In the novel, “ The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, the story follows the collapse of the United States replaced with the totalitarian government named the Republic of Gilead, in its attempt to solve the major issues of mass infertility and environmental disaster. The changes of this new government challenge one’s concept of Identity to be replaced with uniformity. In the Handmaid’s Tale, methods are used by the Republic of Gilead to change the role of women in society, women’s birth names are removed and replaced with new names, in an effort to abandon their past selves, a hierarchy is placed to establish a new system on women and women’s basic rights are taken away from them. Furthermore, these terrible methods for attempting to control women is not just reflected in the novel, but also reflect historical events that take away women’s rights.Order now
First, the Republic of Gilead replaces one’s awareness of self-identity in order to revive women into conformity with the method of removing one’s birth name. The novel’s protagonist named Offred is in the position of a Handmaid, whose real birth name is June. But, Offred is now forbidden to identify herself with her original name because it does not symbolize any importance in Gilead. However, Offred chooses to hold onto her birth name without anyone knowing because it’s her last beacon of hope that reminds her of the life she had before becoming a Handmaid. She also identifies her birth name with the memories of her husband Luke and her daughter. “My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. “I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter” (Atwood 84). Her new name, Offred is bestowed upon her to place her as a property of her Commander and to signify her rank in society. Offred’s position of a Handmaid means a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy for the elite in power, in order to change the mass infertility issue in Gilead. Although, if she were to be transferred to a new Commander she would inherit a new name and the Handmaid who would replace her role, would take on her title as Offred. Next, how the class system of men and women in Gilead establishes control and maintain order within the Republic.
Second, the method used to erase identity is distinguished by those in power and its citizens are placed in a hierarchy. “There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimp, that mark the women of the poorer men. Econowives, they’re called. These women are not divided into functions. They have to do everything; if they can” (Atwood 24). This quote states that women’s individuality are removed and must no longer identify with their past selves, but the positions placed upon them by the government. For the women of Gilead, one’s rank and position are determined by the uniforms they wear, based on color and style. At the top of the class system, are the men of Gilead, who are ranked by their military status and profession, and women are grouped into a category of classes. The Commanders wear black suits to symbolize black as the most powerful color and they watch over the Handmaids as property. The highest rank of women are the Wives who wear blue to represent the purity of the Virgin Mary, they have a reasonable amount of power and are ordered to obey their husbands. Following, the second highest rank is named Martha’s, wear green and perform duties as domestic servants to the wealthy and elite families. The third highest rank is the Aunts, who wear a brown wool are tasked to enforce compliance and train the Handmaid’s into their new roles as surrogates. There is also the Econowives, who are the wives of low-ranking men who wear dresses of all colors in poor clothing, they do not face the same fate as Handmaids but must still obey their husbands. Finally, the Handmaids wear red to symbolize their fertility and white bonnets block their view, suffer the most because they belong to the lowest rank of women in the hierarchy. Next, how women’s rights were taken away from them in Gilead and how important it is to have rights.
Third, a method for removing identity in Gilead’s society is taking away women’s rights, such as freedom of speech and abortion. In Gilead, free speech is taken away from everyone, except the Commanders, they use language to distinguish themselves higher and oppress the rest of the population in order to maintain their own power. Moreover, they use their status to control language by censoring it and destroy literature to prevent an uprising. Thus, by taking away free speech, no one can identify themselves politically or share their beliefs because it places a limitation that controls opinions and reinforces the government’s power. In addition, it creates fear within the system of Gilead and gives power to the patriarchy. Moreover, women also forfeit their right to birth control and abortion in the process, leaving women to become desperate and dependent based on their restrictions are similar to actual events. “It’s become an international symbol of protest,” says Atwood. “Especially in situations in which women’s rights are in question, or are being removed from them” (Field 13). This quote from Field’s article correlates to the Buenos Aires protest in Argentina, where women dressed up as Handmaids from Atwood’s novel to support a bill to regulate abortion and protesting that abortion is a given women’s right.
To finalize, the Handmaid’s Tale is a primary example of why identity is important in a society and women’s rights should be strengthened, not limited. In Margaret Atwood’s novel, methods are used by the Republic of Gilead to change the role of women in society, where a hierarchy is placed to establish a new system on women, women’s basic rights are taken away from them and women’s birth names are removed and replaced with new names, in effort to abandon their past selves. This novel is based on historical events, telling of experiences in similar ways Gilead was being controlled, stating that if it has happened once in the past, that it can happen again. Thus, the novel reminds that basic rights are not definite and how human rights can be easily unraveled; especially the rights of women and how it all starts with having the ability to have a choice in society and identity.