The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood describes the story of Offred, a Handmaid, that is a woman ascribed a breeding function by society, and who is placed with a husband and wife higher up the social ladder who “need” a child. Through Offred’s eyes we explore the rigidity of the theocracy in which she lives, the contradictions in the society they have created, and her attempts to find solace through otherwise trivial things.The heroine is never identified except as Offred, the property of her current Commander, she was a modern woman: college-educated, a wife and a mother when she lost all that due to the change in her society. Tale can be viewed from one perspective as being a feminist depiction of the suppression of a woman, from another perspective it can be viewed as being highly critical of some aspects of feminist dogma. the word hope it self means many things, for example; hope is a wish or a feeling of desire and expectation or if you hope that something will happen or hope that it is true, you want it to happen or want it to be true.
In this essay I am going to discuss the topic of ‘hope’ and how it is presented through out the novel, by Atwood, using the definition of ‘hope’ in this novel being ‘something that you have waited for, and are ‘wishing/praying’ for it to come true in the future. Margaret Atwood initially presents ‘hope’ in the novel when the foremost character, Offred; is informing the readers of the method in which she is dressed, from head to toe in “red. ” Offred describes herself as being “… some fairytale figure in a red cloak. Immediately from this quotation the readers come to learn the fact that Offred is being presented as non other than the fairy tale figure of Red Riding Hood, the sweet, innocent young girl, out in the big bad world, alone.We, the readers have an image of Offred, the main character to be this fairy tale innocent figure, left in the dangerous world of Gilead.
Also, this fairy tale figure effect presents the readers and Offred with ‘hope,’ because like Red Riding Hood, she will too be rescued and will be able to escape from this terrible situation, that she is present in. he readers will refer to the fairytale and at the back of their mind will always have the perception that Offred, like Red Riding Hood, will get out and will be rescued, its only a matter of time and patience as in the fairytale. This method of escapism, through ‘hope’ is clearly presented through the novel from the times Offred reminisces about the past. Atwood cleverly sparks of memories through Offred’s evoke of past events, before the take over of Gilead, that she still ‘hopes’ will come true.
This is evidently presented to the readers, when Offred discusses her present situation being a ‘story,’ however finishes her speech/thoughts off by saying, ‘There will be an ending to the story… I have control… I can pick up from where I left off. ‘ This reference directly informs the readers of the fact that Atwood has presented Offred as being a character reminiscing her past and hoping that one day everything will be normal again and that she can ‘pick up’ from where she left off.
Offred is presented to still have ‘hope,’ and in effect the readers too have ‘hope’ for her and that, because she is so positive of the situation changing, then we, the readers should do to, it makes the readers ‘want’ Offred to be free from the oppressive society, where she is deprived of so many things she shouldn’t be, such as something as basic as sensory deprivation. The readers long for Offred to escape, be free and ‘pick up’ from where she left. In Offred’s bedroom, ‘there’s a hard little cushion… ith a petit point cover: FAITH, in square print. ‘From this writing on the cover of the cushion, the readers realise that the cushion must have been left there intentionally by one of the members of the household to inform Offred never to lose ‘faith’ which can also mean, never lose ‘hope. ‘ However the readers are left to wonder, why has it been left there? There must be an alternative reason for it to be left there.
Maybe it’s just to inform the handmaid of her role, of a child bearer and not to lose hope of being unable to fill that role.Or maybe it has been left there deliberately to inform the handmaid that one day you will get out of this oppressive society and to never lose ‘hope. ‘ Whist exploring her room, Offred comes across an inscription inside a wardrobe, ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. ‘ (Don’t let the bastards grind you down).
Atwood presents Offred as having no idea of what this inscription means, however believes that what ever it does say, it is said by someone- a previous handmaid for ‘her’ to see. Offred claims that the message was ‘intended for whoever came next. ‘ In this case the next handmaid, this was her.From this forbidden inscription, the readers as well as Offred come to realise the fact that Offred is not ‘alone’ she too has someone out there in the exactly the same situation as her and has given her a warning or a message of ‘hope’ for her to rely on.
