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The Handmaid's Tale - Historical References
Transcript of The Handmaid's Tale - Historical References
Salem Witch Trials
Nazi Germany &
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker Scandal
The HandMaid's Tale
The oppressive environment Margaret Atwood describes in Handmaid’s Tale is a warning that predicts a future reflecting on the darkness of our past.
Connection to The Handmaid's Tale
Choice of Birth
The Bible and Gilead
Dress Code Policy
Introduction To Thesis
Jim and Tammy Bakker Scandal
Feminism in the 70's
The Bible / Higher Authority
Salem Witchcraft Trials
Nazi Germany & the Holocaust
King Henry VIII
Atwood, Margaret .
The Handmaid's Tale
. 1985 Reprint. USA: McClelland & Stewart, 1998. Print.
"The Nuremberg Laws." Jewish Virtual Library. American-Isreali Cooperative Enterprise, n.d.Web. 1 May 2014.
"The Six Wives of King Henry VIII.
" Luminarium. 16 Oct 2006. 12 May 2014.
"What 1970s Feminists Did during the Women’s Movement." About.com Women's History. n.d. Web. 11 May 2014.
"The Bradley Method of Childbirth." BabyCenter. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2014.
"The Politics of Childbirth." Bpas Reproductive Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2014.
"The Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692." The Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2014.
- Were hosts on a Christian TV program named the PTL Club
- Were representatives of
- Preached the Gospel
- Jim Bakker committed adultery with an ordinary church secretary
- The secretary was payed over $350,000 US to keep quiet about the encounter
- Despite Jim's position as a religious preacher, he was seen with several prostitutes
Jim Bakker was convicted of Fraud, and was sentenced to 45 years in prison
The donations/profit Jim Bakker gained from his Christian TV program were invested in a resort he could not financially maintain
as a result of the scandal.
The funds and donations the Bakkers received from their viewers/donors was used in the construction of a resort that could not accommodate the donors as promised
"Some of them do that, they get a kick out of it. It's like screwing on the altar or something”
- (Atwood, 306)
Jessica Hahn, the Church secretary Jim Bakker had an affair with
- The significance of this passage reveals a parallel between Gilead and our world where people who have power and status will display their power by
putting themselves above the law
- In this future Margaret Atwood describes, Gilead's government shows
signs of corruption because powerful figures will disregard the laws that society has set for them.
The illicit relationship Offred shares with her Commander parallels with the secret sexual encounter the televangelist Jim Bakker had with an ordinary church secretary.
- Both Jim Bakker and the Commander have identical roles in being figures of
high prestige and status
- The role of
mirrors the role of the secretary,
than the men that approached them.
The Balance of Power
Margaret's View of the World
- Offred and Jessica Hahn are identical because they both serve as a companion to a higher ranked official under
- Even in this new dystopia Margaret Atwood describes, people in power will naturally show signs of
Individuals responsible with too much power will end up abusing it, as Margaret views it as a natural human tendency
this concept of children in Gilead when women are forced to serve as handmaids who should pray for fertility.
Gilead uses the biblical reference of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel to
the value of using
Many unfortunate tales of human history are carried out for the sake of a
In the Handmaid's Tale, Margaret predicts that individuals in Gilead would search
the Bible for answers
in desperation of responding to the dramatic fall in population.
in Gilead are
valued for the creation of children
"Give me children or else I die" as stated in the Genesis.
Individuals will carry out freedom-restraining acts in the name of a higher authority. In this case, Margaret Atwood exaggerates how people will turn to the bible in search of their answers.
Loss of Freedom
When Offred questions the Commander on the meaning of freedom in Gilead, the Commander excuses Gilead’s oppressive tenets by stating:
The Commander (like much of Gilead) is excusing the elimination of a person’s independent thought because he claims it is for the betterment of humanity.
"Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse for some”
- (Atwood, 264)
Margaret's Interpretation of the World
During Offred’s time being converted into a handmaid in the Red Center, the Aunts conditioned the women to be thankful for the freedom they are
“being given freedom from”
(Atwood, 31) as mentioned by Aunt Lydia (and the overall voice of Gilead).
Gilead's Meaning of Freedom
Although women of the Red Center are being confiscated of their liberation, the Aunts ensure that this new policy is true freedom, and they should be thankful for it
The Aunts use the biblical story of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob to validate the objectification of women
They enforce this belief on handmaids in training through daily routine prayers
The meaning behind utilizing the bible in Gilead is to interpret humanity's hunger for answers
Margaret reflects the desperation of humanity in her novel by connecting it to past events of human history to emanate the most realistic (yet exaggerated) as possible prediction of a totalitarian future.
Hitler and the Nazi regimen uses their position of authority to commit atrocious crimes against humanity.
- Hitler was the dictator of Nazi Germany during the 1930’s and 1940’s
- Used racism against Jews as a scapegoat to gain recognition from his people to improve Germany’s overall welfare.
- The beliefs of Eugenics were introduced as a value to protect “Aryan” men and women from the blood of other races.
