The Handmaid's Tale: Through a Feminist Lens

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The Handmaid's Tale: Through a Feminist Lens by Mind Map: The Handmaid's Tale: Through a Feminist Lens

1. Characters

1.1. Offred

1.1.1. Offred is a great representative of women in general before Gilead. She didn't consider herself a feminist, and she feared feminism would alienate her from men. Now Offred understands that feminism only forces women to recognize their natural alienation from men.

1.1.2. Handmaid for The Commander

1.1.3. Her real name is unknown

1.1.4. Was previously married to a man named Luke, and had one child

1.2. Moira

1.2.1. A close friend of Offred, and is strongly opposed to Gilead Moira is a dynamic character because she was very independent and determined. Whereas at the end of the novel she transitioned to a prostitute in order to be free

1.3. The Commander

1.3.1. Has a lot of power, but is careful not to abuse it His relationship with Offred goes from powerful and overbearing to casual, and he allows her to play scrabble with him (which involves creating words) which is banned in Gilead for many

1.4. Serena Joy

1.4.1. Bitter and selfish character throughout the entire novel - character doesn't change much She's jealous of Offred because she wants The Commander all for herself

1.5. Ofglen

1.5.1. Walks with Offred everyday when they go into town Ofglen is a static character because she had the same views as Offred, especially concerning the resistance Ofglen commits suicide because she knew that the "eyes" were coming for her

2. Motifs

2.1. Rape and Sexual Violence

2.1.1. Sexual violence, particularly against women, is very prevalent in The Handmaid’s Tale. The Commander and the Aunts claim that women are better protected in Gilead, that they are treated with respect and kept safe from violence. The most important, sexual violence which is apparent in the novel, is the ceremony which compels Handmaids to have sex with their Commanders.

2.1.2. In one scene, the Handmaids tear apart with their bare hands a supposed rapist (actually a member of the resistance). Gilead claims to suppress sexual violence, but it actually institutionalizes it.

2.2. Religion and Politics

2.2.1. Gilead is a theocracy (a government where there is no separation between state and religion). Gilead's official vocabulary incorporates religious terminology and biblical references. Politics and religion sleep in the same bed in Gilead, where the slogan “God is a National Resource” dominates Domestic servants are called “Marthas” in reference to the New Testament; the local police are “Guardians of the Faith”; soldiers are “Angels”; and the Commanders are “Commanders of the Faithful.” "There is something reassuring about the toilets. Bodily functions at least remain democratic. Everybody shits, as Moira would say"(Atwood, 252) "Replaced the serial polygamy common in the pre-Gilead period with the older form of simultaneous polygamy practiced in the Old Testament times" (Atwood, 305)

2.2.2. All of the stores in Gilead have biblical names: Loaves and Fishes, All Flesh, Milk and Honey. The automobiles also have biblical names like Behemoth, Whirlwind, and Chariot.

3. Feminist Criticism

3.1. The only purpose of women in Gilead is to reproduce

3.1.1. "I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will" (Atwood, 84)

3.2. Since Gilead created their own interpretation of the bible, they use it to justify what they do to women

3.2.1. The handmaid's names are taken away and are changed to "of", and the name of the commander

3.2.2. Ownership of their belongings were given to their closest male relative

3.2.3. They're not allowed to hold jobs and assets

3.2.4. The new Gilead regime removed women's right to financial independence

3.3. Most women have very little contact with men. Women are expected to support each other in times of birth, death and sickness.

3.4. Women are not allowed to read or write

3.5. Atwood draws similarities to radical feminists, such as Offred's mother. Offred recalls a scene in which her mother and other feminists burn porn magazines.

