The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood is unwinding and revealing the uglier side of a Handmaid’s life, exclusively through Offred’s thoughts and heartbreaking memories.
I think the saddest part I read from this week’s assigned parts was reading of how Offred stole a small portion of butter from her bland meal and moisturized her face with the melted remnants. She saved this small piece of butter in her shoe, smuggling it under the eyes she constantly feels and knows are watching her. This act symbolized the hopeful fire still burning within her; fueling her with small amounts of optimism that she would see the day she’d be thankful she kept her skin oiled and replenished. “As long as we do this, butter our skin to keep it soft, we can believe that we will some day get out…be touched again, in love or desire”, (Atwood 97). We also see “hope” in other forms; the hope and anticipation for a Handmaid to bear the Wive’s and Commander’s children and be “fruitful”; Offred’s hopes that her daughter is still breathing; the hope living within every Handmaid to never see red coming from their bodies, as this symbolizes failure. The color Red takes on a darker definition in this way as it alludes to a miscarriage of the fetus; a horrific result for any Handmaid.
“Cleansing” and Betrayal
Offered’s flashbacks of Aunt Lydia and her discrete encounters with Moira occur at the “Red Center” where the Handmaid’s are figuratively put into washing machines; reeducated and conditioned through religious views that prepare and resize them before taking on their new, vital roles in the Gilead society. These women are not only plucked of their old ways and forced into the constrictions that from now on would be permanently placed on them, but they are also programmed into being against their former lifestyles. Through these extremely religious teachings, they are instructed to repent, or “testify” regarding previous traumatic experiences like rape; taught to believe that women are the cause of men who rape. “Her fault, her fault, her fault”, the Handmaid’s chant as Janine recounts her past gang rape experience on page 73. This scene was sickening to read, as they were basically practicing “slut-shaming” and instilling within each other that being a women alone is cause for being raped. (“Slut-shaming” is a contemporary term that is defined in the Oxford Living Dictionary as: The action or fact of stigmatizing a woman for engaging in behaviour judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative). Eventually these women succumb to the taunting shame and assimilate in believing that they deserved to be rape victims, as a way to relieve them of the brutal punishments for any women not willing to conform.
Reading through the slow paced scene of the ceremony left my mouth agape as I couldn’t believe how they carried out the act of impregnating the Handmaids. Offred recounts almost every aspect of the scene as she acknowledges random details like the rug, the brass box near the Commander’s chair, the distinct aroma of tobacco that drifts into the “sitting room” along with the Wife, who Offred always refers to by Serena Joy; solely in her thoughts of course. I believe this is Offred’s way of preparing for the act that was to follow; the pleasureless act of fornication, (barely), between Offred and the Commander. While this act was absent of intimacy completely, it also wasn’t rape: “Nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for…This is what I chose”, (Atwood 94). The Wife fulfills yet another purposeless position as she sits opposite the Commander near Offred’s head, grasping her hands. This was “serious business”; no feelings or personal attachments. Procreation is now a large business and the Handmaid’s were the workers; volunteered unwillingly and exploited for what they were able to do with their bodies. Treated exactly like “containers”, the value they held only existed inside them; specifically in their wombs.
Below is a better explanation of the term “slut-shaming” for those who were unfamiliar with the context of it:
“Some examples of circumstances wherein women are slut-shamed include violating dress code policies by dressing in perceived sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control,having premarital, casual, or promiscuous sex, engaging in prostitution,or when being victim blamed for being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.”
Wikipedia contributors. “Slut-shaming.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Nov. 2017. Web. 7 Nov. 2017.