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The Red Symbol In The Handmaid's Tale

1180 words - 5 pages

In the dystopian novel, "The Handmaid's Tale" written by Margaret Atwood, the color red is a reoccurring, significant symbol throughout the book. The dominant color of the novel, the color red is paired with the Handmaids. The Handmaids are always seen in their red uniform, even down to their red shoes and red gloves. From the opening pages of the novel we are informed that they are trained at the “Red Centre,” and we are introduced to the importance of the red imagery as Offred, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, describes herself getting dressed: “The red gloves are lying on the bed. Everything except the wings around my face is red.” Which reveals to us how the handmaid’s are required to wear all red, representative of the way they are visually defined, and therefore confined within their role in the caste system as sexual servants to their Commanders.
Red is worn only by the handmaids; the color red indicates sexuality, fertility and childbirth, accordingly outlining their function as a sexual object; their sole purpose being to bear children for their Commanders. One of the most reoccurring symbols throughout the novel, red is interrelated with all things female (the Handmaids.) Inversely, red is furthermore a symbol of death, violence and blood, which Offred portrays as a color which “defines us.” The reoccurring appearance of the color red creates a thought-provoking parallel between femininity and power, as it signifies the religious “sinfulness” of promiscuous sex between the handmaid’s and their “married” commander.
Offred later states: “I never looked good in red, it’s not my color,” implying the sacrifice of her individuality due to the roles Gilead has forced her into. It is not their intelligence, appearance, or personalities that give the handmaid’s value in their society, but the blood that goes through their veins that that will eventually lead to them providing life to a child in a civilization where infertility rates are excessive.
In Gilead, the system and color by which a person is clothed acts as a reflection of their different pre-determined roles in society. Women have neither liberation, nor their own wealth or occupations of their preference. They are not permitted to read or write. They are simplified, branded, and separated into color-coded groups for quick orientation. Characters are seldom only characters – they are representatives of their caste in the system. Atwood’s use of color unmistakably alludes each caste; the noble wives of the commanders, whom are dressed in blue to insinuate their royalty in the society, the Marthas, the housemaids, are clad in green which can imply the envy and bitterness they have regarding the handmaids; the color white is reserved for the unmarried women in Gilead, daughters, who are not handmaids but are fated to wed the Angels from the front or Commanders. The Aunts’ clothing is brown, which embodies how down to earth they are, and intriguingly, the color...

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