Category Archives: Parts I-II

The Handmaids Tale Parts I and II

The novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, is about a woman in the red that according to the blur in the back of the book, her name is Offred. She is in the “family” of a very wealthy man and her purpose is to be able to produce a child. She also is allowed outside for a short period of time and isn’t allowed to gain any knowledge. So everything she knows is from memories she has from when she was a child and was free to do as she pleased. The novel is centered around the idea of an oppressive society towards women in an era after the 21st century.

Some of these women that become pregnant seem to take pride in the fact they are being used for reproductive reasons only. This can be verified with a character named Janine, “Janine looks at me, then, and around the corners of her mouth there is the trace of a smirk. She glances down to where my own belly lies flat under the red robe, and the wings cover her face.” (Atwood, 27). This woman is still portraying the same type attitude of feeling better than others through the fact that she is with child, while before this time she would boast some new phone or clothes. Since, in this time there isn’t anything like that, this character uses her child as a form of prize to show off to other females.

The reason why the book takes place after the 21st century or at least a time after technology and “freedom”, because no one is really free, is through a quote, “Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom. Westernized, they used to call it” (Atwood,28). This shows the setting of the book comes into a society where people are stripped of their “freedom” and “rights” but what they really had was a set of “privileges”, that where taking away by someone or a group of people. In this case, the women are used to bear children and it seems that they are caged in within their own homes and can’t go outside into different cities like it was before.

Something that stands out in the novel is Offred’s comment on Janine’s pregnancy. “Now that she’s the carrier of life, she is closer to death, and needs special security.” (Atwood, 26), this quote seemed weird at first, why would she be closer to death? She should have been taken care of during birth if it is one of the wealthy men that has her in the household. Yet, there is always a reason for everything and in this case, the novel lets the reader know how she is closer to death. Throughout pages thirty-two and thirty-three we begin to understand Offred’s comment as to why Janine is closer to death. The society has banned the practice of medicine and thus increases the mortality rate of the child and/or mother during child birth. This society has moved backwards in knowledge and return to the Old times of society where technology, science and common sense weren’t implemented.

Who is she?

In the novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood starts off describing the environment around a character in first person. This character Offred seems to be in a gymnasium and their seems to be a lot of strange things happening. Like their guards outside packing heat, bearing weapons. The life style of Offred is very strange.

Offred doesn’t have freedom. The environment around Offred seems to be a like a prison. Offred isn’t allowed to leave the around unless she gains permission. The same can said about the heavily arm guards outside who can’t enter the area. We are also introduced two characters as Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth. These two women seem to patrol the inside of the area.  “The guards weren’t allowed inside the building except when called, and we weren’t allowed out, except for our walks, twice daily, two by two around the football field, which was enclosed now by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire” (Atwood 4). Offred explains how the important hierarchy and gender roles are in this society. She doesn’t have the right to leave the area. The Aunts seem to be the enemies inside by the tone Offred describe them. However there is something worse outside the area. If there wasn’t why would guards be needed. Maybe there is something to protect Offred in exchange for her freedom?

Offred seems to be an escort. When I say an escort, I mean like a prostitute. Offred didn’t give this presence at first we learn about her thoughts of seducing the guards outside who couldn’t see her, which is odd. She knows the guards are dangerous but they to be potential pawns to her. “They were objects of fear to us, but of something else as well, If only they would look, If only we could talk to them. Something could be exchanged, we thought, some deal made, some tradeoff, we still had our bodies,” (Atwood 4). This was strange for someone to thing of. She actually of having sex with the guards in exchange for something. Unknown of what her motives are but thoughts of her working as a escort is possible. Then it did became apparent that she is an escort as she describes on what she is going to wear, “The red gloves are lying on the bed. I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by finger. Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color blood, which defines us The skirt is angle-length, full, gathered, to a flat yoke that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are full” (Atwood 8).  She describes her outfit to be provocative. This kind of clothing is meant to attract men who have a sexual interest for her. Offred must live in this life style due to the position she is in. What became of her to live this area working as a escort? However there are times she seems to enjoy it. When she returns from her walk after passing the barricade Offred walks away in a seductive manner. She enjoys  her power to enticing men to make them suffer at night (Atwood 22). Offred show no signs of empathy. She wants to inflict pain. Her personality is dark in a strange way, she doesn’t seem to enjoy being an escort but she like to use her body as weapon to deal long lasting damage to men.

