Hope in the Totalitarian Realm
The method of the Republic of Gilead to mold subdued and subservient women is first to disenfranchise, then to reeducate. Unlike the women discussed in Swastika Night, women in the United States were not readily compliant in the removal of their economic and reproductive rights. Even Serena Joy, the wife of the commander that Offred has been assigned to, who once toured widely touting the sanctity of the home, now suffers from the entrapment of domesticity (Atwood 45). Rather than to remove the history of the nation as a whole, Gilead relies on the depiction of the past as a sea of unjust atrocities towards women. This twisted fact is used innumerably and in every sphere to justify the subjugation of women. “We’ve given them more than we’ve taken away, said the Commander. Think of the trouble they had before….Some of them were desperate, they starved themselves thin or pumped their breasts full of silicone, had their noses cut off. Think of the human misery” (Atwood 219). The Aunts, Wives, and especially the Commanders prescribe to this belief of an evil past as it glorifies the given present and allows them to retain their power within the new hierarchy. In the land of Gilead women are no longer subject to their ‘freedom to’, but instead have gained ‘freedom from’ (Atwood 24).
The Reeducation Center, or Red center as referred to by the Handmaid’s, is the site of training for those women who are ‘blessed’ with the ability to bear children. These women are supposedly the most honorary of citizens, or so they are lead to believe during their mandatory indoctrination. The Republic of Gilead ingeniously employs the Aunts, older women in society who agree with the religious ideals of the state, to mold other women into handmaids. Fredrik Pettersson, in his dissertation concerning discourse and oppression, argues that this subversive tactic, along with the separation of women into other roles, creates a rift between the women of Gilead. The Aunts, Wives, and even the servant Marthas cling to their roles and the small amounts of power permitted to them, reigning over their dominions and other women in such a way that it disguises the true oppressors, the males in charge (Petterson 13).
The intention is for Gilead to become much like the regime in Swastika Night where religion and hierarchy are accepted unquestioningly by all. The Aunts are instrumental in this respect, as they promote and envision this ‘utopian’ Gilead. Aunt Lydia tells the Handmaids, “You are a transitional generation…it is the hardest for you. We know the sacrifices you are being expected to make….For the ones who come after you it will be easier. They will accept their duties with willing hearts. She did not say: Because they will have no memories of any other way. She said: Because they won’t want things they can’t have” (Atwood 117). While Atwood does not approve of the time before, as evidenced by her descriptions, her narrator Offred obviously...