Category Archives: Parts I-II

Blessed Be The Fruit

Here we go! The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a reading I think we all discreetly dreaded beginning being that the text is more rigid; rich with vocabulary. I can now say that it’s actually quite a page-turner, as I find myself more and more drawn to this backwards and unjust society, or the Republic of Gilead as Atwood names it. These women; Handmaids, are literally objects; vessels kept around for the sole purpose of procreation. In Atwood’s world, time seems to have undone the work generations of women have fought for; rights that truly belong to any human at birth and for the duration of their lives. The right to think freely, act freely and simply BE seems to have vanished from any woman with the ability to reproduce. Atwood paints a vivid picture of a very possible future with this record from Offred’s point of view written during a time of political and religious turmoil.

A Handmaid, at a glance:

There is no question how little this society wants to see of any woman. Within the first chapter, I instantly compared Offred’s routine details to that of a prisoner. They were being controlled by the very own law; exploited for their reproductive capabilities, prohibited from free will and any kind of self-expressive lifestyle. The very clothing they wore was a blood-red, highly distinguishable uniform.”Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us. The skirt is ankle length…the white wings too are prescribed issue; they are to keep us from seeing, but also from being seen”, (Atwood 8). Through Offred’s thoughts, we can feel the hands of a suppressive government that held tight restraints on every aspect of her. Her mind is possibly all that she has left, as well as memories of her former lifestyle where short skirts, makeup and loose hair was a norm; some of the many liberties of a free woman. These women were repurposed as baby-making machines; no longer human, no longer allowed to act like one. The encounter with Offred and the Guardians on page 22 shows the true constrictions on their livelihood and natural human instincts. With just seconds of eye contact that was barely allowed, Offred internally rages with sexual temptation since she is restricted from expressing such feelings.

“Of-fred”? “Of-glen”?

These names themselves suggest that Handmaids are literal property, belonging perhaps to the man for which they will reproduce, or someone deeper we have yet to discover. As we conclude chapter one, we learn that these women exchange names inaudibly by watching each others mouth movement: “Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June”, (Atwood 4). This chapter seems to be a flashback to the origin of Handmaids before they are Handmaids, as they still have their own names; not attached to a “Fred” or a “Glen”. This reminded me of marriage; the way married women are often renamed “Mrs. (Husband’s Name Here), as if a woman is the physical property of a man once a paper is signed. I was also reminded of how poor the circumstances of marriage were surrounding the times before women received many of our rights; a time around the creation of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin. Women were seen almost equivalent to purchased land, as they were tied to their owners, (husbands), by a signature on a marriage certificate. Women during this time were manipulated and controlled; often birthing several children while mainly staying home, as jobs that hired women were scarce.

Wives VS Handmaids

As for the women who cannot reproduce in these times, the Wives lead task-less, easy going lives as they are lacking of the vital ability to have their own babies. The fact that a Handmaid goes through 9 months with child means nothing to the Wives, as the situation is described as a “business transaction”, (Atwood 15). The Handmaids and Wives are furthest from friends and they seem to envy one another’s lifestyles: The Wives envy the Handmaid’s for being capable of breeding and the Handmaid’s envy the Wives for their effortless routines. Besides the endless knitting the Wives seem to be accountable for, there was basically nothing else. “It’s good to have small goals that can easily be attained”, (Atwood 13). I would assume the Wives are also jealous due to the sense of purposelessness they must feel in a society where Handmaids are held with priority.

This is a photo from the critically acclaimed Hulu series based from the novel. “Your body is no longer your own.”



Offred, the non-person

In the Handmaid’s Tale we thrown into the debilitating and ever present fear of a totalitarian patriarchal regime that is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. A reality where one is afraid to even think let alone hope. Women are divided, classified and color coded by their clothing; blue for high status wives (of regime officials), red for handmaids (surrogate mother), green for domestic help (Marthas), and striped clothing simple women without social status. Women who are destined to be handmaids, are mere chattel, to be used and thereafter discarded when no longer fertile.

In sections I and II, the main character, protagonist and narrator Offred (“of fred” or belonging to Fred), is evaluating her new role as a (traditional) surrogate mother, in a post-revolutionary period when a Christian fundamentalist movement has taken control of the U.S.A. Fertility rates have plummeted due to sterility from pollution.  Offred has reluctantly agreed to be the biological mother of a baby that will be fathered by the “Commander” (and master of the house in which she now lives), and adopted by him and his aging wife Serena Joy (a former televangelist). Offred accepts her role as a surrogate mother as the lesser of two evils, the alternative being very much less palatable: banishment to work in servitude in an agricultural or polluted area. When first introduced to the Serena Joy, Offred is reminded of her true value: “This is your second [attempt at surrogacy] , isn’t it?” (Atwood 15), Offred is asked by the Commander’s wife at their first meeting “Third ma’am I [Offred] said…..Not good for you either, she [Commander’s wife] said” The aging Offred’s worth in this heartless society is already quickly trickling away at the very opening of the novel.


Initially, Offred has definite hopes for/expectations for emotional fulfillment in her new role. Offred has hopes for a sisterly relationship with the Commander’s wife in her new role: “I wanted, then, to turn her into an older sister, a motherly figure, someone who would understand and protect me.” (Atwood 16)”. However the Commander’s wife has no such intention: she resents the imposition of Offred in her life and views Offred as a threat: “I want to see as little of you as possible, she said. I expect you feel the same way about me…….As far as I am concerned this is a business transaction. But if I get trouble, I’ll give trouble back. You understand? ” (Atwood 15). “ As for my husband she said, he’s just that. My husband. I want that to be perfectly clear. Till death do us part. It’s final.” (Atwood 16). Offred can expect no empathy from the Commander’s wife

Offred hopes that the sexual component of her new role will be emotionally fulfilling. When, at the very beginning of the book, Offred was housed in the gymnasium with the other handmaids (surrogate mothers), we read: ”There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectations, of something without a shape or name.  I remember that yearning, for something that was always about to happen and was never the same as the hands that were on us there and then in the small of the back or out back, in the parking lot….…” (Atwood 3).  Offred hopes that the sexual contact with the Commander will not be a mindless and disappointing activity like sex in the parking lot in times past; an activity to achieve mere release of physiological tension, and no more. Offred wants the act of procreation to be meaningful, if it’s intention is to create new life. This is not to be: “My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for” (Atwood 94). The procedure or “ceremony”is stripped of any and all emotion. Even passion is removed. It is as if Offred is not really there, though her body is. Offred as a person is not acknowledged in any way.