Understanding Offred’s position is she is a slave working or escort working for someone or following the rules of that world’s society. She doesn’t have any freedom and she doesn’t seem to have the right to live normal lives as others in the novel.

Restricted

Upon reading the introduction to The Handmade’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I was a little confused to the situation described but I learned that it is about the protagonist “Offred.” The introduction itself seems to be written from Atwood’s perspective, but the story itself so far looks to be first-person from the un-named handmaid.

I found it really surprising that the society of Gilead changed signs’ text to pictures instead. Although not everyone may understand the language being presented, people may perceive pictures in a different way and mistake things so I’m not sure what was the intent here. I think it could be possibly a law in their society. The laws may include something about color, or it may be a societal norm at the time, since red seems to come up frequently with the handmaids as well as black frequently with the Guardians and the Commanders.

The laws also must restrict the information they get from “the outside world” as well since the main character stated, “I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if its false news, it must mean something. (20) On the same page, she mentions that some of the Guardians are “Eyes Incognito.” This shows that maybe the handmaids aren’t trusted by the authority at the time. The main character states, “It is through a field of such valid objects that I must pick my way, every day and in every way. I put a lot of effort into making such distinctions. I need to make them. I need to be very clear, in my own mind.”(33) I think in current society where most decisions are already made or are restricted for handmaids, she wants to have her own free will and make her own decisions as best as she possibly can. Ofglen, the other handmaid she was paired off with, said nothing to the suspected Eye incognito interpreter at the market. I got the impression that Ofglen may have much more information and experience in the current society than the main character.

The main character repeatedly mentions Luke, who must have been her husband. Up to now in the story, not much is said about her husband besides the him being gone. Could it have possibly been the laws about the handmaids’ that had anything to do with that? The main character reminisces longingly about the freedoms she had before, simple things that were overlooked but everyone longed for in the current state of society. She said, “Such freedom now seems almost weightless” (24). With all the restrictions on her life currently, I would agree.

Red Control

The book The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has got me lost from the beginning. It is like I know what is going on but not exactly. I can honestly say that curiosity has kept me reading this far and actually enjoying it. During my read of parts I and II, I came across a couple points that I found interesting and felt like I wanted to talk more about them.

What is going on and why are these ladies being treated like this? Is this why things are so controlled? “Army cots that had been set up in rows with spaces between so we could not talk.”(4). First of all my question is why. Why can’t these ladies talk among themselves. But besides that point these ladies named, Alma, Janine, Dolores, Moira, June, and our narrator Offred have learned to read lips and whisper to a point where no sound was made. “They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to.”(7). Back to my question, why would these women want to kill themselves? Are things bad enough that they just want an end to it? is that what it is?

Throughout part II I realized that these red handmaids or whatever they are called, they are not looked as if they were doing something good. They dress up in some way that makes me, the reader think that no one must look at them. “The Japanese tourists come towards us, twittering, and we turn our heads away too late: our faces have been seen.”(28) From what I have gathered by reading so far, these women are not to be looked at. They wear all of these clothes so people do not look at them. Once they see these tourists and what they wear and how they show their heads and how one of them had open toed sandals and their toenails are painted pink. These women like Offred and Ofglen have been used to being so covered that they are fascinated by the mere look of how these people are walking around without covering their hair and wearing skirts so short, even though they were just right under the knee. They feel fascinated but yet at the same time they feel repelled. “I also know better than to say yes. Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it, To be seen is to be penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable.”(28) I believe that this is somehow their motto or something of the sort. That is why they wear wings on their faces, to prevent people from seeing them.  “Are they happy? How can they be happy? ” (29) Living in a world like this, where power is only for the men, women cannot do anything that would end up wanting them to move up in this political ladder. These women are controlled and I think and believe that in a way they do not even notice it as they are being preoccupied by other things. They gossip to pass news around and to keep themselves occupied and interested in things.

I want to talk about how doctors or certain doctors had been killed then hung. because in some past they performed abortions. With how things are in this time and the declining of births as one may put it, these doctors were not helping. They were looked for and killed for what they have done. These informants ratted them out, and sometimes those same informants could have been nurses or other doctors just to save their own butts. It wasn’t always like that though.