3.5.1. "I threw the magazine into the flames. It riffled open in the wind of its burning; big flakes of paper came loose, sailed into the air, still on fire, parts of women’s bodies, turning to black ash, in the air, before my eyes"(Atwood, 43)

3.6. These feminists ban expressions of sexuality (such as porn magazines). Gilead also uses the feminist rhetoric of female solidarity and “sisterhood” to its own advantage to control and "empower" women without the need of men

3.6.1. Atwood's target of feminism was the religious right; implying the dark side of feminist rhetoric

4. Symbols

4.1. The Colour Red

4.1.1. When worn by the handmaid's, it symbolizes fertility. Red suggests the blood of the menstrual cycle and childbirth The handmaid's red garments also symbolize the ambiguous sinfulness of the handmaid's position in Gilead "I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely" (Atwood, 63)

4.2. The Eyes

4.2.1. The Eyes of God are Gilead's secret police Their name and symbol (the winged eye) symbolizes eternal watchfulness

4.3. The Palimpsest

4.3.1. A document in which old writing has been scratched out and new writing has been placed Symbolizes how the old world has been erased and replaced, partially, by a new order

4.4. Cambridge Massachusetts

4.4.1. Symbolizes the direct link between the puritans and their sexual heirs in Gilead

4.4.2. Centre of Gilead's power - Offred lives here

4.5. Flowers

4.5.1. Considered to symbolize beauty and fertility Flowers have ovaries, much like women do, symbolizing reproductive organs They are given attention because they're capable of growing and blooming, just like women

5. Thematic Connections

5.1. Restriction of Freedom

5.1.1. Freedom being achieved through repression; "There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia, Freedom to and freedom from" (Atwood, 24). Freedom to is negative while freedom from is positive

5.1.2. The handmaid's are only allowed to wear long red dresses and white bonnets which conceal their body and face, stripping them of any identity "So little time to change our minds, about things like this. Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom" (Atwood, 33)

5.2. The Power of Language

5.2.1. Offred explains that everything is a re-interpretation of something else, and that nothing is an exact description of the truth Atwood's well integrated themes throughout the novel develops the power of language and that the unity as one creates power.

5.3. Feminism

5.3.1. Atwood is widely viewed as a feminist writer, and The Handmaid's Tale presents a complex feminism point of view Atwood explores feminism in this novel, highlighting the flaws of a society like Gilead "To achieve vision in this way, this journey into a darkness that is composed of women, a woman, who can see in darkness while he himself strains blindly forward" (Atwood, 101)

5.4. Historisicm - Reading and Writing

5.4.1. In Gilead, almost all women are banned from reading and writing. Words are considered influential works which can inspire ideas of freedom and change - which is not approved of In the past, reading and writing was not common for women. Atwood did a great job at incorporating many issues which women faced throughout history

5.4.2. Only a few higher up members the community are permitted to read in write

5.4.3. Atwood reflects the use of individuality and the use of free words throughout the novel

6. Written/Media Connections

6.1. In today's media construct, there is a constant struggle with showcasing women as objects of desire. Having many inequalities between the sexes, creates a lot of issues.

6.1.1. There has been too many cases where a woman’s credibility or character has been attacked in the wake of sexual assault in todays society. Connection to The Handmaid's Tale: Once a month the male head of the household performs a “ceremony” in which he essentially rapes the handmaid in hopes that she becomes pregnant. If she does, and has a successful birth, the baby is then taken from the handmaid and given to the couple to raise as their own. "It’s Janine, telling about how she was gang- raped at fourteen and had an abortion" (Atwood, 81)

6.1.2. There are many countries, religions and dress codes that force women to cover themselves up so as to not “provoke” men. Connection to The handmaids tale: Women are divided into “categories” depending on what they contribute to society. Wives wear the puritan colour blue. Handmaids are in red. Marthas, who do most of the cooking and cleaning in the rich households, wear green etc... and for the handmaids, eye contact is completely forbidden.

6.1.3. There has been a heated debate around abortion, women’s rights, and the U.S. government’s role in all things fertility. Whether that be IVF or surrogacy (which is essentially a handmaid by different standards) Connection to The Handmaids Tale: Any unmarried woman who is able to bear children is trained to become a handmaid, a servant who is sent to live in the home of a rich, barren couple in power.