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Society In The Handmaid’s Tale By Margaret Atwood

2293 words - 9 pages

“Atwood’s feminism is an integral part of her critical approach, just
as her concept of criticism is inseparable from her creative work”
Walter Pache (1).

A dystopia is a fictional society, usually existing in a future time
period, in which the condition of life is extremely difficult due to
deprivation, oppression or terror. In most dystopian fiction, a
corrupt government creates or sustains the poor quality of life, often
conditioning the masses to believe the society is proper and just,
even perfect. Most dystopian fiction takes place in the future but
purposely incorporates contemporary social trends taken to horrendous

The novel, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, by Margaret Atwood focuses on the
choices made by those controlling the society of Gilead in which
increasing the population and preservation of mankind is the main
objective, instead of freedom or happiness. The society has undergone
many physical changes that have extreme psychological consequences. I
believe Atwood sees Gilead as the result of attitudes and events in
the early 1980s, which have spiralled out of control. ‘The Handmaid’s
Tale’ reflects Atwood’s views and critiques on civilisation. In an
interview with Gabriele Metzler Atwood says, “There is nothing in the
book that hasn’t already happened. All things described in the book
people have already done to each other”(2).

Throughout ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Offred is constantly conscious of her
life before Gilead. This is reflected in the sections of the book
headed “Night”. Offred often refers back to her life with her daughter
and Luke, “Luke was in the living room. He put his arms around me. We
were both feeling miserable. How were we to know we were happy, even
then? Because we at least had that: arms, around.” The realization of
how much her life has been altered occurs in the beginning of the
novel when Offred comes across a group of Japanese tourists, “They
seem undressed. It has taken so little time to change our minds about
things like this. Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was
freedom. Westernised, they used to call it.” Offred is also envious of
the women as they still have freedom of choice, whereas all she has
are memories of how she used to be. “The Handmaid’s Tale shares with
many futuristic dystopias, certainly ‘1984’, an interesting mode
whereby our time in retrospect is heavy with nostalgia” Bernard
Richards (3).

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ belongs to this genre of anti-utopian
(dystopian) science fiction. It is set in the late twentieth century
when democratic institutions have been violently overthrown and
replaced by the new fundamentalist Republic of Gilead. In the novel
the majority are suppressed using a “Bible-based” religion as an
excuse for the suppression.

In Gilead, members of the society are labelled by their age and
economic status. The deep red cloaks, the blue embroidered dresses,
and the pinstripe garments are all uniforms to...

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