How is Gilead presented to us over the opening nine chapters of "The Handmaids Tale"?
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How is Gilead presented to us over the opening nine chapters of "The Handmaids Tale"? Everything we know about Gilead, we find out from a handmaid named Offred. The story was written to represent the future, but is now the past so is the historical present. Al the information we find out is released to us very slowly. The republic of Gilead is now under a dictatorship like totalitarian rule, which is highly patririarchal. The book is set out to be a fictive autobiography, and is written in a non-chronological order. This is to confuse the reader to show Offred's confused feelings in this society. The first things we find out about the rules in Gilead are referring to sexual, or any other feelings that may result in a person rebelling against the society. The handmaid's role in the society is very important, and they are given special "schooling" to teach them how to become good handmaids. This so called schooling is more a way of taking over their minds by means of indoctrination. At these places, called red centres, the women are treated more like animals than people "they had electric cattle prods slung on things from leather belts". This just shows how harsh the rules in Gilead are.
Offred visits "the wall" with her shopping partner Ofglen. The wall is a place where the bodies of men who have committed acts, which the state fells is punishable, are displayed. This is to act as a deterrent and a warning to others. The act where the men are killed, is called the "salvaging". This is ironic, as salvaging is where you try to save something, but in this case, people are being killed. The republic justifies the name by saying that the people who are killed are bad, so they are just saving the others from whatever acts have been committed. The wall is also another indication of how well indoctrinated Offred really is. She regularly visits the wall, and sees sights that we would find totally unacceptable, and inhumane, but she hardly bats an eyelid. All this now seems totally normal to her, and she cannot remember that it is not acceptable. Other religious influences link into the clothing that the handmaids wear. The "wings" which shield their faces could also be seen as a metaphor for the wings on an angel, which is perceived as a giver of life, which is basically what the handmaids do. The colour of the handmaid's dresses is very significant to their purpose.
This shows that the conditions of population decline are not going on in other parts of the world. This is also another example of how, despite trying to resist the indoctrination, it has got her. She is disgusted at the way the female tourist are dressed "we are fascinated, but also repelled". These tourists aren't dressed any differently to how Offred would have dressed her self a few years ago "I used to dress like that", but the indoctrination has made her feel that it is the wrong way to dress. The women also represent the forbidden lust in the society "darkness and sexuality" "they wear lipstick, red". The society has set out to make the handmaids feel nothing, so they are just "vessels" for the needs of the republic. Not only are they not allowed to read, the republic has tried to block out all other senses also "I hunger to commit the act of touch". Lust is strictly forbidden, as is any type felling towards another being. Although sexual actions are strictly forbidden, Offred still feels that she has some control over lower ranking males such as guardians "I enjoy the power". Even the feeling of friendship has been ruled out. When Offred talks to Ofglen, it is like they are reading from a scrip and the conversation as no feeling of any description " `blessed be the fruit,' she says, the accepted greeting among us". Laura Miller The Handmaid's Tale Mr Johnson
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