Reading through parts three to eight of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood religion seems to play an essential role throughout the story. Whether it be the Commander, the men, the handmaid’s or Gilead itself their lives are molded because of religion.
Bibles are locked away and only accessible to the men in the house. “The Bible is kept locked up, the way people once kept tea locked up, so the servants wouldn’t steal it. It’s an incendiary device: who knows what we’d make of it, if we ever got out hands on it? We can be read to from it, by him, but we cannot read.” (87) It is almost as if the women cannot be trusted to interpret the Bible themselves. The typical, men know better and they will be the ones to make decisions kind of thing. How do the women even know if what is being read to them is even real? But they do not have the luxury of reading the Bible for themselves. It is a society dominated by men who now make the decisions for the women. They go so far as even educating them religiously. Definitely not how the world once was in Gilead.
Ironically, the house Offred is sent to the room she is given to stay in has a cushion that has the word Faith written on it. “There’s a hard little cushion on it, with a petit point cover: FAITH, in square print, surrounded by a wreath of lilies.” (57) Why lilies? Lilies symbolize “that the soul of the departed has restored innocence after death.” (teleflora.com) Restored innocence, the irony cannot be overlooked. This women is looked down upon for the role she plays in the society yet this is the cushion in her room. Handmaid’s are not respected by wives. They are meant to wear a certain color for a reason. The red sets them apart from the women that are supposed to be “respected.” All the handmaid’s come to do is gift these women who spit at them and scoff at them as they pass a child. The child that these women cannot carry themselves because of whatever complication. “We put our hands over our hearts to show these stranger women that we feel with them in their loss. Beneath her veil the first one scowls at us. One of the others turns aside, spits on the sidewalk. The Econowives do not like us.” (44) However, is it not odd that of all things, this cushion with the word faith that also has lilies ends up in this handmaid’s room? Given her status in this society how could one possibly overlook that cushion? Handmaid’s are not allowed to read either so why even give a handmaid a single word to read. “It’s the only thing they’ve given me to read. If I were caught doing it, would it count? I didn’t put the cushion here myself.” (57) Does this foreshadow her death in any sort of way? Is this Serena Joy’s way of acknowledging that she hates Offred but understands why she is here therefor cannot judge her to the extreme that most women judge handmaid’s.