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"Examine the nature of oppression so far in the novel."

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Introduction

"Examine the nature of oppression so far in the novel." Oppression is the cruel exercise of authority and power and in "The Handmaid's Tale" this relates to the people in Gilead who are stripped of social and personal privileges. The majority of women in Gileadian society are infertile due to a natural disaster. However, the young fertile women are the Handmaids, who are allocated to a particular commander's household in an attempt to increase the population. Gilead was formed when the democratic institution had been violently overthrown and replaced by the new republic of Gilead. It presents male power at it's most extreme and men appear to be the head of the social hierarchy. The novel is narrated by "Offred," which is the name of the commander she is assigned, literally "of Fred." She relates her struggle against the general oppression in the republic of Gilead, the oppression of females and the oppression within herself as she struggles to keep her sanity. In Gilead there is an absence of freedom for everyone. Obviously, men are not oppressed to the same extent as women however, as in any totalitarian state, the laws differ according to status. ...read more.

Middle

Freedom of choice even in clothes is not allowed. Before the ceremony, Offred has to take a bath "there were incidents in bathrooms at first; there were cuttings, drownings...Cora sits on a chair outside in the hall." Once more in the misogynistic society the Handmaids are not allowed to bath alone. A Martha must accompany them and so becomes a symbol of oppression while ensuring that the Handmaids do not attempt to harm themselves. Clearly social oppression on these women is so great that it has led to self inflicted mutilation on occasions. Offred suffers great oppression within herself. She does have a slight amount of freedom, which is the freedom of refusal: she refuses to believe in Gileadean doctrines, she refuses to forget her past life and crucially she refuses to be silenced. In the Red Centre the Handmaids are taught to forget the past, another act of oppression however, Offred rebels against this. She continuously reminisces about her past life with Luke, her daughter, her Mother and Moira. Offred's, stories about her Mother and Moira appear similar because they are both an act of female heroism. ...read more.

Conclusion

The three of us, in bed, she kicking, turning over with me." This is Offred remembering her past with Luke and wanting to return to "the time before." Atwood uses language as a powerful instrument both for resistance and at the same time, oppression. There appears to be an obvious difference between the language Offred uses to record her muted everyday life and the language of her real life of feeling and memory. In addition, there are recurrent images which Atwood uses. There are many which derive from the human body, such as hands, feet, faces, eyes, blood and womb, also from non-human nature like flowers, gardens, colour and light. All these images are related to nature and Atwood's use of 'feminine' language opposes the structure of the repressed Gileadean society. The novel is anti-utopian and through Offred, Atwood allows the reader to interpret often contradictory views - past and present, freedom and resistance, night and day. While facing tyranny and oppression in public life, Offred relates a rebellious story of her personal life and relationships. Clearly, the most obvious oppression is that of women by a male dominated society yet through her story, Offred reveals that women have a power of their own within Gilead. Richard Gregory November 2002 1 ...read more.

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