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Significance of RELIGION in "The Handmaid's Tale

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Khadija Zaidi

on 16 January 2015

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Transcript of Significance of RELIGION in "The Handmaid's Tale

What is the significance of
in "The Handmaid's Tale"?
Gilead is a

Atwood provides complexity to notion of religion

For the regime
Means of political control
Insistence on women's role

For the women
Cause of loss of faith
Cause of increase in faith-OFFRED

Religion for Political Purposes
Religion as Insistence on Women's Purpose

Religion as cause of loss of faith
Seen through hints of blasphemy
Religion to Offred
Offred's prayer
Emphasis on religion ties in with didactic purpose of novel

During time of novel, US was undergoing many changes:
Election of Ronald Reagan 1981
Revival of conservative and religious views
Reversal of "sexual revolution" of 1970s

Atwood paints a picture of a world of this to the extreme
Religion plays a
role in novel

Religion of God become religion of Gilead:
No longer embraced but feared

For regime

Religion manipulated and exploited too far

For Offred
True remnants of religion live on
Means of classification

Official vocabulary incorporates religious terminology:
"Marthas"-Domestic servant from New Testament/"Guardians of the Faith"/"Angels"
"Loaves & Fishes", "All Flesh", Milk & Honey"

Regime simultaneously imposes control + insists authority of Bible
Enforcement of routine

Religious rituals created by regime:

Literal & Metaphoric distortion of religion
Literal: Twist on words of Bible
Metaphoric: Twisted religious ideology
Affirmation of actions

"God is a National Resource"

Pun-"Natural" Resource
Paradox-Gilead has rewritten Bible
Embedding of woman's purpose:
"Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth"
"Rachel and Leah" (Genesis 30)- "Behold my maid Bilhah"..."She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her"

Story is manipulation of women & Bible

Removal of distractions from woman's purpose:
"For lunch... it was the Beatitudes...They played it from a tape, so not even an Aunt would have to be guilty of the sin of reading. The voice was a man's."

Religion becomes cause of regime's twisted psychology
Scene at "Soul Scrolls":
"Do you think God listens... to these machines?" Ofglen whispers..."No" I say... She lets out her breath... "Neither do I"
"Subversion, sedition, blasphemy and heresy all in one."

Atwood mocks "Soul Scrolls" ideology+ entire Gilead regime

Hints of adultery:
Doctor scene: "I could help you"..."The door's locked"..."They'll never know it's his"
Offred's illegal encounters with the Commander: "It's forbidden for us to be alone with the Commanders
Offred's sexual interactions with Nick: "I went back to Nick. Time after time, on my own..."

Adultery is no longer a "sin"
Women fail religion because religion has failed them
Offred rejects conventionalities of approved prayer:
"I pray where I am, sitting by the window, looking out...I don't even close my eyes. Out there or inside my head, it's an equal darkness. Or light."

Offred's prayer is more personal
Offred is disengaged wherever she is, but her search for God gives existence higher purpose
Creates own version of Lord's Prayer:
"My God. Who Art in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is within. I wish I knew what You were up to... I don't believe for a second that what's going on out there is what You meant."

Offred trusts God; still has faith

Offred laments her loneliness:
"I feel so unreal talking to You like this...I wish You'd answer. I feel so alone.

Idea of world of higher purpose where life is not like this comforts her

Thank you :)
Full transcript