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Major themes in the Handmaid's Tale
Transcript of Major themes in the Handmaid's Tale
Author's say About the Theme
The Power of Language
Power in the novel is created by:
Freedom of Speech
The Commander and his wife, having a higher status, are not restricted to speak.
However, the handmaids are. They are supposed to converse only through accepted greetings and responses.
The Expression of Love
Even when the characters have feelings for each other, they try to fight them off because strong emotions are dangerous. There's nothing from the past to hold onto, and many people's connections and relationships have been completely severed. Love exists only as a memory.
By Protichi, Shirley and Aishwarya
The main themes in this novel are the expression of the individual in an oppressive society, the expression of love, religious oppresion and the power of language.
Freedom of speech
Interaction between characters
" I want to see as little of you as possible
, she said.
I expect you feel the same way about me.
I didn't answer, as a yes would have been insulting, a no contradictory.
I know you aren't stupid
, she went on. She inhaled, blew out the smoke.
I've read your file. As far as I'm concerned, this is like a business transaction. But if I get trouble, I'll give trouble back. You understand?
, I said.
Don't call me ma'am
, she said irritably.
You're not a Martha.
I didn't ask what I was supposed to call her, because I could see that she hoped I would never have the occasion to call her anything at all." (Atwood 18, 19)
Blessed be the fruit,
" she says to me, the accepted greeting among us.
May the Lord open,
" I answer, the accepted response."
"During these walks she has never said anything that was not strictly orthodox, a Handmaid in more than name. I can't take the risk." (Atwood 24)
Interaction between characters
Offred gets her own power and confidence when interacting with different characters. This can be seen in her interactions with Moira, the Commander, Nick and the others.
Moira and Offred
Moira and Offred were college mates.
Conversation between them is forbidden.
Their relationship is an example of close friendship.
Moira is a role model to Offred as she is very domineering, outgoing and a fighter. She is a rebel.
She has escaped the Red Center twice and the other handmaids have been intrigued by her.
"Moira had power now, she'd been set loose, she'd set herself loose. She was now a loose woman." (Atwood 133)
"Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy. Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure. In the upper reaches of the atmosphere you'd come apart, you'd vaporize, there would be no pressure holding you together." (Atwood 22)
Split into three categories:
Mother and Daughter
The Commander invites Offred to her room to play Scrabble and read magazines. According to the Giledean rules, the handmaids are not allowed to read.
Scrabble utilises literature and since only she is allowed to read and use words in this game, Offred has a kind of power that the other handmaids don't have. Only she is given the access to these 'luxuries'.
The Commander and Offred
"I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, ... This is freedom an eyeblibk of it. ... What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made out of peppermint, cool like that. ... The letter C. Crisp, slightly acid on the tongue, delicious." (Atwood 175)
In the novel, there are switches of setting. Offred narrates her present, but she also narrates her past, before Gilead. This is to show the great difference between her life now and before.
Large as life and twice as ugly
, Moira whispers back." (Atwood 111)
"You wanted a women’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies." (Atwood 159)
"I used to dress like that. That was freedom." (Atwood 27)
In real life ...
It is stated in the law that every citizen and resident has the freedom of speech. Yet, that doesn't mean we can criticize people in any way.
Propaganda is used for the spread of a central idea and make persuade people to be support your side. Used by governments and groups. They can be used raise strong belief and emotion.
Her love for her mother, her daughter, Luke, Moira, and ultimately Nick, allow her to stay sane, and to live within her memories and emotions. Love is also a driving force.
Romance and Sexuality
The focus of the Gileadean regime is on the control of sex and sexuality. They execute gays and lesbians; they destroy pornography and sexual clothing; they kill abortion doctors; they outlaw divorce and second marriages. Attempting to separate sex from sexuality.
Fear of sexuality.
Finally, when Offred takes a series of tremendous risks to continue her affair with Nick, she demonstrates the power of sexual acts.
Offred loved and still loves her daughter so much that even when she thinks or dreams of her it brings tears to her eyes. Additionally, she is saddened by the fact that she was unable to say her final 'goodbye' to her own daughter and was taken away.
Touch is a vital sign of warmth and affection.
In Offred's account of Gilead, we see how difficult it is for anyone to trust anyone else.
(Nick)Touch and Trust
The Commander reveals not only that he carried out a series of affairs with his Handmaids, but that there is a more or less "secret" club where higher-ups consort with women solely for sexual purposes. (Atwood, Chapter 37)
This love is portrayed to the readers through the eyes of 'friendship' shared between two people through times of childhood, right through to the times of hardship, such as in the society of Gilead. Moira has been Offred's friend right from high school, when she would come around her house.
