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The Handmaids Tale | Book analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2390 words Published: 4th May 2017

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I think this is what God must look like: an egg. The life of the moon may not be on the surface, but inside. The egg is glowing now, as if it had an energy of its own. To look at the egg gives me intense pleasure.(Atwood, 137)

Tropology(Symbolism): The word “egg” is used to symbolise the eggs present in females for reproduction.

By giving an insightful description of an egg, Offred reveals that she too is eagerly waiting for her eggs to become active. She wants to become heavy with a child.

This description illuminates the very idea of fertility of the handmaid’s and how their survival is based on their ability to reproduce.

Through the use of tropes, Offred uses eggs as a wonderful symbol of birth and rebirth; a lifeless object out of which life comes.

The egg can also be symbolised as Creation, where the outer shell represents the outer atmosphere, the colorless filament represents water and the yolk represents the earth. This interpretation reinforces the importance and power that a “mere” egg contains.

Offred can also be seen as a personification of the egg. Like an egg, she has a tough exterior that does not break easily. Likewise, she too has the ability to bring a new life to this world like the yolk of an egg. She also has an expiration date as she can be sent to the colonies of the “Unwomen” if she doesn’t reproduce, just the way eggs are disposed if they are not consumed within the given time period.

The glowing of the egg demonstrates the greatness and power that it holds. If she is successful in reproducing a child, she will be known which emphasises that she has the potential to be great.

Thus this design element is effective in portraying the theme of fertility and power as the detailed description of the egg shows her willingness to get pregnant.

This makes the reader think does the glowing of the egg foreshadow the arrival of a baby in the commander’s house?

Why does Offred feel intense pleasure by looking at an egg? What deeper meaning does this sentence demonstrate?

Offred can be compared to our planet Earth. She has a hard exterior portraying that she is very intelligent and cannot be easily fooled, like the earth’s surface. But as we dig deeper, Offred is shown as a very delicate woman with precious memories of her husband and daughter. She has a shows a lot of love and affection towards them which signifies a soft interior, just as the earth’s core is liquid mantel. These elements make Offred a complete woman.

The red Birthmobile is parked in the driveway. Its back door is open and I clamber in. The carpet on the floor is red, red curtains are draw over the windows. (Atwood, 138)

Tropology(Symbolism): The color red symbolises fertility, which is also used to address the handmaids.

By using the color red as a symbol of fertility, the author tries to emphasis the purpose of the handmaid’s in the Gilead society.

Also, by stressing on the color red, the very idea of identity and segregation of women among the different classes is signified.

The handmaids are only allowed to wear the color red. This shows that in the society, they are identified by this color. Red, which usually symbolises fertility, is worn by the handmaids to show their status in the society while the wives of the commanders and women with rich marriages are given the liberty to wear the threads of their choice.

The handmaids have to wear red which creates a sense of confusion as it is not specified whether the new distinction is beneficial to them or not.

Red is also used as a symbol of danger. They are most prone to harm in the Gilead society due to emotions such as jealousy which can be exhibited by the other handmaids or the wives.

Thus this design element is effective in revealing the theme of the segregation of women in the society which can be displayed by the color of the clothes which the handmaids wear.

The handmaids know why the color red is chosen for them. Thus the repetition of red illustrates that the handmaids are always reminded of their purpose in the community.

This makes the reader think, why does the van in which the handmaids are transported called the “birthmobile”?

Should the services, such as transportation, provided to the handmaids be considered a privilege?

This situation is identical to one of the situation in the novel “The Kite Runner” by Khalid Hussein. In the football stadium, during the half time, the Taliban drive a red pick-up with two people who were to be executed publically. Both, the color of the pick-up and the birthmobile is red. Therefore it signifies that in both the societies, the government harms the people if the rules are not obeyed.

A thing is valued, she says, only if it is rare and hard to get. We want you to be valued, girls. She is rich in pauses, which she savours in her mouth. Think of yourselves as pearls. (Atwood, 141)

Character: Aunt Lydia’s character is portrayed from her dialogues.

From the above lines said by Aunt Lydia, she seems to be very convincing which reveals that she is a very good orator.

This displays the theme of brainwashing and segregation of the women classes in the Gilead society.

Aunt Lydia belongs to a class of women who are responsible to teach the women like Offred the ideology of the Gilead society and make them follow their fates peacefully before they become handmaids.

This sentence is a flashback of one of the sayings of Aunt Lydia which haunts Offred. This makes it evident that Aunt Lydia is a scary woman who strictly wants Gilead’s rules to be followed.

Her words effectively manipulate and brainwash the thoughts women in the Red Center. She tactfully induces the false belief into the handmaids’ thoughts that they are valued in the society. Her rich pauses is a striking example of the way she is able to manipulate and brainwash the women in the center.

Her actions and thoughts support her character as a teacher who genuinely believes in the virtue of the Gilead’s order.

Even though she is a woman in the Gilead community, she holds a position of power and authority which is rarely attained.

This makes the reader ponder, who has the authority over the aunts? Who has the ultimate authority in Gilead?

How did the aunts get so much power in their hands? If they were women, why were they given this power?

Aunt Lydia’s character is very similar to Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a very strict and charismatic dictator. His words could motivate anyone and initially people loved him for that. But he made many changes in the government policies and harmed many Jews. He forced the citizens to follow him and was very strict with his policies. Likewise, Aunt Lydia is a very strict teacher who wants the Gilead’s rules to be followed. She is a good orator and uses the Bible to justify her actions and is very successful at it. She is very successful at brainwashing the handmaids by making them believe that they are valued in the society and that she is there to help them.

