In the HULU series “The Handmaid’s Tale”, which is based on Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”, we take a look at the first episode “Offred” in season 1 (The Handmaid’s Tale). At the very beginning where we see Offred sitting in her room at her master’s house, a very important narration is told to the viewers: “A chair, a table, a lamp. There’s a window with white curtains and the glass is shatterproof. But it isn’t running away they’re afraid of. A handmaid wouldn’t get that far. It’s those other escapes. The ones you can open yourself given a cutting edge. Or a twisted sheet and a chandelier.” (04:05) This to me is a bit of a play on words about the idea that the only real escape is by suicide, or at least there have been many successive attempts at suicide because running away would also mean death. The premise of “The Handmaid’s Tale” which is set in a dystopian future where a new government in America has began to take action against a dangerously depleting birthrate caused by the long term effects of pollution on earth. Thus “Gilead” was born with the government’s watch to regulate birth of children. Of course, their methods and choices are absolutely horrendous and sickening because of the twisted use of the bible (more on this) as a reason to justify the acts done in the story.
The first thing that was notable is the use of symbolism with the clothing. Offred is wearing a bonnet and a long dress, so as to cover her hair and her entire body. This is the first time we see a biblical reference as to why the handmaids all wear one, but also has double duty in giving a viewer an idea that the “society” (Gilead) wants uniformity. The relevant bible verse says it like this: “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” 1 Cor. 11:15 (KJV) This was something that Gilead had been trying to achieve with their handmaidens. “Holiness” or one could say “sterility” and free from sin. With this, I needed to know what exactly is the meaning of a handmaiden or what its origins are. The word handmaid translates from the Hebrew language meaning “Female Slave” or “Someone whose essential function is to serve and assist” (First definition, Second Definition). In a biblical sense, which is what this story is mostly based on, a handmaid was first really showcased when polygamy wasn’t an abstract idea. We see that the solution that Gilead has come up with was to bring back polygamy and have the handmaidens as surrogate mothers to combat the childbirth crisis. According to an ABC News interview with the costume designer for the show, another thing to note was the use of colors throughout the show, where all handmaids wear red and white and the handmaid’s masters wear monotone colors, such as the waterford’s color schemes. This seems to signify status in the world of Gilead. (Article)
In another scene right at the beginning there are a few phrases that recur throughout the series which are “Blessed be the fruit”, “May the Lord open” (11:50) which I believe are direct references to the fruit being children and “may the Lord open” just means that they pray that God stays accepting. Another phrase mentioned throughout the series is “Under His eye” which I also assume means under the eye of God or that could mean that under the eye of the government. Although not really stated in the first episode, there are government workers throughout the complex that the handmaids call “eyes”.
To expand a little more on what exactly “Gilead” is, I looked up what the definition of Gilead is, and it is also a biblical reference. Gilead meaning “heap or mass of testimony” which is a sensible name for what is trying to be achieved there: birth of healthy babies. (Gilead) A very big and over-encompassing rhetoric in Gilead is the use of the old testament of the bible, which had a lot of abstract ideas and things that were okay in the society of those times but are questioned in modern society about its morality. Obversely, the old testament was rendered obsolete by Christ Jesus.
One final point to make about the show in its first episode is the role of women in the show, which Gilead sticks to the old idea that women are the mothers, caretakers, and the child bearers which are in some ways an instinctive attribute for women, however, the society before the new change in government, was a modern day society. June (Offred’s real name) had a job and a life of her own before the changes. We see again that with Ms. Waterford, she is a stay at home wife, and has her handmaids do most of her work for her except for her own hobby of gardening and crotchet.