- The Holocaust was the result of a German plot to cleanse Germany of all "impurities".
Germany in Connection to Gilead
- The oppressive environment Germans and other minorities were expected to cooperate in relates to the totalitarian state of Gilead.
- Gilead and Germany instill fear in their citizens by quickly removing any figure that was deemed as suspicious.
- This tactic was to deter any individual thoughts or actions of rebellion.
- Any political figure that was suspected to be a potential threat to Hitler was quickly removed
- The roles of the
in The Handmaid’s Tale is identical to the
In Nazi Germany
- If a person had suspicious behaviour in Gilead, they were quickly suspected of being a conspirator and quickly taken away by the Eyes.
"Right in front of us the van pulls up. Two eyes, in gray suits, leap from the opening double doors at the back. They grab a man who is walking along, a man with a briefcase, an ordinary-looking man, slam him back against the black side of the van. He's there a moment, splayed out against the metal as if stuck to it; then one of the Eyes moves in on him, does something sharp and brutal that doubles him over, into a limp cloth bundle. They pick him up and heave in into the back of the van like a sack of mail. Then they are also inside and the doors are closed and the van moves on.
It's over, in seconds, and the traffic on the street resumes as if nothing has happened.
What I feel is relief. It wasn't me.
- (Atwood, 212, 213)
As part of the process of eliminating individuality, Gilead and Nazi Germany issued a policy of dress code in order to identify social statuses in order to effectively enforce their values.
The policy that Jews had to wear the Star of David was so they could be identified as Jewish in public.
In concentration camps, prisoners wore a symbol on their shirt/trousers to distinguish the reason why they were sent in the first place.
Identical to Nazi-Germany, Gilead issued a specific dress code for women to not only identify their status, but to help isolate them from independent thought
The purpose behind this meeting with Moira is for Margaret Atwood to explain that even in a strict society like Gilead, it could not escape corruption caused by a human tendency to abuse power
The Process of dehumanization
The Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 were used to separate German citizens with Jewish heritage from the rest of Germany's pure blood Aryans.
For Gilead to successfully undergo this drastic change without an out-of-control revolt, the government used a slower approach by processing laws that gradually removed the rights of liberated women
- This gradual process was not necessarily planned out by Gilead and Germany. When Hitler was in power during the 1930's he passed several laws that eventually eliminated the rights of Jews.
- With the process being slow, most Germans were able to accept these anti-Semitic beliefs in Eugenics.
The Salem Witchcraft Trials were held in 1692.
Those that were found guilty of witchcraft were publicly executed under a similar view
As readers first learn of The Wall, Offred describes the criminals as scientists and doctors.
Public executions serve to control and remind citizens of what could become of them if they fail to follow law and order
Salem Witchcraft Trials
“They have committed atrocities and must be made into examples, for the rest. Though this is hardly needed”
- (Atwood, 33)
Atwood uses this historical reference to emphasize that public executions could also occur in the future
Presently, public executions are held in parts of the world such as the Middle east, China, etc
“Once they drugged women, induced labor, cut them open, sewed them up. No more. No anesthetics, even. Aunt Elizabeth said it was better for the baby”
- (Atwood, 142)
- Relates to Bradley’s method of childbirth, and the 1970s debate on childbirth
- Presently, women have the choice of natural or medically intervened births
- Gilead, set in the future, has gone back on that choice and went back to only natural births
The second wave of feminism occurred in the 70s
The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985
Topic: Historical References
King Henry VIII
An irony in the Handmaid's Tail is the value of a man and woman’s fertility in Gilead
Despite current day research proving that men are more vulnerable to infertility when exposed to pollution, Gilead focuses on the fertility of women
If a woman cannot be fertile they are disposed of. However, the possibility of a man being infertile is incredulous
In Gilead, women are placed at fault for the infertility of sterile men.
The Gileadean norm for blaming a woman for infertility connects to King Henry VIII during the 16th century where he would dispose his wives if they failed to give him a male heir for the throne.
- Jewish prisoners that spent their time in concentration camps striven for survival in hopes of being freed and seeing their friends and family again.
- In the Handmaid’s Tale Offred also hopes to be freed again when she says: “we can believe that we will some day get out” (Atwood, 119).
- Through recalling memories of her family and friends, Offred longs for life before Gilead
"But I keep on going with this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story, because after all I want you to hear it, as I will hear yours too if I ever get the chance, if I meet you or if you escape, in the future or in heaven or in prison or underground, some other place. What they have in common is that they're not here. By telling you anything at all I'm at least believing in you, I believe you're there, I believe you into being. Because I'm telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are."
- (Atwood, 334)
Purpose for trying to survive in despair
Do you think Hitler or the Gileadean government had good intentions before they carried out their plans?
Are there any historical references you can relate The Handmaid's Tale to?
Margaret Atwood uses historical events in human history to enhance her novel into seeming more realistic for the idea that a society such as the one in Gilead is not far from impossible.