However, religion is not only abused in Gilead, it is also used as a validation of the war, “Resettlement of the Children of Ham is continuing on schedule”; the “Children of Ham” is referring to black people. Atwood contrasts this using image by describing the television presenter, “the reassuring pink face, back on the screen. ” The use of the word ‘pink’ to describe his face immediately after using ‘Children of Ham’ for black people makes the boundary all the more apparent. Gilead also holds what is called a “salvaging”; however, one should never be mistaken by its religious name.
Ultimately, the “salvaging” is actually the hanging of those who have been caught resisting the regime, therefore not a religious event at all. The word ‘salvaging’ implies that they are saving someone’s soul; however, underneath all the pretence and religious propaganda, it is actually barbaric, “The three bodies hang there, even with the white sacks over their heads looking curiously stretched, like chickens strung up by the necks in a meatshop window; … wrecked angels. ” Atwood has used the visual image of a butcher’s shop, which enforces the fact that these three women were just seen as pieces of meat.
“Wrecked angels” also implies that although angels are seen to be a religious symbol, there is something not quite right about them, they are damaged. The salvaging is also the first part of the novel that Atwood wrote, “With The Handmaid’s Tale it began with the hanging scene, which is now quite towards the back of the book” Margaret Atwood (4). The extreme action of the ‘salvaging’ in the Gilead regime is central to Atwood’s critique of fundamentalist societies as it was her starting point; therefore I feel that the novel’s central theme is the suppressive regime of Gilead.
As well as ‘salvaging’, the Gilead regime distorts language by giving their actions more appealing names. The ‘ceremony’ sounds as though it is something holy and sacred and something to be proud of. However, it is actually legal organized rape. But, by subtracting extracts from the bible and rearranging them, it suddenly becomes more acceptable. The word ‘handmaid’ sounds pleasant when truly the handmaids are prostitutes who are under a pretence that what they do is for religious reasons.
The specific message that Atwood has tried to give is that religion should be treated with caution and that if one is being dictated to one should never believe everything that one hears. It is evident that Gilead is twisting religious values to enforce their control. This scenario is not unique to Gilead; in the late seventies there was a rise of Islamic theocratic states, most importantly in Iran. In a very short length of time, Iran was transformed from a very western country to an Islamic country and many women lost their identity within their jobs and their role in society.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ can be seen as a prophetic novel as since then other religious leaders such as Saddam Hussein used Islam so that the people would fight for him, as well as Osama Bin Laden who has persuaded people to give up their lives, (suicide bombers), in the name of their religion. However, the causes for these actions are not actually religious at all. Atwood can visualize situations which will take place in the future therefore I feel that she uses her novel as a critique as well as a warning signal of what is to come if society does not change its ways.
In Gilead, there is no room for feminism and although women are worshipped, they are not respected as people, it is just their function society is interested in, “Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object”. At the time the novel was written (1985), the United States of America had just witnessed a huge feminist movement, where extreme feminists burnt pornography as a plea for their rights. In the novel, Offred’s mother is an example of an extreme feminist. The way the Handmaids live is described as them having what they wanted, men are now supposed to regard them with the utmost respect.
In a way, many women in 1980s America already lived in a sort of Gilead society. They would not dream of going out alone, they feel unfulfilled without children and their role within their home was one that meant they were subservient to the dominant male in their household. They had to be obedient otherwise face the consequences. It is possible that Atwood is also commenting on domestic violence; if a woman didn’t do as she was told she was punished. In Gilead the Handmaids would be physically hurt if they went against the regime.
It wasn’t often that the Handmaids went against the regime for fear of being reprimanded, which is similar to the fear domestic violence victims would have of upsetting their partners. Serena Joy was in favour of this lifestyle for women as she often made speeches of how a woman’s place is in the home, “Her speeches were about the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay home”. However, this proved Serena Joy to be very hypocritical as she never stayed at home herself, she excused it as “she presented this failure of hers as a sacrifice she was making for the good of all”.
Conversely, Serena Joy’s situation is now very ironic, as she now has to stay at home out of no choice of her own. The regime also gave the illusion that women were in control, for example the wives and the aunts. However it is just a false impression as the ones with the most superior roles are all men. Another example of an extreme feminist in the novel is Moira. Moira is physically the most rebellious character in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, therefore she is punished. She attempted to escape twice, but was caught out the first time, and then punished by having her hands and feet whipped with metal rods.
The ‘Aunts’ chose these parts of the body, as they are no longer required for the Handmaid’s duties. Moira succeeded in escaping the second time before being caught at the border. She was then sent to ‘Jezebel’s’, an underground brothel. Some would consider Moira’s new role in the Gilead society to be particularly degrading for her because of her homosexuality and open feminism. However, Moira is being true to herself. She knows the role which she now plays, and so does everybody else. She is no longer doing something under the pretence that it is religious or sacred.
Therefore some may argue that Moira’s new position is somewhat refreshing to her considering how she felt as a handmaid. In ‘Jezebels’, the prostitutes/escorts are left to their own devices during the day; however, in the evening, they become objects on a male arm and must meet all of his requirements. Moira is described as wearing a bunny rabbit costume made from “once-shiny satin”. “The costume does not fit her. As a result, she simultaneously parodies the demeaning nature of the female outfits in Hugh Hefner’s former bunny clubs, while she also stands for the irrepressible return of everything the Republic has attempted to obliterate.
” Lorna Irvine (5). Atwood intentionally related Moira’s costume to one of a Playboy Bunny as a critique against the amount of male adult magazines that were around in the eighties. However, she has successfully made the image of Moira ridiculous, therefore this icon is desensitised and made less degrading to women. In the 1980s, Americans were worried that there was too much freedom of choice. Many believed that there had been a loss of family values and were extremely concerned with the rise of pornography and sexually transmitted diseases. One in particular was AIDs.
This disease was discovered in 1981 amongst the homosexual community. Many believed that God was punishing homosexual people by giving them this incurable virus. This combined with the rising amount of unwanted pregnancies led people to believe that there was a moral decline, which resulted in a social breakdown. As a result, many religious right wing politicians began to put the fear of God into society, one of whom was the President Ronald Reagan. I think Atwood has based the commanders and the people in power in the Gilead regime on these politicians.
By taking their views to the extreme, she managed to visualise a dystopian world, which suppressed people’s freedom of choice. “Atwood is known as an outspoken defender of humanitarian values, an able and active advocate for woman’s rights and for freedom of speech” Nathalie Cooke (6). Therefore I do believe that Atwood’s novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ offers a very strong critique of American society in the 1980s. Words: 2489 Bibliography (1) Walter Pache: “A Certain Frivolity”: Margaret Atwood’s Literary Criticism
(2) Gabriele Metzler: “Creativity”: An Interview with Margaret Atwood (3) Bernard Richards: Margaret Atwood (4) Gabriele Metzler: “Creativity”: An Interview with Margaret Atwood (5) Lorna Irvine: “Recycling Culture: Kitsch, Camp and Trash”: Margaret Atwood’s Fiction (6) Nathalie Cooke: “Lions, Tigers and Pussycats”: Margaret Atwood (Auto) Biographically Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Margaret Atwood section. Download this essay Print Save Not the one? Search for y