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Conflict

Patriarchy

• Defined as the structuring of society where a male figure has


authority and responsibility over an organisation or institution.
• Patriarchy exists in almost all cultures, and the female form,
matriarchy, is said to only exist as a hypothetical social
system, as it is not evident in any societies.
• The Republic of Gilead is formed on the basis of patriarchy.
• Women are not allowed to work in any professions, have no
access to their money, and are denied of all rights. They carry
out domestic roles, according to certain factors:
1. Wives: Top social level available to women. Married to
the higher-ranking men, have no domestic
responsibilities.
2. Daughters: Natural or adopted daughters of the wives
and commanders. Will later become wives, due to social
standing.
3. Handmaids: Fertile women, whose social duty is to bear
children for the wives. Handmaids are produced by ‘re-
educating’ (brainwashing) fertile women who have
committed a ‘gender crime’.
4. Aunts: Older women, who train handmaids. Carry out
the dirty work for the men of Gilead, in order to avoid
being sent to the colonies.
5. Marthas: Older, infertile women, whose relatively
compliant nature and domestic skills ensures them a life
of domestic servitude.
6. Econowives: Married to lower ranking men. Expected to
perform all female functions such as domestic work,
child bearing and companionship.
• Whilst the women of Gilead carry out domestic service and
child bearing. The men hold roles of authority and overrule the
women in every aspect of life. The men of Gilead are
categorised into the following:
1. Commanders of the Faithful: Ruling class. Entitled to a
patriarchal household, consisting of a Wife, Martha and
Handmaid.
2. The Eyes: Internal intelligence agency. Uses thought
control and control through fear to maintain order.
3. Angels: Soldiers who fight to protect and expand the
Republic’s borders.
4. Guardians of the Faithful : Used for menial functions.
Disabled, old or young men, can later become Angels.
• Patriarchy is defined in many societies by a woman taking her
husband’s surname at marriage, the extreme patriarchy in
The Handmaid’s Tale is evident in the fact that the handmaids
are named in accordance to the commander that they are
assigned to.
• All major responsibility is given to the males, with females
unable to possess weapons, and hold any kind of important
authority.
“No guns though, even they could not be trusted with guns.”
“When there’s meat they cut it up for me ahead of time, as if
I’m lacking manual skills or teeth. I have both, however. That’s
why I’m not allowed a knife.”
• Women are legally classified as the property of men.
Handmaids belong to their commanders, as do Marthas.
• Removal of women’s individual names removes their
individuality and personality.

‘Lost’ Child

• Offred and Luke’s only child, taken away at age five.


• Offred’s affair with Luke, a so called ‘gender crime’ is the
eventual catalyst for her assignment to handmaid status.
Luke, Offred and the child attempt to flee to Canada, but
are caught and separated.
• The child’s fate is unknown for the majority of the novel,
however we later learn that Serena Joy has always known
of the child’s whereabouts and later shows Offred a picture
of her daughter.
• The photo shows Offred’s daughter holding the hand of a
Commander’s wife, and wearing the white dress of a
daughter.
“So tall and changed. Smiling a little now, so soon, and in
her white dress as if for an olden days First Communion.”
• The white dress, worn until marriage at 14, symbolises
purity and innocence, and the change of ‘uniform’ at age
14, depicts the transition from being a daughter to a wife.

Control Through Fear

• The Republic of Gilead controls its inhabitants through


means of fear, and thought control, having manipulated
the citizens to live in fear of what may happen to them, if
they commit any crimes.
• The Wall works to instil fear in those who view it as it
physical proof of the consequences of ‘resisting the
system’ and challenging the norms in the Republic of
Gilead.
“We’re supposed to look: that is what they are there for ,
hanging on the Wall.”
• The Eyes are the internal intelligence agency in Gilead and
work to maintain law and order through the use of fear.
• The members of the agency are unknown to ordinary
citizens. Offred believes Nick to be an Eye, due to his
winking at her, which she deems to be a test of her loyalty
to the Republic.
“Then he winks.. He’s taken a risk, but for what?.. Perhaps
it was a test, to see what I would do. Perhaps he is an Eye.”
• The fear of the unknown is also used to manipulate the
citizens, mainly the women, into staying loyal to the
Republic. Infertility and various ‘gender crimes’ such as
extra-marital affairs can lead to women, especially
handmaids, as being dubbed ‘unwomen’ and sent to the
colonies.
• The colonies enforces a sense of imposing fear on
handmaids as well as homosexuals, feminists and political
dissidents from the time before, who resist the new
republic. Although no solid facts exist about life inside the
colonies, it is evident that unwomen are unable of social
integration and are rejected from society, and forced to die
a slow death in areas of high pollution, such as former
radiation sites.

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