Examine the qualities of life for women in the light of Aunt Lydia’s statement
‘There is more than one kind of freedom,’ said Aunt Lydia. ‘Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. ‘ Examine the qualities of life for women in the light of Aunt Lydia’s statement. Illustrate methods used to protect women. In chapter five, Offred reminisces about her past, about the time before she was thrown into this dystopia, Gilead. She remembers her previous life and all the things that she took for granted and now wishes she could be reunited with.
When out shopping, Offred recounts the changes that have been made to the town where, it seems, she has lived all her life. Often Offred’s memories are started by smells, or by sights that are familiar to her. It is through these memories that the reader discovers what has happened over the past few years, and how society has changed. Offred starts in Chapter One by using the past tense to refer to her situation and for what the gymnasium represented in the past. The past for Offred is now gone, and probably will be forgotten or changed by future generations in time.
We learn about Offred’s background as she recounts her past and she tells us about the situation she now finds herself in. We know that Offred is educated; she studied Psychology, English and Economics to a high level, maybe studying these subjects at a university. In the days of ”anarchy” women were encouraged to study and become educated. Now in the Republic of Gilead, Offred and the other Handmaids are not allowed to read or write. Even the shop signs only have pictures on, it was decided that ”even the names of shops were too much temptation” for them.
This must be very tough on all the women in Gilead, but also extremely difficult for Offred who is not allowed to use the skills she values. She cannot say what she thinks or express her own opinions and say what is going on in her mind. Whoever is in control of this society believes that education, learning and knowledge can be dangerous. Offred tells us that ”There are no lawyers any more, and the university is closed. ” By removing lawyers, doctors and teachers from the previous society, whoever is in charge of Gilead has removed all education and justice.
Offred also remembers the little things that she wishes she could do now. Offred took for granted the control she once had over menial tasks like going into a Laundromat and having her ”own money” to put in the machine. Offred now is only allowed to go shopping when she is told to, and to buy certain items. Money is not used anymore, at least not by the handmaids, when they go shopping they use tickets with pictures on instead of the coins and notes they used in the past. Offred misses the freedom of being allowed to go and do whatever she pleased.
Under the new regime, Offred is forbidden from going on the subway because there is no reason for her to get on a train and go into the main city. ”We would be up to no good and they would know it. ” In the past women were independent, now this is being taken away from them. It is only recently that women have been allowed to vote, own property and work on an equal level to men. It seems that the Republic of Gilead has returned the status of women back to how they were viewed in England during the Victorian Era.
This could be because men felt threatened and redundant as women became more and more successful. Offred once had the choice of what she wore, trainers to go running in or jeans or shorts to relax in. Now clothing is strictly regulated, with each person allocated a particular colour; black for the commander, blue for the commander’s wife, red for handmaids, dull green for the marthas, and red, blue and green striped for econowives. Offred as a handmaid must wear red flat-heeled shoes ”to save the spine and not for dancing”, red gloves, a red ankle length skirt and a long red cloak.
Offred also wears white wings surrounding her face to keep her from seeing and also to stop her being seen. In the past Offred would not have thought about dressing like this, but under this new regime it is expected. In Chapter Five Offred is repelled at what the Japanese tourists are wearing. She shows signs that she has already begun to be brainwashed into thinking that a skirt, which finishes just below your knee, is too ”short”. This shows how bad things have got, there must have been a time when Offred would have worn a skirt like that but now she feels appalled at the sight of it.
Offred also misses the freedom she once had to communicate with men. Offred is not allowed to look at any men. We know that Offred used to be married to a man called Luke and she had a child. She must miss the affection that was given to her by Luke and her daughter and also the contact we take for granted. When Nick winks at Offred she does not know how to react, Nick has taken a risk. Offred then worries that maybe he is an Eye, spying on her to detect whether or not she is behaving appropriately.
The men and women in Gilead are not supposed to talk to each other. Offred must also long for physical affection. She tells us of how in the dark at the Red Center the women would stretch out to ”touch each other’s hands”. Kissing is not allowed, if someone is found to be kissing floodlights go on and a rifle is shot. Even the men are being controlled, they ”have no outlets now except themselves, and that’s a sacrilege. ” Offred must feel that things have been taken too far and must find this difficult to cope with.
Men are now ”doing their job… keeping us safe” but this protection quickly becomes oppression, do women really need protecting to this extent? We are shown how different things have become when Offred tells us how men react to women. Now ”no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles. ” This can be looked at in both a good and a bad way, it is good that women are no longer harassed by men, but nobody in the society can behave in the way they want to, everybody seems to have their freedom taken away from them.
Before Offred was introduced to this dystopia she had “freedom to”, but now she has progressed to “freedom from”. The justification for dispossessing women is that it is for their own good – to rescue them from the objectification of their bodies and the potential for unhappiness in life. These reasons are oppressive because they deny women the right to choose and live their own lives. This protection quickly turns into oppression. It was thought by the oppressors that they were helping these girls, by giving them freedom from; rape, sexual harassment, work, and the troubles of bringing up children.
However by doing so they were taking their ‘freedom to’; work and feed and clothe themselves and make their own decisions. They have also been denied the right to choose who they sleep with, this is apparently to protect women from rape, infertility and disease, but it is really only in place to prevent rebellion and independence. The society has been created to keep women safe from harm. In the past women were not protected from things, but they had a choice to do what they wanted, they had their freedom.
In Gilead, their freedom has been taken away from them, they have lost their right to choose what they do, but now they are protected from harm. Offred feels overprotected by the oppressors ”This is supposed to be for our protection, though the notion is absurd: we are well protected already. ” Atwood’s portrayal of Offred’s memories show the reader how she suffers in this new regime and how she longs for her old way of life; the way we know now. The narrator does not believe this new society to be any better from the past.
Offred seems to want ”freedom to”, however she shows signs that the past was not as good as it was made out to be ”when we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that. ” Maybe Offred understands why these new rules and regulations are now in place as she sees both the good and bad points of the way things used to be, but I think she also questions why things have had to go so far to achieve protection for women, surely women should have the right to choose whether to be protected or not. Offred has taken her freedom and equality for granted, and now suffers for knowing that.