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The Handmaid's Tale
Transcript of The Handmaid's Tale
head of their households
implied they are old and sterile
duty is to procreate
only men entitled to a Handmaid
The Handmaid's Tale
The Social Class System of Gilead
The Classes of Men
The Classes of Women
soldiers used for routine policing and other low-status functions
majority are teenagers.
responsible for detecting and swiftly eliminating anyone who challenges Gilead
fight in the wars against outlaws (particularly Quakers, Catholics, and Jews)
eligible for promotion to Commander status and obtaining handmaids.
older, postmenopausal or infertile women
train and monitor Handmaids at the Red Center
the only literate women
older, infertile women
servants in the households of the Commanders
fertile women married to the impoverished, low-ranking men
perform all female functions of Marthas, Handmaids, and Wives
wear garments striped with red, green, and blue.
handmaids who are unable to be impregnated (only women can be considered infertile)
fertile women who refuse to become handmaids
Jezebels who can no longer carry on their duties (prostitutes)
sent to the Colonies (work camps)
Commanders of the Faithful-
Guardians of the Faith-
forbidden from sexual relations with their husbands
complete all sexual and childbearing rituals beside the Handmaids,
receive all credit for their Handmaid's achievements
few remaining fertile women
bear the Commanders' children
fertility is highly valued...
forbidden from emotional connections to the rest of the household
scorned by Wives
wear red garments with white wings on their heads that blind their peripheral vision.
young, high society girls
wear white with braided hair until marriage
eventually married to Guardians and Commanders
The Republic of Gilead
United States of America
Dangerously low reproductive rates
resulted from widespread availability of birth control of various kinds (abortion, etc.), pollution, chemical spills, AIDS and R strain syphilis epidemics
ends late twentieth century (takeover)
Rebels take over government
degraded women; took away their freedoms
what the government has decided should be taken from the Bible has become absolute law
women divided into classes
majority of freedoms confiscated
intercourse between wife and husband is illegal
men have Handmaids
under constant surveillance
narrator and protagonist
Head of the household where Offred is placed
Offred is his handmaid
led a past life as a Gospel star and homemaking advocate
guardian of the faith
assigned to commander's household
works as a gardener and chauffeur
Offred's husband before Gilead
second marriages became "invalid"
had a daughter together
Cora & Rita
servants working in the Commander's household where Offred is assigned
Offred's shopping partner
Aunt at the Red Center
brainwashes Handmaids to accept their fates and conform to society's beliefs
Offred's best friend before Gilead
resists her fate as a Handmaid
successful in getting pregnant
accepts her fate as a Handmaid
The Handmaid's Tale
While grocery shopping in town, a Japanese interpreter asks Offred and Ofglen if a group of tourists can take a photo of them. Disconcerted, Offred "look[s] down at the sidewalk, [shakes her] head for no. What they must see is the white wings only, a scrap of face, [her] chin and part of [her] mouth. Not the eyes. [She knows] better than to look the interpreter in the face. Most of the interpreters are Eyes, or so it's said. [She] also [knows] better than to say yes. Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it. To be seen - to be seen- is to be - her voice trembled - penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable...Beside [her], Ofglen is also silent. She's tucked her red-gloved hands into her sleeves, to hide them" (Atwood 28).
Distrust in Narrator
"My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden. I tell myself it doesn't matter...I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I'll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried..." (Atwood 84).
frequent allusions to different parts of the bible:
the ceremony (Jacob, wife, )
Genesis 30:1-3 - "And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her"
"Give me children or else I die." -- That text, with its focus on bringing a "maid" or Handmaid into a childless marriage to create heirs, is the fundamental idea behind the Republic of Gilead
hotel where the prostitutes are kept is called Jezebel's
Bible has become absolute law
references have been altered in some cases to further the goals of the Republic
Offred has flashbacks periodically throughout the book of her life before Gilead
Instances of paranoia are evident throughout the novel
believes her every action is being watched
won't even reveal her name... no trust
don't know as much as we think we know
page 103: Offred dwells on her loneliness while lying in bed at night--switches to past memory of lying in bed with Luke rubbing her pregnant stomach--switches to her beliefs of Luke's fate--switches back to present
No High/Low Art
A thing is valued, she says, only if it is rare and hard to get. We want you to be valued, girls...Think of yourselves as pearls...I think about pearls. Pearls are congealed oyster spit" (Atwood 114).
Distrust in Institutions
Offred, the narrator, is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian, theocratic, anti-feminist state that has replaced the United States of America. She serves the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy, who was a former advocate of traditional rights. Her duty is to be impregnated by the Commander during the formal act known as "The Ceremony". If she she is not successful in becoming pregnant, she will be sent to the colonies along with the other "unwomen".
In the pre-Gilead world, Offred was married to a divorced man, Luke, and they had one daughter. Once the Republic of Gilead took over, her family was separated and she has never seen them since. The new government takes away the majority of women's freedom. Once Offred is assigned to the Commander's house, her life becomes routine.
She goes on shopping trips everyday with another handmaid, Ofglen. During each shopping trip, Offred and Ofglen have secret conversations about Mayday, an underground organization that plans a rebellion against the Republic of Gilead.
Offred's world is one of confinement and severe suppression.
The whole book exemplifies this characteristic of postmodern literature
Example 1: Government issues guns to young men to shoot any suspicious person
"The young ones are often the most dangerous,the most fanatical, the jumpiest with their guns. They haven't yet learned about existence through time. You have to go slowly with them" (Atwood 20).
Example 2: News is censored
"Such as it is: who knows if any of it is true? It could be old clips, it could be faked. But I watch it anyway, hoping to be able to read beneath it. Any news, now, is better than none. They only show us victories, never defeats. Who wants bad news? Possibly he's an actor.
In the Republic of Gilead, men are privileged over women
Women are brainwashed to believe that they are insignificant; only a means of reproduction
Example: Brainwashed women to believe it was their own fault
When Janine is telling her story of being gang-raped at fourteen at Testifying, the women are forced to respond with a chant: "But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up on plump finger. Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison. Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us. She did. She. did. She did. Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson" (Atwood 71-72).