Totalitarianism, Violence, and the Color Red in the Handmaid’s Tale

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Totalitarianism, Violence, and the Color Red in The Handmaid’s Tale In literature, the color red symbolizes many things, each with its own emotional impact. Red can be associated with violence and bloodshed, or it can be associated with love and intense emotions. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred, chosen to be a “baby-maker” for a couple she was assigned to, desires to escape the dystopian society that she lives in. Thus, Margaret creates a fictional government that uses totalitarianism, violence, and the reoccurring pattern of the color red to illustrate the negative impact it has on women, especially the Handmaids. Throughout The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred recalls her past life before and during the creation of the Republic of Gilead. The radical political change was carried out by a coup to create a “right-wing, fundamentalist Christian theocracy” (Beauchamp). The goal of the new regime was to create a new society with cult-like evangelical culture that bases a majority of its policies on readings of the Old Testament in the Bible. In this new society, censoring and controlling of all aspects of daily life, was key, all of the civilians were forced to fulfill predestined roles. The total oppression of women in all aspects of their feminine lives is a main theme in this fictional tale. Women were confined to gender based functions that were determined by the male dictators of the society. For women, literacy and independence diminished, which limited their ability to communicate. An example form the novel that illustrates this was when Offred, the main character, recounted how strange and mysterious the change of regime came to her consciousness. She described the transformation in terms of what she observed: “There was a lot more music on the radio than usual, and fewer words” (174). This account portrays how the authorities limited independence of thought for women. Another example was when Offred’s credit card was declined because a policy was enacted stating that women no longer were permitted to control money. These accounts confirm than not only women lost their freedom of thought, but also their freedom of control. What Offred experienced, was the aftermath of a violent political coup starting to develop their theocracy after overthrowing the United States government. Offred described the coup as seen on television, “…they shot the president and machine-gunned the congress; the entire government, gone like that” (174). As this change was occurring, there were neither protests, nor backlashes. “People just stayed home and watched their televisions” (174). Not only was new government powerful and violent, it was also unstoppable. By the time the United States had transformed into the Republic of Gilead, society was dramatically different. “The state in Gilead prescribes a pattern of life based on frugality, conformity, censorship, corruption, fear, and terror—in short, the usual terms of existence enforced by totalitarian states” (Malak). Society had become a totally controlled by Commanders, or the men responsible for creating the totalitarian government. These men developed a system which women were divided into different categories based on their societal role and function, which was color coded. The women were divided into six categories: Wives (blue), Aunts (brown), Angles (white), Marthas (green), Handmaids ( red), and Econowives ( all colors, as they perform all of the roles and duties of the other women). The novel focuses on the life of a Handmaid named Offred. Handmaids are fertile women of child bearing age who are assigned to the household of a Commander and his Wife. Their sole purpose is to bear children for the Commanders and Wives to whom they are assigned to. They are trained exclusively by the Aunts at the “Red-Center”, where they are brainwashed and strictly disciplined. The Handmaids color code is red which denotes their specific role in society, which is...
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