Oppressed Rights by the Oppressive Regime in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale delves well into the horrid nature of extreme control and immoral limitations in defining the corrupt theocratic government at large, and more specifically the effect this control has on the society’s women. In an age in which a newly emerged and merciless governmental system called the Republic of Gilead has “put life back to the middle ages,” sparked by a widespread panic of infertility, personal freedom and individuality have become unimaginably reduced (Genny 1). Handmaids selected to live in the houses of wealthy, well-respected couples go through a life entirely designed by the government for the sole purpose of bearing children. Caught between following the strict rules made for women by the Republic and breaking them in secret for the sake of her sanity, the protagonist Offred essentially but not purposefully offers close to nothing for her society’s benefit. Not allowed to read, write, speak her thoughts or even look another in the eye, the most she can offer proves to be occasional, well-monitored grocery errands and the slight possibility of providing the gift of life for an elite Commander and his Wife. Parallel to a dystopia in which Offred has been stripped of the most simplistic allowances, women in today’s various Middle Eastern societies find relatively equal difficulty in utilizing their strengths due to the severe suppression and forced structure of their daily lives. Regardless of the varying context of these two scenarios, they both present themselves problematically in light of women’s personal struggle to contribute in society—in both Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the modern Middle East, seemingly unethical yet extreme theocratic government exercises examples of such radically unformed control over its people that the exploitation and demeaning of the natural rights of women become prevalent. But on what grounds should the male citizens of the Republic of Gilead and those in today’s foreign communities be granted more liberation and opportunity while the women are held more captive of their own independence? As Offred finds herself trapped in such an unreasonably restrained living situation, she instinctively recognizes the current lack of available free will because she once knew what freedom looked and felt like. For example, in opposition of her training as a handmaid with the Aunts, she cannot help but wander her mind back to the pre-Republic days “thousands of years before,” when she and fellow females could actually go to school and watch “movies of the rest of the world” that even included “dancing[,] singing, ceremonial masks, [and music],” clearly taking place in a land where “people…were happy” (Atwood 118). Offred as well as other handmaids in her place inevitably suffer within their reality by trying to maintain a grasp on the memories of such privileges they once took for granted, such as real television to promote quality education. Instead of living the naturally liberal life of opportunity that was once available to Offred and existed in her home and school life, such a vision has been taken away by the government and exists now only in her memory, as the Aunts present to her and the other potential handmaids a government-approved film with “the title and [few] names blacked out…with a crayon so [they] couldn’t read them”—another example of a ludicrous constraint, reading, that could have instilled fruitful possibilities in the mind of a woman (Atwood 119). In addition, as if the recollection of accredited education and other past events were not enough a cause of longing, Offred also recalls the fearless, empowering spirits of her late loved ones—particularly her mother whom she spots in the film, “wearing the kind of outfit Aunt Lydia told [the handmaids] was typical of Unwomen in those days” while “smiling, laughing…and raising [her] fists in the air” (Atwood 119)....
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