• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

The Handmaid's Tale

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

Margaret Atwood's futuristic dystopia The Handmaid's Tale explores specific value systems and ideologies in order to develop representations of cultural identity throughout the text. By creating a patriarchal dystopia based around Christian fundamentalism, Atwood is able to examine the values associated with a highly structured hierarchy. The ideologies of identity, control, power and sexuality are central in the development of the cultural identity of Gilead society. Offred's identity provides the basis for the development of meaning throughout the text, with her point of view influential in developing the plot, setting and secondary character profiles. Power structures throughout the Gilead hierarchy emphasise control at every level of Offred's existence. Spatially, she is controlled through the reduction of physical freedoms and the constant militaristic 'protection' placed upon her. Psychological control exists through extensive propaganda and censorship of radical views by the Gilead government. Women are controlled, as is their sexual activity, through the practices and beliefs imposed upon them throughout every facet of their existence within Gilead. These power structures result in Offred's sexuality developing unnaturally. Her position at the bottom of the Gilead hierarchy provides her with little choice or influence over her sexual partners, resulting in her sexuality developing in an altered manner. Atwood's extreme interpretation of fundamental Christian ideals throughout the text provides the basis for many of the values and ideologies the Gilead society employs ("GOD IS A NATIONAL RESOURCE" - p225). ...read more.

Middle

Ultimately, however, Offred's identity is affected by her circumstances. Her own core values are corrupted, expressed through her frequent liaisons both with the Commander and with Nick ("this forbidden room where I have never been, where women do not go" - p146). In effect she is rebelling against the controls placed upon her by society, she is also, however, corrupting her own promise to be faithful to her lost husband Luke, who she hopes to see once again. The circumstances of her existence have changed her outlook on life. By employing a rigid hierarchal system, with militaristic-type control, citizens of Gilead, in particular the handmaids, have very little spatial freedom. Offred's room provides only the basic facilities required to survive: "A chair, a table, a lamp...a window, two curtains...a bed. Single mattress medium-hard, covered with a flocked white spread. Nothing else takes place in the bed but sleep; or no sleep...the window only opens partly and is shatterproof. I live, I breathe." - pp17, 18 This description provides a military or prison-type clinical atmosphere. There is a lack of beauty, comfort or choice - a direct reflection of the society in which she exists. The Handmaid's every movement is tracked through the use of passes and 'compuchecks' in an attempt to control their access to the rest of society ("We produce our passes...they are inspected and stamped" - p31). Ironically, handmaids are also considered 'sacred' ("these two men who aren't yet permitted to touch women" - p32) ...read more.

Conclusion

To get knocked up, to get in trouble" - p273) in this way she develops a greater sense of power by being able to choose when to meet Nick and also by having some say in what they do together. Quite far from being a mutual relationship it is merely a power struggle in an attempt to receive physical contentment for both parties. Due to the caste structures, women and men are prevented from having equal and mutual relationships. The value systems and ideologies employed by the Gilead society develop a cultural identity based around a patriarchal hierarchy of identity, power, control and sexuality. Towards the top of the hierarchy, the Commanders are free to exhibit many of their personality traits and ideas that contribute towards their own unique identity. This is in contrast to the removal of identity towards the bottom of the hierarchal structure, with the Handmaids being forced to mask all their physical, emotional and psychological attributes with those developed by the rulers of Gilead. Power is also distributed disproportionately throughout the various caste structures, with the Commanders having the majority of power within the society and the Handmaids essentially having none. This disproportioned power structure between each gender in turn leads to the development of unnatural relationships developing, with love and desire surpassed by physical sexual activity. Ultimately Atwood's dystopia of Gilead portrays the negative consequences an unbalanced patriarchal hierarchy can have and that disjointed power structures result in a disjointed society. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Margaret Atwood section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Margaret Atwood essays

  1. The Handmaid's Tale - What are the main methods of control in the Gileadean ...

    Vanity became outlawed when the new government took over so they are not allowed to look attractive as it is not relevant for their function. Even when a Handmaid goes for a medical examination they must be completely covered up the doctor 'deals with a torso only,' because this is

  2. Explore the issues concerning women and feminism raised in The Handmaids Tale

    is hard to know how the other handmaid feels about the society. Another reason why is would be difficult to form a friendship with another Handmaid is due to the jealously they feel between each other as they all wonder if the others have conceived and they all stare wondrously

  1. The Gothic Elements in the HandMaid's Tale.

    Although tulips represent an offering of love, the garden represents life and freedom. Another puzzling element are the three dead men hanging on the wall. They are all masked with white sacks on their heads, but one of them has bled from the mouth and soaked through the white sack in the shape of a mouth.

  2. In What Ways Does Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four, and Atwood's The Handmaids Tale explore ...

    This is shown through economic control. In The Handmaid's Tale, when Offred goes shopping she is given "tokens", this shows "...there is no real money any more", not only are the Handmaids oppressed to such an extant where they cannot use real money but the Commanders are also oppressed as they too cannot access money.

  1. Compare and contrast "The Wars" and "The Handmaid's Tale".

    They don't bother to feed you much or give you much protection, it's cheaper not to. Anyway, they're mostly people they want to get rid of." (Atwood 312-13) Citizens of the Gileadean society have to find their own way of overcoming the oppression placed on them by the government.

  2. Women in the Handmaid's Tale: Objectification and Value in Reproductive Qualities.

    The Republic of Gilead serves as a form of objectification and control. Women are viewed as bodies, usually in parts rather than as wholes. The experience of fragmentation occurs by doctors, Commanders, Wives, and by the individual themselves. Offred's experience at the doctor's office focuses on parts, rather than a

  1. How is Gilead presented to us over the opening nine chapters of "The Handmaids ...

    Nick also breaks rules by flirting with Offred. Offred knows that he is doing something wrong by doing this, but even if she wanted to, there is nothing she could do about it. She wouldn't report him, "Perhaps he is an Eye".

  2. How does Margaret Atwood create the sense that Gilead is a dystopia in"The Handmaids ...

    is when Offred and Ofglen are walking through the town and decide to walk past the church. Here Margaret Atwood shows that these people now have not even any respect for religion as the only church that is a historic site for the town has been deserted and used only as a museum now.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work