Motivated Elements of Sexual Inequality in Margaret Atwood’s Novel "The Handmaid’s Tale"


Seminar Paper, 2008

12 Pages, Grade: 3,0


Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Motivated Elements of Sexual Unequality in Offred’s Life
2.1 Rapid Reversal
2.2 Politics
2.3 Ideology
2.4 Society and Daily Life
2.5 Resistance

3. Conclusion

4. Bibilography

1. Introduction

…women represent fifty percent of the adult world population, one third of the official labour force, perform nearly two-thirds of all working hours, receive only one-tenth of world income and own less than one percent of world property.[1]

This quotation from an United Nations report has been in the manuscript of The Handmaid’s Tale as possible epigraph, before Margaret Atwood decided to discard it. But nevertheless it shows very distincly that sexual unequality is still an important subject for discussion and literary works. In particular Margaret Atwood, who is also active in Amnesty International[2], paints a horrible, brutal and extremistic world in her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. In her essay “Writing Utopia” Margaret Atwood emphasizes that in this novel nothing happens that has not occurred somewhere in the world at some time before or even now. Which elements of sexual unequality in Offred’s life are motivated by real societies? Why did Margaret Atwood pick these for her novel The Handmaid’s Tale ? This will be pointed out in the following analysis by comparing the real world with the fictive world of Gilead for similarities of sexual unequality during the rapid reversal of the state and in points of the politics, the ideology, the society, the daily life and the resistance against the state.

2. Motivated Elements of Sexual Unequality in Offred’s Life

2.1 Rapid Reversal

Margaret Atwood writes in her essay “Writing Utopia”, that true dictatorships “come in bad times, when people are ready to give up some of their freedoms to someone – anyone – who can take control and promise them better times.”[3] She realizes this in her novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The time before her fictive state Gilead was founded was marked by a lot of chemical pullution, nuclear radiation, abortion and diseases such as AIDS and R-strain syphilis. All this led to a decline in the birth rate. Moreover, pornography and rape were widely spread. People were unhappy about this situation and there were “porn riots” and “abortion riots”. In addition, there were “sect wars”. The narrator Offred explains that her mother often went to marches, for example against rape. In this time of social dissatisfaction the “Sons of Jacob” came to power, because they killed the President of the United States, shot the Congress and blamed it on Islamic fanatics. Their major aim was to increase the population. The first thing they did when setting up the state of Gilead was, that they disseized the women of their jobs and their bank accounts, in order to make them stay at home. They declared second marriages and unmarried couples adulterous and arrested the women. In this way they created a group of women they called “The Handmaids”, which were supposed to be used for producing children for the elite. There were marches against this, which soon ended, because the people were afraid of the army.

The narrator Offred lived together with her husband Luke and her little daughter when the reversal took place. She was cancelled her job in a library and her bank account. In this way she lost her independence and became dependent to her husband Luke. She says about this: “We are not each other’s, any more. Instead, I am his.”[4] This shows that the equality between the partners has declined and that Offred feels powerless and subordinate to her husband.

When they attempted to flee she got caught and came to the “Red Centre”, where she was trained a Handmaid. Later she lives in the household of a Commander. In the end of the novel she is rescued by an underground organisation called “Mayday”.

She is recording her story on tape afterwards, probably when she is in a safe house. So she is telling it from her memory. Despite this the reader sees her story through her eyes and therefore gets to know the treatment of women in Gilead firsthand.

2.2 Politics

The state of Gilead is a theocratic regime, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is based on Islamic laws. An example for a Christian Theocracy is the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded by the Puritans. The latter is probably the model for Gilead, because Margaret Atwood wrote in her essay “Writing Utopia”: “my society, being derived from Puritanism…”.[5]

[...]


[1] Lee Briscoe Thompson, Scarlet Letters: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (Toronto: ECW Press, 1997) 30.

[2] www.guardian.co.uk/books

[3] Margaret Atwood. “Writing Utopia” Writing With Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose. (New York: Carroll & Graf Publ.,2005) 98.

[4] Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale. (London: Vintage, 1996)192. All page reference within this chapter refer to this edition.

[5] Margaret Atwood. “Writing Utopia” Writing With Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose. (New York: Carroll & Graf Publ.,2005) 99.

Excerpt out of 12 pages

Details

Title
Motivated Elements of Sexual Inequality in Margaret Atwood’s Novel "The Handmaid’s Tale"
College
http://www.uni-jena.de/  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Course
British Dystopias
Grade
3,0
Author
Year
2008
Pages
12
Catalog Number
V150837
ISBN (eBook)
9783640622290
ISBN (Book)
9783640622870
File size
569 KB
Language
English
Tags
Margaret Atwood, Dystopian Novel, Sexual Inequality
Quote paper
Katharina Ochsenfahrt (Author), 2008, Motivated Elements of Sexual Inequality in Margaret Atwood’s Novel "The Handmaid’s Tale", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/150837

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