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What analysis of the female role does Margaret Atwood offer in ' The Handmaid's Tale'?

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What analysis of the female role does Margaret Atwood offer in ' The Handmaid's Tale'? The Handmaid's Tale is set in the early twentieth century in the futuristic Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States of America. The Republic has been founded by a Christian response to declining birthrates. The government rules using biblical teachings that have been distorted to justify the inhumane practices. In Gilead, women are categorized by their age, marital status and fertility. Men are categorised by their age. Women all have separate roles in society, and although these roles are different, they all share the same theme: Every woman is confined to the home and has a domestic duty. Marthas are cooks and housekeepers, and handmaids have one duty, which is to reproduce, growing and giving birth to babies to the childless wives of the higher class. The Aunts train and brainwash the handmaids to fulfill their duties. Atwood uses the Aunts to show that in Gilead women are not just oppressed by men, but also by women. Older single women, gay men, and barren handmaids are sent to the colonies to clean up after war and toxic spills, and will probably die due to exposure to radiation. This is because they have no reproductive powers and so are seen as useless in the Republic. People's use and status is totally dependant on their ability to reproduce. Women's roles are visually defined in the clothes that they wear. Every woman must dress in the appropriate attire in accordance with her role. The Marthas wear green dresses, the Wives blue dresses and the handmaids wear red. ...read more.


'Moira was our fantasy. We hugged her to us, she was with us in secret, a giggle; she was lava beneath the crust of daily life. In the light of Moira, the Aunts were less fearsome and more absurd.' Even when Moira has escaped the life of a handmaid in Gilead, and works as a prostitute at 'Jezebel's', she still expresses her dissidence, as she remains a declared lesbian, and her dress is a deliberate travesty of female sexuality. Although Moira is bold, and seems successful, she does not manage to escape fully. She has been consigned to the Brothel where she will remain for a few more years, before she is sent to the colonies. Atwood shows here that even the most confident and rebellious of women, cannot ever fully escape from this dystopia. Another form of feminism represented in the novel, lies within the character of Offred's mother. Rather than the extreme feminism represented by Moira, Offred's mother represents the ideas of the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960's and 1970's, who campaigned for women's social and sexual freedom. She is also strong willed as well as firmly set in her ways as a political activist. Offred's mother possesses the same energy as Moira to resist the classification. Although she is referred to mainly in Offred's fragments of memory, she is also seen on film at the 'Red Centre', marching in a pro-abortion march as a young woman. Moira later reports seeing her as an old woman working in the colonies. Offred's mother's pro-abortion views contrast dramatically with the views held in Gilead where conceiving to give birth is a priority. ...read more.


The only active involvement in this act is by the commander and his wife, and the handmaid is passive. Also Moira receives the horrible foot punishment when she first tries to escape from the 'Red Centre', and I see this as violence against her. She is punished by injury to her feet, as this is a part of the body not involved in reproduction. Aunt Lydia makes it clear that the womb is the only important body part of a woman. 'For our purposes your feet and hands are not essential.' Women in Gilead are enslaved into the idea of being protected. The women in the novel are told that they are more intelligent than men, and are protected from them, but they are also told that men cannot control themselves around women. They still have fear for men and have to tip-toe around them. Aunt Lydia conveys this idea to the handmaids. 'Men are sex machines....They only want one thing, you must learn to manipulate them, for your own good,' In this novel Margaret Atwood gives a bleak message about women. At the same time that she condemns Offred, Serena Joy, the Aunts and even Moira for their complacency, she suggests that even if the women gathered strength and stopped complying, they would be likely to fail to make a difference. This is because no matter what a woman does, she can never change her biology, which is the thing that puts her in this position. No matter what opinions women have, even if they are brave enough to also express them, they will never be able to change the fact that they are the ones with the womb and ovaries; they are the only ones who can bear children. ...read more.

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