Handmaids Tale

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Now Playing: Utopia, Followed by: Dystopia
In the not so distant future, the story of The Handmaid’s Tale unfolds. Set in what seems to be a dystopian United States where various violations of human rights from around the globe are exposed. It is these violations that a patriarchal, authoritarian theocracy is created in the nation-state of Gilead. Oppression, status, and fear run rampant through the nation-state. Obedience is tantamount for the survival of women and the regime. Atwood exposes how building a utopia leads to a dystopia for those that are considered as being an “other.” The destruction of past decades inflicted on the earth and society brought a rebirth of Puritan values. Men took over everything and women were assigned a duty. Exposure to toxins made most women at this time infertile. Unmarried, infertile women were given a chose; they could become a Martha (cleaning slaves), Jezebels (underground prostitutes), or be shipped off to the colonies to clean up toxic waste and be labeled as unwomen. Fertile women were destined to become Handmaids (sex slaves). A Handmaid’s duty was to become a walking womb to a family of a ranking officer. These women were sent to “The Center” where they were taught how to properly behave as Handmaids. The Center is where fear and obedience are instilled the Handmaids and where red would become their new identity. Once assigned to a house, the Handmaid becomes the husband’s property. From the very start of Offred’s tale, the Handmaid procliams that she is literally a prisoner, tattooed with a cattel number: "Four digits and an eye . . . It's supposed to guarantee that I'll never be able to fade, finally, into another landscape. I am too important, too scarce, for that. I am a national resource" (4-5). The officials at The Center and the house staff ensure that there is no way possible for the Handmaid to end her life. The names that they are given reflect this; if the husband’s name was Steve you became Ofsteve. Your name no longer mattered; after all you are just a two-legged uterus. People were always watching and waiting for treachery to occur. Everyone had to watch their own back; camaraderie was no more.

Women in Gilead are completely stripped of power. The once privileged women of the twentieth century become grouped among past generations of “trouble-makers.” Women in the Gilead era are seen with the same disgust that Native Americans and Blacks were; they were the root of evil. Women had too much freedom and that is why rape, infertility, and unhumans (stillbirths) were occurring. Women and their bra burning ways brought this upon themselves. Offred at one point sarcastically mentions that the women of the 1960s feminist movement got their wish: “at last there is a "women's culture" that the radical feminists had so badly wanted” (164). Men could not be expected to control themselves around women when the female race paraded around scantily clad. Offred explains how the threat of harassment, rape, and violence toward women are exterminated by the regime, almost in utopian-like form: "no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles" (33). The degradation of the female race and femininity as the source of all that is wrong with the world is contradictory to emphasis that is placed upon the ability to reproduce and how that relates to being womanly. The Handmaid’s have the greatest potential for gaining power because they are the ones that are responsible for the continuation of the Gilead society. It seems like everyone knows this because the other, infertile, women have an obvious resentment toward them and the men create laws that suppress them. There is extensive background given on the Commander’s wife, Serena Joy, and with this one can tell that she envies the relationship between Offred and her husband. Offred notices the jealousy that Serena Joy feels toward her early on: "She doesn't speak to me, unless she can't avoid it. I am a...
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