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Symbolism of Flowers in The Handmaids Tale

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Sabrina Burns

on 27 October 2014

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Transcript of Symbolism of Flowers in The Handmaids Tale

Symbolism of Flowers in The Handmaids Tale
Gilead is rich in masculine power, authority, and references, however, there are scarce expressions of femininity. An array of flowers including Lillies, tulips, irises, bleeding hearts, peonies, and carnations , are described and represented through charachters by their relationships and traits throughout the novel.
Red Tulips

Red tulips name derived from the turkish word "gauze", which is what the turbans were made of. Red tulips would typically be interpreted as symbols of both beauty and life. These two qualities are compared and contrasted, due to Gilead’s punishment and fear-tactics of hanging "criminals" and leaving them lifeless on the wall . The lips of an executed person, which represent disgust and death, are compared to the red tulips:
Blue Iris
Blue iris symbolize faith and hope. They represent the wives in Gilead, as they're putting their trust and patience to receive a child from a handmaid in the devastated state of reproduction. When even the chances are slim they believe and hope for the desired outcome.
Although the blue iris could be a representation of the wives, they can also be a figure symbolizing cherished friendship, promise in love and valour.

"On the wall above the chair, a pictu, framed but with no glass: a print of flowers, blue irises, watercolour"

The symbolism of these flowers can be related to the cherished friendship that Offred sees in Ofglen.
Bleeding Heart

The bleeding heart flower from Serenas garden represents undying love. The flower tells a story of a prince who won the heart of a beautiful maiden bu giving her gifts, with each girl two pedals are removed. Then separation caused the prince to stab himself in the heart, causing him to bleed, and the knife being the stem.

Why flowers?
Flowers are considered symbols of beauty or fertility. In The Handmaid's Tale they're given special attention as objects that can bloom and grow at a time when few women can.
"There is something subversive about this garden of Serenas, a sense of burried things bursting upward wordlessly, into the light, as if to say: Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently." Atwood 190

Flower Symbolism
This quote is an expression of Offreds thoughts, as she relates her own situation to that of a flower. What she said n the quote is her dreaming of her outcome, she wants to be that flower that is buried, but will burst upward, into the light
"I look at the one red smile. The red of the smile is the same as the red of the tulips in Serena Joy’s garden, towards the base of the flowers where they are beginning to heal. The red is the same but there is no connection. The tulips are not tulips of blood, the red smiles are not flowers, and neither thing makes a comment on the other. The tulip is not a reason for disbelief in the hanged man, or vice versa. Each thing is valid and really there" Atwood 42
The comparison between the tulips and the lips identifies the irony of the scenario, that while Gilead is encouraging life by promoting birth through the handmaids, the leaders of the society are also destructive to life by executing innocent people.

It shows the corruption of the society
In the handmaids tale, the tulips are parallels to the handmaids, they are both covered in red and are both fertile.
"The tulips are red, a darker crimson towards the stem as if they has been cut and are beginning to heal."
The quote symbolizes how the handmaids have been stripped down from their power and have also been deprived of money, reading material, and education. And even though these things have been taken away from them they will 'begin to heal' .
This flower is a symbol of Luke and Offred, no matter what happened Offred continuously had Luke on her mind. Her love for him was unconditional and not forgotten even when Nick came into the picture.
Lily

The lily could be related to the innocent people that are persecuted in Gilead for doing no harm. In the after life theyre praised and accepted into heaven.

“ Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven “

Lillies represent chasity and virtue, the symbolism of virgin Marys purity. Lillies also symbolize the soul or restored innocence after death.
Peonies
There is a legend that there was a physician who saves others from the fate of dying, by turning them into a flower. This story could relate to the mayday rebellion leaders "the eyes" that were helping the handmaids escape the society. Including the guardian who was killed, and Nick who helped Offred.
As they are regarded as good fortune and prosperity.
Carnations
Carnations represent pure of heart, and a symbol of a mothers unconditional love. The connection between the carnation and the novel is the relationship between Offred and her daughter, even though they were separated for years on end, Offred would still make the greatest of sacrafices for her daughter .
"They know where my child is. What if they bring her, threaten her infront of me? i cant bear to think of what they might do...Ill say anything they like, Ill icriminate anyone. Its true, the first scream, wimper even, and ill turn to jelly, Ill confess to any crime, Ill end up hanging from a hook on the wall."
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