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Women Under Absolute Patriarchy and Oppression in “Handmaid’s Tale”



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    Margaret Atwood’s novel is a fiction that depicts the power of women in resisting oppression and domination in an extremely patriarchal society. Despite the odds against women, they show resilience and will to end the Christian theocracy that has commoditized women. The handmaid’s tale is the life journey of handmaid called Offred. The story takes place in the Republic of Gilead, which is under military dictatorship after the overthrow of the United States government by revolutionary Christian fundamentalists. Offred was once happily married to her husband Luke with whom they had a child together. In an attempt to escape the new rogue regime, Offred and he husband tries to escape to Canada. However, this does not go as planned as they are captured, and the family is separated. She is taken to a government-run facility which trains women to be handmaids. The indoctrination seeks to make women compliant to the views that women are only supposed to give birth (Atwood, 2009).

    Offred is then allocated to two different households where she is expected to give birth by having ceremonial sex with the man of the house. In her third assignment, which is the focus of his present story, she is in the house of a military commander in the government called Fred. Margaret Atwood’s novel is a fiction that depicts the power of women in resisting oppression and domination in an extremely patriarchal society. Despite the odds against women, they show resilience and will to end the Christian theocracy that has commoditized women.

    Women who are chosen to be handmaids are those that are healthy, and they are supposed to give children to the members of the government, some of whom the wives are unable to give birth. Offred has pre-arranged ritual rape by the commander at which the wife is present. In the environment of slavery that she is held, she is not granted by freedom by the commander’s wife, Serena Joy. Her movements are limited, and she only goes shopping while accompanied by other handmaids. Her friend who is antagonistic to the new order is called Moira. Moira is brought to the detention center from where she tries to escape twice. In her third attempt, Moira succeeds, and she ends up working in a brothel run by the government called jezebels. She is one of the resistant women placed to work in brothels to satisfy the sexual demands of the ruling class.

    As Offred is unable to get pregnant with the commander, Serena joy proposes that Offred sleeps with Nick to get a child. The doctor who has been examining her also makes sexual advantages to her, which she refuses. Offred ends up having an affair with both the commander and Nick. At the conclusion of the novel, Offred is afraid that she may be pregnant, and Serena Joy is mad at her for having an illicit affair with the commander outside the rape rituals. She is kept in a room and is finally whisked away by the secret police. Offred does not know her fate, whether she has been liberated by the mayday members or she is being taken to the prison by the Gilead government police.

    The handmaid’s tale is an exposition of the subjugation and oppression of women and how they resist the male domination. It explores how excessive patriarchy can deprive women their rights and expose them to abuse. The tale of Offred explores several themes. There is the theme of love, family, home and the subjugation of women. The most outstanding theme is the status of women in society. The manner in which the women in the novel are treated is a clear case of indoctrination, objectification, suppression, and segregation of women to the advantage of men. Despite the subjugation, the novel also portrays the strength of women who are resisting the societal subjugation. The first evidence of oppression is the physical separation of women from family and the rest of the society. They are placed in camps away from their families. Offred does not know where her child or husband Luke is. She is kidnapped and placed in a camp where she cannot escape. This is meant to break her spirit and ensure that she accepts her new status of a handmaid. Offred friend Moira is also physically segregated when she is brought into the camp, but she escapes. While men are moving freely, women are put in camps with no rights. Women are denied their rights in addition to the commodification of their bodies.

    Apart from separation, women are also physically segregated. The male-dominated government uses color to classify each worker depending on their assigned roles and status in the society. They are ranked from the higher to the lowest by the clothing colors. Women of higher status are dressed in blues, like the commander’s wife, Serena Joy. For maids whose work is to provide children, they are dressed in red. Those who are cooks and maids are dressed in green (Marthas) while econowives are assigned stripped clothing. The white color is reserved for young girls who are yet to be married. From this nature of physical segregation, women are seen as men’s properties. They do not have any human rights and are treated as slaves (Jonsson, 2018).

    Women also do not have freedom of movement. They are restricted to stay in the camps and do the assigned duties. The supervisor at the camp where Offred is called Lydia is strict and does not allow much interaction between the women. They are under surveillance all day, and the camp conditions are brutal. Those who try escaping are brutally beaten and taken back to the camp. The oppression of women is also seen in their indoctrination. Women are not allowed to advance intellectual and are placed in conditions that make them more compliant to the backward doctrines by the government.

    Women are forced to believe that their bodies are like a commodity. They are objectified such that their importance in society is only recognized when they are fertile. Women who are captured are tested to confirm their fertility, after which they are placed as handmaids to produce children. Women are used as birth robots and are expected to advance the lineage of the ruling class. The name “Offred” is not the narrator’s actual name, but means that she belongs to Fred who is the commander. This is an indication that women are considered men’s properties that cannot have their own names. They are treated as slaves who must have the names of their masters for their recognition (Himberg, 2018, pp. 195-197). They are not allowed to have their own names and therefore have no separate existence from the commander.

    Oppression and subjugation are also seen in the extent of sexual abuse and rape that Offred goes through. She has to put up with the ritual of having sex with the commander in the presence of Serena Joy. She has taken long to get pregnant and is worried that her life might come to an end of she does not get pregnant soon enough. This exposes the fear that women live with when they are unable to achieve the expectations of the government. They have no choice in most instances when men request for sex. Despite being resistant, Moira also experiences sexual abuse. She works in a brothel which is a government-run facility for the high ranking officials to satisfy their sexual urges. While the women working in the brothel are allowed to drink, they are expected to offer sex to government officials when they make a request. These instances show the level to which women have no rights in the Gilead government. Women are reduced to be properties of men who do as they wish. They do not have a choice but to comply with the demands of men.

    Despite the harsh living conditions to which women are placed, several women are daring and ready to challenge the domination and oppression by men. One of these women is Moira. Moira is seen as a brave woman who is actively resisting the anti-women policies by the Gilead government (Atwood, 2009). When she is brought in the indoctrination camp, she is brave enough to attempt to escape. She tries to escape twice, and despite the mistreatments, she finally escapes the oppression and finds work in the brothel. According to Moira, work in the brothel is freer. Moira is a symbol of feminist resistance to the oppression and domination of women. She is a lesbian and has gone against the laws of Gilead that does not allow women to commit sexual treachery by having sexual relations with other women. She together with Offred’s mother in law represents the hopes that women have in the face of a male-dominated society (Himberg, 2018, pp. 195-197).

    Ofglen is a handmaid who is resisting the mistreatment and oppression of women. While she is compliant to the roles in the indoctrination camp, she is secretly a member of the mayday movement. The mayday movement is an underground movement opposed to the new order imposed by the revolutionaries. She is also daring. Her bravery is shown when she participated in knocking out a man accused of raping a woman.

    The novel is an exposition of the status of women in the society and has several connections to the contemporary world. In some societies, women are still considered properties of men. Women still take men’s names which is similar to the naming practice adopted by the Gilead government. Overall, the handmaid’s tale is a show on the bravery of women who are ready to fight oppression by men.

    Women Under Absolute Patriarchy and Oppression in “Handmaid’s Tale”. (2021, Aug 27). Retrieved from

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