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Name: Zheng Jiayin Index number: 10 Class: 5E

The Handmaids Tale---Rules, Routines and Values of Gilead Through the novel The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood engages in a speculation on what might happen if certain casually held attitudes and common pronouncements about women, in both the past and present, are taken to their logical conclusions (Atwood), when the emergence of societal problems results in the military enforcement of fundamentalist religious ideology as a possible solution. Through the rules, routines and values of the theocratic Republic of Gilead, Atwood explores the novels central issues of power, subjugation of women and the place of an individual in society. Also, by showing the terms of existence enforced by the totalitarian state, she establishes the novels dystopian setting with a clear feminist focus.

Gilead is governed according to strict Old Testament-based Christianity, with its citizens segregated into castes with distinct social functions according to their gender and abilities, in response to the endangerment of the (Caucasian) human race due to fertility problems. Almost all individuals are regulated by sumptuary dress laws, and the colour of their uniforms reflects the nature of their social roles. The structured and rigid Gilead system is reflected in the Late Victorian structure of the Commanders house, which represents imposing, authoritarian control, as well as Offreds symbolic walk along the states designated path for her (It shows me the way) in the Chapter Two extract. This shows that the individuals actions are dictated by the state and no one is supposed to stray from his or her path. Other religions, as well as acts of abortions and homosexuality (gender treachery [page 53]) are strictly forbidden, and those who fail to conform to such rules are quickly executed by the state in Salvagings, or shipped to areas of the former United States known as Colonies, which have fatally high levels of radiation. Most women are also denied access to

words and the Bible. This restriction of access to knowledge is significant as it clearly manifests the oppression of women by the patriarchal state as it exerts control over their thoughts, thus reducing them to mere tools to carry out their social functions.

The rules and regulations of the Republic of Gilead prescribe a pattern of life based on frugality, conformity, censorship, corruption, fear, and terror in short, the usual terms of existence enforced by totalitarian states. Here, Atwood establishes the dystopian setting in the novel, and uses it to convey her disapproval of the hierarchal dictatorship of the American Puritans, of which the society in The Handmaids Tale is based on. The clear feminist focus of the dystopian novel is shown through Atwoods concern about gender stratification in the male-centred Republic of Gilead.

The lives of citizens in Gilead revolve around certain fixed routines. This is reflected in the measurement of time using bells in the Chapter Two extract, which determines the activities of the Handmaids. Most of the routines in Gilead revolve around the theme of fertility --- Handmaids shopping for food prescribed by authorities for nourishment, Handmaids going for regular medical checkups. The most significant of these routines is The Ceremony, a sanctioned sexual act for the purpose of reproduction with two women present, which re-enacts literally the biblical passage where Jacobs infertile wife Rachel says to him, Behold my maid Billah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. (Genesis 29:31-35; 30:1-24) The significance of these routines is to manifest Gileads power over its citizens through control of food and sexuality (motif of fulfillment). By controlling what the Handmaids eat, the Gilead regime gains direct control over their bodies, which the society is dependent on. The ritualizing of sexual intercourse with the endorsement of the Bible also reduces sexual activity to a matter of duty rather than the manifestation of romance, passion or desire, thus stripping the citizens

of personal fulfillment and replacing it with fulfillment of their social roles. Atwood is also highlighting the irony of a state that in theory claims to be founded on Christian principles, yet in practice lacks spirituality and benevolence. The Gileadian elite attributes the failure of the society in the former times to the easy availability of women to men, which led to violence and abuse. Gileads solution is to limit mens access to women, hence protecting females. Handmaids are also taught that modesty is invisibility (page 38) so as not to encourage mens natural (page 249) sexual pleasures. This is seen in the uniform of the Handmaids, including the white wings (chapter two extract) framing their faces, which exposes little skin. This denotes the protection of the sexual integrity of Handmaids, and at the same time perpetuates their isolation from society.

These rules, routines and values of Gilead have stripped individuals of their personal freedom. The lack of privacy and absence of personal space are shown in the Chapter Two extract. Offred refuses to acknowledge the room provided for her as truly hers, and the door of this room can never be shut properly, suggesting constant monitoring of Handmaids and potential danger. When Offred goes down the stairs of the Commanders house, she sees a pierglass, like the eye of a fish, which parallels the surveillance by the Eyes, giving a perpetual feeling of being spied upon in both private and public spaces. In the Republic of Gilead, everyone is defined by his or her function in society, hence the sacrifice of individual freedom and identity in the rigid enforcement of social roles. The names (e.g. Ofglen) given to the Handmaids serve to highlight their lack of personal identity and subjection to the power of people belonging to higher ranks in society, as well as to reinforce the notion of them being only an object, a property of the state. The Handmaids lack of individuality is emphasised by Offreds description of Ofglen:

She is A shape, red with white wings around her face, a shape like mine, a nondescript woman in red carrying a basket (page 28). In other words, the individual has become only a supporting structure of society, with his worth determined by his social function.

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