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Conformity in Margaret Atwood's Novel: The Handmaid's Tale

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Conformity and Non- Conformity: A Look at Margaret Atwood?s Novel: The Handmaid?s Tale Jordan Gaynor Miss. Camastro July 23, 2012 ENG 4U In contemporary North American society, women are viewed in a different manner than they were in previous eras. Women have rights, and freedoms that their ancestors could not have even dreamt of. In Margaret Atwood?s novel The Handmaid?s Tale, the society, Gilead, was once much like our own, until a totalitarian government took over and the people, especially women, were stripped of their rights and freedoms. In Gilead, due to wide spread sterility (of no known cause), women who are fertile are forced into the role of a Handmaid. As a Handmaid, each woman lives in a household with a man, known as the Commander, and his wife. The Handmaids role is to have sex, once a month, with the Commander in the hope of getting pregnant, as the Handmaids, unlike all other women in Gilead, are still fertile. Although the Handmaids do not wish to engage in this, they do so as the consequence of abstinence is exile to barren colonies. Although many of the Handmaids just accept their fate, and go along with the law, the main character of Atwood?s novel, a ...read more.


The Wife who Offred lives with follows the rules, she has conformed but at the same time she does little but sit at home, knit and garden ? she rarely smiles and she does not speak to Offred unless absolutely necessary. This does not vary from house to house, or Wife to Handmaid; instead, these women live their lives interacting as little as possible, therefore, preserving their own happiness and not straining their relationship with the Commander or going insane with jealousy. Both of these character categories, the aunts and the wives, have conformed ? they follow the rules put in place and they do not question anyone or stray from the established rulings. Though despite their conformity and law abiding ways, they are unhappy, they live their lives avoiding people, such as the Handmaids, and creating grudges between peers. These women do indeed follow the government but, in turn, do not make a positive difference in society, and they also do not think, act or make decisions for themselves. The women who choose to fight against the conformity of Gilead are able to make choices, which empower and fulfill them. ...read more.


These women are dismissed as little more than bystanders, as they do not make their own decisions or stand up for their beliefs; instead, they merely go along with what others tell them. Contrary to these women are Offred and Moira, the non-conformist characters. These women are not afraid to take charge and fight against what is being forced upon them as ?right.? In their roles, Offred and Moira are making, or attempting to make, a difference in their society by standing up for their morals and opinions. This therefore makes them strong female characters. Ultimately, it is not clear whether or not Offred is successful in finding the resistance; but, unlike the women who conformed, Offred at least attempted to make changes in her life so that she could be happy. Atwood thus uses the contrast between the conformist and non-conformist characters to demonstrate the effects of following the rules and the effects of going against them. The Handmaid?s Tale serves as a commentary about the role of women in society and the chances that they have to make a difference. Atwood?s overall theme is that women need to stand up for themselves in order to be happy and be in control of their lives. Works Consulted: Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986. Print. ...read more.

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