No Excessive Feminist Sentimentality in The Handmaid’s Tale

This is our last response for the Handmaid’s tale. I hate the oppressive, claustrophobic nature of this book, the fear and paranoia it engenders in me; not knowing when and where they are going to strike!, but knowing that they must strike and will!…. when we least expect it. When they do strike it will come as a relief. There! Here it comes!, Let us endure it and be done with it! One way or the other! The anticipation is worse than the event!

I am thinking about the theme of Feminism in The Handmaid’s Tale. Is it time for a confession on my part? ……Whenever I hear the word Feminism mentioned, the room starts to get stuffy and I find myself looking for the door….an escape! Why? I wonder to myself. As a guy you cannot win with Feminism, you are going to be guilty one way or the other. Guilty for something you did or would have done, and even if you did not do anything, you are guilty by association like Luke when Offred told him that she had lost both her job and her money: “ I felt as if somebody cut off my feet” (179) . Luke, complete missing the point said: “Hush…You know I’ll always take care of you” (179).

Guys! Lets face it!. Women are the stronger of the sexes and because they are the stronger they can afford to take the back seat, exercise their power from the wings as it were! We guys are delicate creatures, testosterone-driven, power-seeking, as if in compensation for that which we do not have and cannot do. We make wars for our catharasis because we are unable to create life!

Which bring us to The Handmaid’s Tale and the question: Is The Handmaid’s tale a Feminist novel? I thing not! Why? The reader may ask. Well, for one thing, while reading The Handmaid’s tale, I did not find myself looking for the door! That is answer enough for me but not for the reader, so let me elaborate.

The oppression and suffering in The Handmaid’s Tale is directed mainly at women, but the main oppressors are themselves mostly women: the Commander’s wives, the Aunts and the Marthas show scant compassion for their fellow women, who just happen to be Handmaids. Those women oppressors were The Republic of Gilead version of the Jewish Kapo: they thought first and foremost about their own survival, the commonality of their gender with that of the oppressed meant nothing to them. No false Feminist sentimentality here! We’re out for number one!, plain and simple!. The aim is to survive and the means justify the end… die of old age!.

The Aunts in “The Handmaid’s Tale” are the petty functionaries without whom The republic of Gilead would not have been possible: “Aunt Elizabeth standing by the double doors, arms folded, cattle prod hung on her belt, while Aunt Lydia strides along the rows of kneeling nightgowned women, hitting our backs, or feet or bums or arms lightly..”(194). The use of the word “cattle prod” here is significant. The narrator used the word to emphasize the impersonal industrialization of human reproduction in Gilead. Like chickens in a Chicken Broiler, the individualities, personalities and feelings of the Handmaids were of little to no consequence, beyond that which was needed of them to fulfill their roles as walking wombs.

Of womans inhumanity to woman:The Handmaids were shamelessly indoctrinated by their fellow women, the Aunts, as only women could have known how to manipulate other women: “What we prayed for was emptiness, so we would be worthy to be filled: with grace, with love, with self-denial, semen and babies.”(194). Ignorance was a virtue: “Knowing was a temptation, What you don’t know won’t tempt you” (195) and emotions frowned upon:“Love, said Aunt Lydia with distaste. Don’t let me catch you at it” (220)



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