 

Is her duty to reproduce?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, introduces us the protagonist Offred. Offred is a “handmaid” and her job is to slide those “DMs” to the commander. All jokes aside I find this to be a bit peculiar how these women are trying to get with one guy. This reminds me of the television series, The Real Housewives or the Bachelorette. But in this case, Offred is trying to grab the attention of the commander and try to produce a child with him. Maybe Offred is trying to change the laws from the inside because the laws seems pretty corrupted.

When I first started reading this, I couldn’t believe that her job was to try to conceive a child with someone else’s husband. “If only they would look. If only we could talk to them. Something could be exchanged, we thought, some deal made, some tradeoff, we still had our bodies. That was our fantasies” (Atwood 4). Who are these angels? Are they prison guards? Are these women treated as slaves?

Reading the synopsis got me think about these questions and shocked me because when they said they switched words to pictures on signs, is actually insane. Not only do these women have to fight for the spot next to the commander, they’re also being mistreated by the laws. I continued reading the synopsis and Offred once had a husband and now it is all gone. I am assuming that she lost her husband because of the new laws, and was forced to being a “handmaid.”

We learn that in chapter 4, that guardians cannot do any sexual activity until they become angels. In a way, we get to know where people kind of stand in the new society they are in. Offred is mostly on the bottom, then mistress, guardian, angel, wife, and then the commander. In a way, it is interesting that she has to work her way back up and potentially try to gain back her freedom. This new society they live in now seems like it is ruled under a tyrant because in chapter 6, those who had abortions, were executed. The quote really stuck to me: “This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary” (33). It got me thinking that this is something they’re going to have to get used to and have to “kiss up” to hierarchy. So far the book has gotten me pretty riled up and excited about how Offred will be able to escape the laws. Or will Offred submit to the laws and give in her body.

Red

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

In this story, chapter one in particular, amazes me on how laws and the life of women can change in an instant; from being free to do what one wants to having to say “we weren’t allowed out, except for our walks, twice daily, two by two” [4]. How freedom can be snatched away by other human beings who, like all humans, should know better. To constrained a group of people and lock them up in a gymnasium against their will and the only thing  that they can do in defiance is to “learned to lip-read….watching each other’s mouth. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed”[4].

In Chapter two, I see that the color red is significant. They way the narrator talks about it is intriguing. Because, when she is putting on the red gloves, she “pull them onto my hands, finger by finger” [8]. It is like she is slowly transforming from her true inner self to the color red itself. Red is becoming her fingers. The shoes are red, these are her new toes and so is her dress, which becomes her new body.

It is as if red is her only identity now since in chapter one her name was nothing more than a mere whisper among lip-readers. The color red is louder than a whisper and it doesn’t make a sound. Red makes her seen. The color red defines her. Red is the mark of her status in this new world.

Once she puts on her uniform, she is less than the woman she was outside her uniform. In this uniform she is a machine. She cannot think. She is even more restricted now and have to follow a set of rules. She is not even a person. Her white head veil blocks her sight and keeps her from being seen. As if the only important thing to see is the color red and her body. Her body, because she is a handmaid and her main job is to bear children.

Her red outfit screams that loud and clear. Her red outfit is “the color of blood” [8]. But, blood is the only thing that the handmaids don’t want to see. The leaders of that new world wants the handmaids in red, but if they have their periods and is not pregnant then they are in trouble.  The narrator is no longer an individual. She is no longer her own woman. She is now red. Red is now she. Red is the color of her umbrella.

Red, is also, in her new name Offred. Red is so much of who she is in the beginning of this book. I wonder, will she make the color red her friend and use this color as a way to survive this terrible time in her life. Also, if she lives to see the end of this way of life, would she frame her red outfit and use it as a reminder to herself of how she once lived as a color and how precious life and freedom are. Will red become her favorite color?

a new way of living

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood begins by giving readers a clear image of what the woman is going through and the gender roles that are currently occurring. The narrator, who has not yet been named, describes sleeping in an old high school’s gymnasium that has specific odd smells. As she begins to think about how it was once like to be a high school student, it sounds as though she is missing the joy of being free.

