In The Handmaid’s Tale, much use is made of imagery; to enable the reader to create a more detailed mental picture of the novel’s action and also to intensify the emotive language used. In particular, Atwood uses many images involving flowers and plants.
The main symbolic image that the flowers provide is that of life; in the first chapter of the novel Offred says “…flowers: these are not to be dismissed. I am alive.” Many of the flowers Offred encounters are in or around the house where she lives; it can be suggested that this array of floral life is a substitute for the lack of human life, birth and social interaction. The entire idea of anything growing can be seen as a substitute for a child growing. The Commander’s house contains many pictures; as they are visual images, “flowers are still allowed.” Later, when Serena is “snipping off the seed pods with a pair of shears… aiming, positioning the blades… The fruiting body,” it seems that all life is being eradicated, even that of the flowers.
The colour of the flowers is also of vital importance. When Offred first enters the house of the Commander and his wife, she notices “… a fanlight of coloured glass: flowers, red and blue.” In the Republic of Gilead, Handmaids wear red and Wives wear blue; these colours are intended to reflect the owner’s “personality” – the wanton Handmaids in fiery red and the demure Wives in serene, virginal blue. The “blue irises” on the wall of Offred’s room are symbolic of this fact that she is a black sheep in the household.
In Serena’s garden, Offred describes many of the flowers. There are the irises, “light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple… indigo shadow,”; and the “Bleeding Hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out.” The divide in the symbolic colours here is vast; Offred admits there is “something subversive about this garden… Whatever is silenced will...