The Handmaid's Tale Essay

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Shaymas Hussain                                                                                                                  04/05/2007

The Handmaid’s Tale Essay

The Handmaid's Tale is set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead. Sometime in the future, conservative Christians take control of the United States of America and establish a dictatorship. Many women in Gilead are infertile after being exposed to pesticides, nuclear waste or leakages from chemical weapons. The few fertile women that remain are taken to camps and trained to be handmaid’s, birth mothers for the upper-class. Infertile lower-class women are sent either to clean up toxic waste or to become "Marthas", house servants. No women in the Republic of Gilead are permitted to be openly sexual; sex is for reproduction only. The government declares this a feminist improvement on the sexual politics of before when women were seen as sex objects.

The purpose of this essay is to explore how chapter 31-39, called Jezebel’s contributes to the development of the novel.

Just by glancing at the title ‘Jezebel’s’ you can see that these chapters will show something to do with women’s role in society and how they are looked upon by men. The name Jezebel’s is derived from the Bible (1 Kings). In glaring contrast to all of the good women of the Bible, Jezebel has gone down in Bible history as the very worst example of evil. Jezebel was the deceitful wife of king Ahab; she bought wickedness upon his kingdom. Jezebel was a fanatical worshiper of the heathen idol Baal. Jezebel was involved in some of the most vile and perverted behaviour imaginable, even little babies were sacrificed in fire as burnt offerings to her god of stone. It was the height of wickedness. She also committed many atrocious crimes against those who were faithful and obedient to God, before experiencing an extremely gruesome end herself.

The title of these chapters shows how this totalitarian state views women as being sinful in comparison to Jezebel.  

Because Gilead was formed in response to the crisis caused by considerably decreased birthrates, the state’s entire structure, with its religious frills and firm political hierarchy is built around a single goal: control of reproduction. The state tackles the problem frontally by taking control of women’s bodies through their political control. In Gilead women cannot vote, hold property or jobs, read or write, or do anything else that might allow them to become rebellious or independent and thereby challenge their husbands or the state. In prohibiting women from doing all of these things it also has the added benefit of weakening their minds, as time goes on, without any real mentally challenging tasks the women will become easily brainwashed by Gilead’s ideologies.

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Regardless of all of Gilead’s pro-women oratory, such repression creates a society in which women are treated as subhuman. Throughout the novel there have been many references to women being compared to animals

“Like chicken’s strung up by the necks in a meat shop”


  This quote is from chapter forty-three in which Offred witnesses some women being hung for crimes against Gilead.

Women are treated as nothing more than a set of ovaries and a womb. In one of the novels key scenes, Offred lies in the bath and reflects that, before Gilead, she ...

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