“The Handmaid’s Tale” Literature Review

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The Handmaid’s Tale is written in the extremes set in Cambridge, England. It follows a non-linear storyline, meaning the story is not in chronological order causing the plot points to be revealed through flashbacks. The first few chapters are dedicated to heavy descriptions of various settings and there are no definitive descriptions for the various terms used in the book. This world created in this book is based in a highly patriarchal system where, through the government (The Republic of Gilead), women were seen as lesser humans who must be devoted to men in higher positions. To do this, they guise the protection of women in order to control the women’s minds and therefore, their bodies. Men in lower positions were also restricted in certain aspects but not as much. The narrator, who comes to be known as Ofred, is a handmaiden- symbolized by their red coloured clothing. Her name was given to symbolize the man she was meant to dedicate her life and body to in order to produce an heir. Handmaidens are likened to slaves of the household; they are owned by the commander, of which there are many – all male. When serving a commander, handmaidens are assigned to a couple. The handmaiden then participates in a sexual ritual in which the hope would be the production of a pure offspring. This ideology was ingrained in order to combat the falling birthrates.

The names of the handmaids are similar in nature, the word preceding their “given” names denouncing their personal rights and making them an entity to be owned. All women are used to carry out bottomfeeder tasks but not all women are handmaids. The non-breeding and sterile women were of a different class. It was alluded that a handmaid that is deemed infertile, would be sent away to a camp where she would clean up toxic waste and would be referred to as an “unwoman” until she died. The women clad in green were servants of the household, and women clad in blue were called wives.

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The story begins at the Re-education Centre, here handmaids are trained for their positions. The women are forbidden to speak and under heavy surveillance by the angels and aunts, who were the ones that taught the handmaids what they needed to know. Since her two previous assignments were unsuccessful for reasons never disclosed, Offred was assigned to her third and final commander. She always reminisces about her past life with her husband, Luke and her daughter whose locations are now unknown. She also remembers her friend, Moira, who reminds her of the freedom she once had. Throughout the assignment, Offred joins a resistance and participates in several illegal affairs – physical and psychological. These affairs eventually lead to her death by betrayal. Toward the middle of the story, Offred is raped but the group’s mentality of victim blaming leads everyone to turn against her. because she “lead them on” a rhetoric which is becoming only now becoming antiquated in our own society. Eventually after the successful birth of a female child by another handmaiden, Offread viewed sex evenmore as a mechanical act. This thought process continued until the commander started to take on an unusual infatuation with Offred, keeping this dangerous affair a secret form his new wife, Serera – an anti-feminist.

Loneliness, isolation and oppression are central themes in the book. Comparisons are drawn between Offread’s situation and that of the lover of a nazi guard whom days after denying knowledge of the internment camps and his guilt, committed suicide. This showed at the time that Offread was starting to go into a state of denial. She also develops a close bond with Olfgen who is part of the resistance. Nazis, persecuted Catholics, executes homosexuals (“gender traitors”), The women of the resistance have also began to employ radical behaviours which tears olfred between them. With the discovery that her lost daughter is alive and could possibly be tortured if she did not disclose information. Serena finds out that Offred went to the morally vile club with her husband, this causes Offred to contemplates suicide. A van under the command of the Eyes, the spies of the nation take offred away to her death in a colony camp without anyone knowing who ordered it. Though it was suspected that Nick had betrayed her.

The book overall gives us a glimpse of what a world under a specific set of rules would function. This world functioned as a unification of old religious teachings under a more or less relatable and familiar setting. It tests dangerous waters and is inflammatory in its writing. However, this gives us an unusual perspective – encouraging thinking that

The Handmaid’s tale is unlike any book I have read. The closest form of entertainment that I can relate it to is the book series NPC. NPC is a fantasy series in which the Non-player characters of a fantasy roleplay world, most similar to Dungeons and Dragons become sentient. In this world many player characters view the npcs as trash under their feet that are only used for one reason and one reason only – to take from them. However, the npcs under some tomfoolery become sentient – having accidentally ending up with the bodies of the player characters in their care. They set off to impersonate them and take their place as adventurers under the king. This relates very loosely to the handmaid’s tale where the character were functioning under one main set of rules. Offred was under the dissolution that her life the way it became after her failed escape was the way it was always going to be. The Npcs are similar in that fashion where they always believed their world was a certain way, not realizing that they were interacting with beings not from their universe. Not realizing that they were pawns to the people. Offred differs in this regard where she is perfectly aware that she is a pawn, and in the end her moves failed.

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