Love is not only about 'sex' its about loving one another mentally, emotionally and then physically, you only realize what you had in the past, until you lose it...this is what has happen to the handmaids.
She values affection and contact with other people. The word ‘exchange' becomes significant throughout the novel, summing up these moments of human warmth, or at least communication
The key word in the issue of relationships is love. Atwood specifically distinguishes this from sex. As Offred says:
"Nobody dies from lack of sex. It's lack of love we die from. " (18. 127)
In chapter 34, when the Commander, trying to justify the régime, outlines its actions and then asks Offred,
"What did we overlook?" said Commander
Love, I said. (Offred)
Love? said the Commander. What kind of love?
Falling in love, I said.
Cushions with words: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (19. 136)- Offred Believes her daughter will remember her and Luke and all three of them be together.
Offred is immediately aware that Nick is
"So close that the tip of his boot is touching my foot." Even if this is accidental, and although both are wearing footwear, she welcomes the fact that ‘we are touching.' (14, 100)
Nick and Offred, put trust. First, she trusts him by her telling him her real name.
"‘I tell him my real name, and feel therefore that I am known." (41, 337)
Also, in Chapter 46, he said "Trust me" (Atwood, 366)
Also, when Nick moves close to her in the darkened sitting-room, she tells us, "It's so good to be touched by someone. to be felt so greedily, to feel so greedy."(17, 122)
"I remember the picture of us I once had, me holding her, standard poses, mother and baby, locked in frame, for safety." (12. 79) She was in the bathtub.
In chapter 12, Offred's daughter was taken away after the incident at the supermarket. Offred look at the 11-months old, just before she walk. She is on the cart. The baby was happy so she turn away to look at cat food and Luke in the meat aisle. Until a cry from the her child seen by the hands of a stranger. Offred scream and the kidnapper stops as the police comes. Stating it was her baby but a pity.
In chapter 7, after running with her daughter and shielding her from gun shots but caught them and told Offred she is unfit.
She comments (chapter 28). But she knows that, as her mother tells her, she was ‘a wanted child'. Offred feels that, ‘despite everything, we didn't do badly by one another, we did as well as most,' and wishes that her mother ‘were here, so I could tell her I finally know this.'
Offred talk about Moira who said having an underwhore party and she got connections by working her way through college, Offred thoughts: "She always made me laugh." (10. 70)
But Offred hopes that Moira may do something rebellious before she dies:
Offred says, "I'd like her to end with something daring and spectacular, some outrage, something that would befit her.'
But, as Offred sadly says, ‘as far as I know that didn't happen.' (Chapter 37)
He is a father of Offred's daughter and Offred's husband/lover
Luke have an affair with the main character as she waits for him,"We would ie in those afternoon beds, afterwards,hands, on each other, talking it over. (9.63)
"Lying in bed, with Luke, his hand on my rounded belly. The three of us, in bed. (18. 127)
Similar to Romeo and Juliet, The Hunger Games, and real life scenarios.
The Republic of Gilead is a theocracy meaning there is no separation between the government and religion (Christianity).
Several government postitions make references to biblical figures and words.
Such as Gurdians of FAITH, ANGELS, Eyes of the LORD.
Sexual Oppression through Religion
The Handmaid is another biblical term refering to "
When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, Give me children or I shall die! […] Then she said, Here is my
Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees, and even I may have children through her.
The Handmaids in the novel have only one purpose in life: to bear children for the Commanders of Gilead.
For our purposes your feet and your hands are not essential.
" (Aunt Lydia, Ch.15)
I do not say love making, because this is not what he is doing...Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.
" (Offred, Ch.16)
After that she'll (Ofwarren) be transferred, to see if she can do it (concieve) again, with someone else who needs a turn.
" (Offred, Ch.21)
We are two-legged wombs, that's all: scared vessels, ambulatory chalices.
" (Offred, Ch.24)
By name Angels should be innocent but in Gilead, they are soldiers of the army and won't hesitate to act when sensing danger
The Eyes are the secret police of Gilead, to spy and expose people going against the government
By using biblical reffrences, the state of Gilead is oppressing their citizens to fear them and to follow their views of an ideal society
The theme, Religious Oppression teaches the world that oppression can be faced in all forms, even religiously. People believe in gods because they wish to live a happy and blissful life with the guidance of their god. But living every aspect of life through religious views leads to the abuse of many human rights and leads many into misery.
Religious Oppression in Today's World
Thank You for Listening!
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