paternalism symbolism. The Commander forms a special relationship with Offred as they share a love of words so when he summons her, Offred unreluctantly plays scrabble with him. In return for her company, the Commander gives Offred things that aren’t available to her such as hand lotion, magazines, human contact and knowledge. Because words have been banned from this...
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