The Handmaid’s Tale Essay

1388 words - 6 pages

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, like so many other dystopias before it, seeks to warn of disaster to come through the lens of its author’s society. In the breadth of its dystopian brethren, Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale reflects not a society destroyed, but a society reorganized to disastrous effect. The reorganization of Offred’s world is not one of simple misogyny, corruption, or political ideas, instead, as in 1984; the focus of this new world order lies in the destruction of the individual and with that, all concepts of personal gain, satisfaction, and desire. In its place, the new world order thrusts a quasi-communist idea of community. Personal sacrifice is instilled in the populace as the greatest good, and the death or misery of one individual is negligible when compared to the decided ‘good’ of the community. In a true echo of communism, the handmaids bear children for those who cannot, truly in the stead of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” (Marx). In this Americanized distortion of communism, the community is placed on a pedestal above all else, and through this emphasis the cross-class destruction of individuality is assured. By echoing the most prominent issue of the time, communism, and detailing it with unique aspects of American society, Atwood creates a realistic nightmare that warns not of the dangers of a particular political ideology, but of the loss of individual identity and the concept of self.
The first people to have their individuality stripped away are, perhaps surprisingly, not the women of Offred’s world, but the low ranking men. This destruction of masculine individuality begins long before the events of the book, revealed only in glimpses and glances through Offred’s flashbacks of the time before. Before the events that created Gilead, society is described as dissatisfactory for men. The constant switching of sexual partners, the independence of women, and the shifting undercurrents of changing times contrive an atmosphere of uncertainty that is quickly abused by those who eventually become Commanders. This manipulation of the male identity crises strips men of first their power and then their individuality. By utilizing the army, an institution well known for its borderline dehumanization of its members, the emerging leadership sets the precedent for obedience at the price of oneself from the very start. In Offred’s first real brush against the new government she is fired from her job by her director who claims while firing her that “It isn’t him” despite the fact that he is the one carrying out this particular initiative (228; bk. 10, ch. 28). The responsibility of this action, and by association the power of it, falls not to the individual man, but to the greater collective. Luke, too, suffers a similar folly when he tells Offred that they should not risk their live in protest marches because have to think about...

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