The Story of a Century

Now that we’ve officially finished the remarkable novel of Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is a piece I will hold close as a personal favorite. I feel that Atwood’s message is pertinent to the way a woman’s role is viewed in our society. For centuries, women have been censored and silenced; restricted of basic rights we’ve always deserved as they are human rights. The Gilead society mimics a time that actually once existed, aside from women being forced to reproduce for other people; it resembles a time where women had no rights to there own actions, body and mind.

A Handmaid is an exploited tool that is vital to the succession of Gilead. These women are reduced to their reproductive systems, hidden under red cloaks and stripped of their identities, as they are “soothing to the Eyes” in this way, (Atwood 212). Offred is a mere object in the eyes of Serena Joy, and this becomes most evident when she insists on Nick being the one to impregnate her, as the Commander is likely sterile. I find it funny how the word “sterile” seemed to be forbidden and not of use in this society, yet Serena promptly knew that this was the issue at hand. Serena Joy is basically demanding Offred to let herself be raped by Nick, in efforts to get her baby one way or another. She even metaphorically dangles a photo of Offred’s daughter in front of her as a bargaining or offering in exchange for letting a different man attempt to get her pregnant. Reading this scene painted an awful and vile picture of Serena, who seems to have absolutely no remorse for her actions. “Your time is running out”, Serena calmly threatens on 204, blackmailing Offred to do as she desires or be sent off to the Colonies. Offred giving in to this “deal” or agreement is also the result of her fixation on the fact that her daughter was alive and well, somewhere in this messed up aftermath.

Handmaids are truly of no value but at the same time have the highest value in Gilead, as they are held with priority when involving the child within them but frowned upon and treated like prisoners when they are not with child. Ofglen being replaced immediately following her suicide, (or so Offred was told), is yet another example of the value of a Handmaid: disposable, easily replaceable. “If your dog dies, get another”, (Atwood 187). Procreation is truly a business in this way, leaving Handmaids at the wrong end of the deal and at the bottom of this caste system Gilead has imposed on everyone. On 211, the Commander says the saddest thing regarding Offred’s placement in this system and the Gileadean rule over women with viable ovaries. “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs…better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.” In order to fulfill the Gileadean rule, some have to suffer while the others merely neglect. This gave me a flashback of the short story of Omelas: a society where all people benefitted from the neglect and suffering of one child, who represented a group of minorities and those neglected in todays society. The Gilead society is righteous and religious but aware that what they are doing to these Handmaids is disgusting and utterly unjust; it is rape and exploitation of women with fertile reproductive systems.

Storytelling becomes more apparent in these final parts, and Offred’s attempts at hoarding her sanity and remembering her experience as it was is for the purpose of retelling her story; keeping a physical record of all she endured. The tapes discussed in the Historical Notes are Offred’s words and soul; her reconstruction and recount of it all. These tapes were now artifacts of the Gileadean era serving as a basis for the Professor and other historians analyzing a now ancient society. Through Offred’s eyes, just like us readers, the historians of this post-Gilead era are given a detailed story and experience of one Handmaid among the thousands that once were. Atwood provides this sort of peek into the future to show the end of such a terrible era, as a new one takes place and observes what was once Gilead: a culture of rape using the Bible as its justification. And even after being given a first hand account of the horror that Handmaids endured, these historians and Professors show very little sympathy or feeling for Offred’s encounters, as she is simply one story among the many Handmaids that existed. Our vision of Offred is suspended in the air, as we are given proof of her escape from Gilead but her whereabouts following that are unknown.

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