It’s more than obvious that she isn’t here willingly, none of them are. It honestly sounds depressing how although there are only women inside of the gym, they’re not allowed to speak to one another unless if they speak without making any sounds, apart from also needing to sleep far apart, they also are allowed outside when taken out two by two.The gender role starts to show when their “Aunt” Sara and “Aunt” Elizabeth are brung up. I put quotations because maybe these two aren’t their aunts at all. Anyhow, so men can have guns but not women?…. Yet, they are all doing the same jobs. Patrolling the women and making sure that they all behave and follow the rules.

In my opinion, the men guards seem to be the only way that they could all get out, I can’t really explain why at the moment, I just have a feeling. Maybe the women would use their body to make an agreement? or a verbal agreement? The men guards don’t seem to be allowed to look at the women, no matter what. And must always have their back towards them. But, These women seem to be innocent, and they long for the guards to pay attention to them, at least once.

The act of having them there by force is brutal. I found it strange as well, how the women patrols are titled, “Aunt”. Could that be a name they were given so that the girls could feel some sort of comfort in this prison-like environment of theirs? But, on the other hand, prisoners are allowed to speak to one another, so being in that gym must feel far worse than what being in an actual prison is like.

What’s confusing is, it all seems like they’re being punished but, at the same time they’re being well taken care of? Isn’t it typically the opposite when someone is imprisoned? Of course, it is. “We had been set up in rows, with spaces between so we could not talk. We had flannelette sheets like children, and army-issue blankets, old ones that still said U.S” (page 4) They’re being comforted not only by having these, “Aunts” but by having these sort of materials as well. Another thought that came to my mind when the narrator stated that the blankets still said, U.S, on them, was freedom.


In the second chapter the scenery shifts. The narrator has her own room, which is cozy and fitting. Her room does not seem to be fully furnished but she seems to appreciate it anyway. “Think of it as being in the army, said aunt Lydia” (page7) I guess this means to think of her empty room as a privilege and not a prison cell? It would be a strange comparison but, since the narrator is technically in a group now, it makes sense. She follows rules and has to dress in all red, always.

Describing a bleak society

Author Margaret Atwood uses much of Parts I and II describing how the society of Gilead works, and the protagonist’s role in it.

The novel is written in first-person narration, through the perspective of a yet-to-be-named Handmaid.  Margaret Atwood uses the first few chapters to paint a bleak description of the society. The novel first describes a sleeping area with other women, “in the army cots that have been set up in rows, with spaces between so we could not talk” (4). These women are not able to talk, or not allowed to; instead they have “learned to lipread, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each others mouths. In this way, we exchanged names…” (4). Immediately in the first chapter, Atwood establishes that these women are in poor living conditions. It is also revealed  that these women are kept under guard: “Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts. No guns though, even they could not be trusted with guns. Guns were for the guards, specially picked from the Angels” (4). This reveals that these women were kept in a prison-like environment.

Later, the protagonist overhears two women, Rita and Cora, gossiping about her behind her back. Rita says that “she wouldn’t debase herself like that” (10), and she would rather “go to the Colonies […] with the Unwomen” (10). This conversation shows that other people in this society don’t have a high view of the protagonist’s role as Handmaid, and find it degrading. Upon the protagonist’s meeting of the Commander’s Wife, she finds that the Wife has little respect for her. The Wife says to her: “I want to see as little of you as possible […] This is like a business transaction. If I get trouble, I’ll give trouble back. You understand?” (15). This shows that the protagonist is very low on the social hierarchy in this society.

In Chapter 4, the protagonist has a short conversation with another Handmaid named Ofglen, and the way they speak is very telling. First, they exchange strange greetings: ” ‘Blessed be the fruit,’ she says to me, the accepted greeting among us. ‘May the Lord open,’ I answer, the accepted response” (19). They exchange small talk about “a war going well” (19) against “Baptists. They had a stronghold in the Blue Hills” (20). Now it is revealed that the society they are in is in a war with a religious group, implying a war of ideology. The most telling thing about the conversation is when the protagonist thinks to herself: “I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if its false news, it must mean something” (20). This shows that the society they are in does not have freedom of information, and the information that is available may be false, implying censorship or propaganda. In the next chapters, there are many hints showing that the society has regressed from days past, like how “doctors lived here once, lawyers, university professors. There are no lawyers anymore, and the university is closed” (23). Overall, these first two parts of the novel show a society that has changed for the worse compared to the past, and women of society have very few rights.

