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Since the beginning of time, females have always been perceived as objects who have only one job: to bear children. Men have oppressed, controlled, abused, and limited women in a countless number of ways because of the belief that women are inferior to them. Today, women possess many more rights than they have in the past but men continue to have power over them. In The Handmaid’s Tale, author Margaret Atwood portrays a future dystopian society in which women have no rights due to the totalitarian state of Gilead overthrowing the United States government. The narrator and main protagonist, Offred, recounts her story of being a handmaid, someone who is forced to bear children for elite couples of Gilead. Not only is Offred raped by her Commander to complete her “only job” in society, but also has no freedom and has been taken away from her family. She is only one of thousands, possibly millions handmaids trapped in Gilead, a society that Atwood imagined to be not too far from our own. By using the first person point of view along with stressing the importance of names and social class in The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood depicts how Gilead uses control to oppress women which could become a reality shortly.

The first-person point of view is used throughout the entire novel which creates an emotional attachment to Offred because the audience experiences everything alongside her. On her way to the store with her walking partner, Offred describes everything she sees around her and reminisces on pleasant memories with her husband, Luke, before Gilead took over. She explains, “Luke and I used to walk together, sometimes, along these streets. We used to talk about buying a house like one of these, an old big house, fixing it up. We would have a garden and swings for the children. We would have children. Although we knew it wasn’t too likely we could ever afford it, it was something to talk about, a game for Sundays. Such freedom now seems almost weightless” (Atwood 23). Not only does this illustrate the powerful use of the first person point of view which creates a more personal effect, but it also demonstrates the impacts Gilead has on controlling thoughts. Offred must not dare to believe that she can have basic dreams like buying a house for her children since she has no freedom anymore. This is only one example of a way that Gilead oppresses women and controls them so that they feel powerless. Without a first-person narrator, seeing the extent of Gilead’s forceful authority on the handmaids would not be possible just as Melissa Sue Hill and Michelle Lee state,“[a] third-person narration might not communicate these feelings as successfully. By pulling the reader into the narrator’s head, Atwood fully brings her emotions to life” (Hill and Lee).

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Another way Gilead asserts their dominance over the women in The Handmaid’s Tale is by renaming them. Instead of calling handmaids by their given names, everyone calls them by adding the word “of” before the names of their Commanders. The narrator’s name is “Offred” because her Commander’s name is Fredrick or Fred. This objectifies the handmaids; instead of being their person, they are “of” another person or essentially owned by a man. In many instances, while telling her story, Offred longs for freedom and her family by stating, “I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me” (Atwood 97). Again, through the use of the first person, a more dynamic effect is created where readers sympathize with what Offred has to endure. Gilead is dehumanizing her and taking away parts of her identity to establish control. Offred no longer feels like a person, an emotion that would only be possible to recognize from this point of view. Additionally, this displays how she feels important and powerful when she is called by her real name, something Gilead attempts and succeeds at getting rid of. Though changing individual names is a far-off reality, there are various other ways that Gilead could be short. For example, writer Tracy L. Matthews explains, “Some of the anti-female measures [Atwood] had imagined for the novel exist. ‘A law in Canada,’ Battiata reported, ‘[requires] a woman to have her husband’s permission before obtaining an abortion.’ Atwood, speaking to Battiata, pointed to repressive laws in the totalitarian state of Romania as well: ‘No abortion, no birth control, and compulsory pregnancy testing, once a month.’ The Handmaid’s Tale does not depend upon hypothetical scenarios, omens, or straws in the wind, but upon documented occurrences and public pronouncements; all matters of record” (Matthews).

The different social classes in The Handmaid’s Tale also establish a form of control over women. Not only do men have superiority over handmaids, but the Wives and Aunts do as well since they are a higher class and more well-respected than handmaids. Serena Joy, the wife of Offred’s Commander, played a role in creating the concept of Gilead and is present to hold down Offred during “The Ceremony,” where the Commander rapes Offred in an attempt to impregnate her. Offred describes this occurrence by explaining, “My arms are raised; she holds my hands, each of mine in each of hers. This is supposed to signify that we are one flesh, one being. What it means is that she is in control, of the process and thus of the product” (Atwood 93). This once again depicts how Gilead asserts power over the handmaids, treating them like slaves with only one purpose. By including other, upper-class women to play a part in oppressing these handmaids, they feel as though they are completely alone and there is no hope of escape. Critic Danita Dodson expands on this by stating, “[Atwood] reveals the lesson she has learned: subvert the ‘paradigm of denial’ by confessing her compliant role in a domestic imperialism that ultimately turns women against women” (Dodson). This goes to show the anti-feminism attitudes of Gilead and how they relate to our modern-day society, reiterating the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale could easily become a reality.

Through the use of a first-person narrator and focusing on the significance of names and social class, Margaret Atwood depicts how the society in The Handmaid’s Tale oppresses and controls women which is closely related to society today. The tragedies that handmaids face in this novel are terrifying and real, and Atwood’s comments on feminism, environmental conditions, and the political climate should not be taken lightly.

Works Cited

    1. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 1998. Print.

Bibliography

    1. ‘Atwood, Margaret 1939–.’ Concise Major 21st Century Writers, edited by Tracey L. Matthews, vol. 1, Detroit, Gale, 2006, pp. 213-23. Gale eBooks, link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2590000043/GVRL?u=lom_troyhs&sid=GVRL&xid=8cd7b4c1. Accessed 10 Jan. 2020.
    2. Dodson, Danita J. ”We Lived in the Blank White Spaces’: Rewriting the Paradigm of Denial in Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ (Margaret Atwood).’ Utopian Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring 1997, p. 66+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A20200107/LitRC?u=lom_macombtgps&sid=LitRC&xid=b69b41b9. Accessed 10 Jan. 2020.
    3. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Novels for Students, edited by Melissa Sue Hill and Michelle Lee, vol. 60, Farmington Hills, Gale, 2019, pp. 95-114. Gale eBooks, link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3670000016/GVRL?u=lom_troyhs&sid=GVRL&xid=0967a621. Accessed 7 Jan. 2020.
    4. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Novels for Students, edited by Marie Rose Napierkowski, vol. 4, Detroit, Gale, 1998, pp. 114-36. Gale eBooks, link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2591700018/GVRL?u=lom_troyhs&sid=GVRL&xid=721a0def. Accessed 7 Jan. 2020.
    5. Rao, Eleonora. ‘CRITICAL READINGS: A Body in Fragments: Life Before Man and The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Critical Insights: The Handmaid’s Tale, Jan. 2010, pp. 246–260. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=48267765&site=lrc-live.  

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