This essay explores how dystopia can serve as a warning in a society of inequality, oppression and lack of freedom. It shows how extreme views can be dangerous and what can happen when human rights are breached. The Handmaid’s Tale is an account of one of the major character’s third post in the Republic of Gilead formerly the USA. This novel is set in the 20th century under a patriarchal regime, founded on a fundamental Christian movement.
This society is ruled by the government using force, brutality and State controlled technology. Lessons from the bible are distorted as a means of control to reinforce their inhumane state practices. All forms of communication are banned. Women are categories according to age, marital status and their ability to reproduce. Men are categorised according to age and their worthiness as a commander of the elite faith of Jacob. Spinsters, homosexuals and barren women are sent to the colonies to clean up after wars and toxic waste. A handmaid’s only purpose is to serve as a surrogate mother for the wives of childless commanders.Order now
This novel is set in the science fiction genre but can also be classified under dystopian and feminist literature. Politics is one of Atwood’s major concerns, a theme running throughout. She also discusses feminism, her idea of heterosexual relationships, ecology, the concerns she has between the relationship between Canada and the USA. She voices concerns with basic human rights under various state laws and that any extreme ideology can lead to disaster. She reinforces the view that great care needs to be taken of our planet to ensure our survival.
Within the Gilead society, there are warnings of how extreme views can be dangerous. For example, the dichotomy adopted by Serena Joy and Offred’s mother, in their ‘lives before’, resulting in similarly sad outcomes during their lives in Gilead. Offred’s mother’s desire of ‘being absolved by history’ is unfulfilled as she is labelled ‘unwoman’. Serena Joy is trapped in Gilead’s interpretation of her ideology as truly seen by Offred: “she stays in her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her” Offred is portrayed in her ‘life before’ as intelligent, educated and sensible. Offred notices that the values of society that once stood are declining but decides to ignore this.
With hindsight she declares “We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” There is evidence of the break down of previous society throughout. For example, marriage is devalued and Offred agrees when Moria scolds her for going out with a married man, describing Offred as ‘poaching another woman’s man’. Offred also relates how her daughter was almost snatched in a supermarket, again in hindsight ‘I thought it was an isolated incident at the time’ There are other references throughout regarding the increased violence, high rate of sexual freedom, high numbers of rape, spread of sexually transmitted disease, etc.
The fertility rate has also declined, the causes of which Offred explains ‘Women took medicines, pills, men sprayed trees…’ ‘Not to mention the exploding atomic power plants…’ and ‘The mutual strain of syphilis and mould could touch’ There is also a loss of freedom for women, reducing what they do after dark and making them nervous to go out alone. Illustrated possibly by the quote ‘The freedom to and the freedom from’ Again, the impression is given that these are situations that the reader can easily identify with today, serving as another warning.
It is the breakdown of the existing society – falling population, Aids, pollution and nuclear-plant accidents which enables Gilead to enforce control, bringing anarchy into repression. The Gilead hierarchy uses the opportunity of manipulating religion to control the people. Discussing the decline in fertility Aunt Lydia is very critical ‘…How could they have done such a thing? Jezebels! Scorning God’s gifts!” This ideology is used to teach the handmaids, encouraged by Aunt Lydia to accept their fate, comparing them to the army “…you are the shock troops…”