The readers now firmly believe that someone out there in the same situation as Offred has presented Offred with ‘hope’ she has been given the message that she’s not alone. The readers in effect feel pleased for Offred of the fact that she has finally been presented first hand evidence of rebellion, from a previous handmaid, who wrote ‘her’ a message.The aspect of rebellion in the novel seems to be a key representation of ‘hope’ in the novel. The first time the reader’s are presented with this rebellion-hope is when we encounter the first meeting between Offred and Serena Joy- the commander’s wife.
Serena has a ‘cigarette’ in her mouth. This immediately informs the readers of the fact that there are unhappy people in the Gileadian society, who don’t agree to some of its rules; such as not smoking, therefore are rebelling by doing so.The readers as well as Offred are given the ‘hope’ that she is not alone and there are some unhappy people in the society, who are purchasing illegal possessions from some form of an underground black market, which still exists. The readers and Offred are given ‘hope’ that the ‘normal’ still exists, even though its not visible from the surface its still present and certain people, such as Serena Joy, the commanders wife, know about it and purchase products from it, such as ‘cigarettes.
‘Offred’s friend Moira seems to be presented by Atwood as being a figure of ‘hope. ‘ This is cleverly illustrated to the readers through Offred’s flashbacks of the past, where Moira is seen as a rebellious hard headed woman, as ‘lava beneath the crust’ and an ‘elevator with open sides. ‘ This immediately informs the readers of the fact that Moira is the one woman that other women want to be like, not in the sense that they want to look like her, but in the sense that they want to be as hard headed and as daring as her.She is shown to be daring to the readers when she plans her escape and tells Offred all about it, when she took an aunt uniform and escaped, but then was caught again! However, from this incident the readers come to learn that, if Moira has the guts to plan an escape and almost escape then there must be something that can be done, to escape from this society; there still must be ‘hope.
‘ Moira hasn’t lost ‘hope’ then why should everyone else. Offred claims Moira to be ‘our fantasy,” therefore, like Moira they too mustn’t lose ‘hope,’ but instead try to do something about the way they are feeling, just like Moira is.Offred husband, Luke is also presented by Atwood as being a symbol of ‘hope,’ for Offred, he seems to be the reason she want to live and come out from the situation she has been entrapped in. ‘ Any day now there may be a message from him… it will come… under my plate on my dinner tray.’
This ‘hope’ that Luke is still alive immediately informs the reader that Offred is living in this oppressive society, going through all the bad times, only just she believes that her husband Luke is somewhere out there, looking for her and when he does she will be rescued.This sounds as if it’s a fairy tale to the reader, who again has images of characters such as; princesses being rescued by their princes, in this case, the price being Luke.
Offred is kept going through this ‘hope’ of Luke still alive and that one day they will meet. The readers sympathise with Offred and through this feeling of ‘hope,’ want Offred to be found by her husband, as she has lost everything she previously had in her life, including her name and her identity.Finally ‘hope’ is presented to both Offred and the readers through the fact that ‘oranges’ still exist in the Gileadian society. The only place that oranges used to come from before this new regime took over was California; therefore California hasn’t been taken over as it still transports its good to the society.
This is a method of presenting ‘hope’ by Atwood, because it shows Offred that there are still some independent states out there, that may be fighting against this regime and that one day they will come to her amongst other citizens rescue and get them out of Gilead.Therefore ‘oranges’ symbolise ‘hope. ‘ Overall I have come to a conclusion, that Offred the handmaid, believe that one day she will be free from the Gileadian regime and that one day she will be rescued by her prince, who will take her away from all the trouble that she is facing. Margaret Atwood has used many ways in which the novel presents ‘hope’ to both Offred and the readers through, flashbacks of the past, characters that are rebelling- Serena Joy, Nick, Moira and the previous unknown handmaid, and possessions such as oranges.
Offred never seems to lose ‘hope’ and if she does she has a flash back of her past, which causes her to yearn for the past and want things to be the way they were before the Gilead regime took over and snatched her away from her family and deprived her of the one thing that she had, which was love and affection. All Offred is left with is ‘hope. ‘ Hope for a better future, hope of a method to escape, hope to find her family and hope that one day things will be back to normal so that she can… ‘ Pick up from’ where she left from.