“Ofwarren is in the master bedroom, a good name for it; where this Commander and his Wife nightly bed down. She’s sitting on their king-size bed, propped with pillows: Janine, inflated but reduced, shorn of her former name.” (Atwood, 145)

Location: The master bedroom

Ofwarren is transferred to the master bedroom in Commander Warren’s house as she is about to give birth to the commander’s child.

This act reflects the notion of reality vs escape and brain washing of the handmaids.

While Ofwarren is in the process of giving birth to the commander’s child, she is given the undivided attention of all the handmaids. Her placement in the master bedroom is significant as this indicates a shift in the setting. Before the handmaid was placed in a bare room where there was nothing luxurious and anything provided to her was restricted.

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She is given short lived luxury which shows that the handmaids are given respect and dignity they deserve only during child birth. The nine months of abuse and isolation which they painfully face is forgotten about when they give birth. This is a clever step taken by the commander’s wife as the final moment of luxury brainwashes the handmaid (Janine).

This act of luxury and short lived fame makes the other handmaids jealous. This fuels their false belief that they are wanted in the society. They feel prestigious throughout the ceremony but are completely forgotten about once the whole process is over.

This conjures images of betrayal and anger as the handmaids are unconsciously controlled by the aunts and commander’s wives by providing them short lived luxury, in this case, the placement of Ofwarren in the master bedroom.

This design element is effective in bringing into focus the idea of brainwashing and manipulation of the handmaid’s thoughts by providing them with short lived fame and luxury.

This makes the reader ponder, why are most of the handmaids satisfied by this short lived luxury and fame? Will they ever find out the truth or will they remain blind?

Will the handmaids get the rights they deserve?

The situation of the handmaids is identical to the condition of the labourers in the tribal regions of Africa where they work hard day and night to survive. Their work is not recognised by the plantation owners and they are underpaid to a large extent. Yearly, these plantation workers get a bonus which is enough to keep them satisfied. They do not revolt against the system and forget the torture which they suffer through the year by merely a bonus. The handmaids make the same mistake. They instantaneously forget the torture which they suffer throughout their stay in their commander’s houses and focus on the fame and luxury which they get when they give birth.

On this day, we can do anything we want. I revise that: within limits. (Atwood, 139)

Perspective: Offred expresses her thoughts by making this bold remark.

This bold remark by Offred conveys the idea of freedom and confinement of the housemaids.

The birth of a child from another housemaid brings joy to all the housemaids. They feel for each other even though there is some element of jealousy.

Offred says that today they will be free. But her revision of the statement indicates that even during a celeberation, they can never be truly free. There will always be confinements.

This is an instance of the voice and expression of the handmaids being supressed by the women in power. This represents the idea of segregation of women in various classes.

Since the handmaids are monitored by the wives of the commanders even though they are “free”, displays that they will never be fully free. They will never attain complete freedom even for a day as they are handmaids. They are considered to be at a low level in the classes of women in the Gilead society where they have only one purpose, i.e. to breed children.

This makes the reader think, why the handmaids do not appeal to their respective commander’s wives for one day of complete freedom?

Why don’t the handmaids revolts against the Gilead system of they hate it? What are the possible outcomes of this revolt?

Offred from “The Handmaid’s Tale” is very similar to Prudenza from the novel “The Trophy Bride’s Tale”. In both the books, the women are subjected to repression. Prudenza was married to a man much older to her without her consent. She does not have any sort of power and is supposed to follow orders of the men. Identically, Offred does not have any power of her own. She is an instrument for reproduction for the Gilead and does not serve any other purpose. They do not have any freedom and voice to represent them. They have to follow instructions for survival.

We play two games. Larynx, I spell. Valance, Quince. Zygote. ( Atwood, 174)

Visual Structure: The italicising of the words larynx, valance, quince and zygote.

These words stand out from the regular type on the page.

This illustrates the theme of voice of the handmaids and their fertility in the Gilead society.

The first word which is laid out by Offred in the game scrabble is larynx. This brings into focus that Offred is trying to communicate with the commander. She highlights that she is not able to converse with anyone in this society. Her lack of voice in any area of the society is pinpointed.

The use of the other two words portrays that Offred wants like to share a few words with the commander based on these topics.

The last word which she uses is zygote. This reminds the reader of an egg. The very egg which Offred thinks of when she has her breakfast. Zygote symbolizes the child which she has to procreate which she has failed to do so far.

Valance is a symbol of her uniform and the wings which she has to wear. Thus the words larynx and valance are used to express the confinement which Offred is supposed to respect being a handmaid of the Gilead.

This makes the reader think, why is Offred trying to communicate with the commander even though he is dangerous?

Does the commander agree with the ways of the Gilead government? Why does he break the rules by playing a game of scrabble with Offred?

The way Offred communicates with the commander is very unique. Instead of directly talking to him, she uses the words in the game to help her communicate. This is very similar to the sign language which people use to communicate without the use of any words. This helps them interact with one another without any form of direct speech. Thus it helps people to converse in those places where one should not talk or cannot talk, for example, underwater. Since Offred does not directly want to talk to the commander about some issues, she chooses to talk to him using words.


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