Gender Roles in a New Government

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a story of an overthrown government by a theocratic regime and the people’s rebellion to reform the government. One interesting aspect we see during current rule of the government is the way the gender roles gave become. Due to the USA now being a rigid Christian nation that follows a rigid Christian principles. There is now a disempowerment of woman and we see early on how they chose to fight back and try to regain their liberties.

We see early on how the woman are oppressed the two aunts Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth aren’t allowed to have guns but the guards that are outside are they are given special privileges like being outside while the two aunts are only allowed outside for two walks outside. Offred is trying to make some contact with the guards using her body. Offred understands that she still has her body and she can use that to make the guards respond. Another issue with the gender roles of the woman is that the woman can’t agree on a how they should behave. We see how Rita and Offred are both victims of the Christian anti-woman government but their internal divisions will keep them away from working together and threaten the government.

We also Serena Joy the wife of the leader seems to be hypocrite with her beliefs. On one hand she supports her husband in the belief that Handmaid and Wife should be separate but at the same time disobeying her husband and rebelling by smoking a cigarette. Another example of Offred using her body is when she passes a barricade and walks in a seductive manner in hoping that she’s aroused the men so much that they’ll suffer at night.

Now even though the world is not perfect Offred believes that there were some improvements made to woman like constant precautions she had to take with men, but at the same time she had the option of choose her own clothes and spend money. The name of the grocery store has an interesting meaning of “Milk and Honey” the biblical name could mean that women aren’t allowed to read the bible and this shows Gilead’s two most prime interesting  oppressing woman and making a Christian society.

We see how successful Gilead is in tricking people mind Offred has a moment where she actually thinks used to dress like the women she now finds repulsive. Gilead is able to change people mind and have them start thinking like he believes the new country should be.

We currently see how Gilead is successful into making woman believe there rights should be decreased. We start seeing how even the woman who are against these laws being set against them they also start believing these laws are just and that they are against people who don’t dress like them

Life in a Cage

In Margret Atwoods The Handmaids’s Tale we are thrown into a world where the lives of people, women specifically has degraded quite significantly compared to how things once were. Life throughout feels as if the handmaids that are living in the novel are living their lives in a cage without any choice in their lives. Even though we learn of what the roles of the handmaids are which is to be a surrogate mother. Though despite being a surrogate mother, their lives are pretty much restricted to the house which they live in where the handmaids are rarely allowed outside and live as a tool instead of a person.

Reading through The Handmaid’s Tale it feels as if the hand maids are living in a prison more . In chapter 1 of the novel the narrator talks about their current living conditions where “Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts”(4). The women here are living as prisoners as if they were locked behind a prison for inmates. There are also the so called “Guards” that watch like the guards of a prison that watch for anyone that attempts to escape. Only let out when they are allowed to go out, living in a giant cage which is the gymnasium which they are currently living in. They live on a routine which is very similar to what inmates live on a daily basis. Wake up, get your meal, exercise, etc. Like a bird that is locked behind a cage that is only allowed out when the owner of the bird lets the bird out. Their only way out is walled off with barbed fences and guards to keep them from leaving.

When Offred first arrives to the new home which she is brought to the first thing the wife Serena the wife of the Commander blocks her way into the house and looks down on her as soon as she arrives. Like the guards of a prison that are trying to show the inmates who is in charge Serena is doing the same with Offred in the line “So, your’e the new one she said. She didn’t step aside to let me in, she just stood there in the doorway, blocking the entrance” (13). their interaction in the sitting room is just like a cigarette when you first use it. A brief introduction and when they were done they avoided each other as much as possible.

The only places that they can go are limited at best like a animal locked in a zoo. They can only go to places where they are allowed to go. In the first chapter the only time the women could go out was when they were allowed to go out and walk around the football field only. The only things that they can do are dictated by others without any choices being made by the handmaids. They are used literally as a tool for the sole use of reproduction because the others are unable to.