The Handmaid’s Tale – Society of Regression?

The Handmaid’s Tale is a post apocalyptic story that focuses on a society where women are oppressed and some are forced to be “Handmaid’s”, women who are forced to give birth for men whether they want to or not.  The reason this society developed is because a plague had resulted in infertility in many women becoming infertile. One woman who is still able to give birth is named Offred and the story focuses a lot on her flashbacks and her current experiences.  From each of them it appears that the society seems to be regressing from equality and progressing towards totalitarianism.

The most obvious difference from the past and present is women’s rights, as Offred’s thoughts and feelings clearly show the difference.  The biggest difference can be seen in Offred’s flashback where Offred is meeting with her friend Moira before the society developed (48:30).  Their dialogue together shows that Offred is clearly with a man she likes yet in the present time she is living as a surrogate mother for a man referred to as “Commander Waterford.” (6:30) and walks around depressed all the time, which is unlike the attitude she showed with her friend.  From this we can not only conclude happiness is not a value of this society but also that women capable of giving birth aren’t allowed to live an independent life, as they are forced into servitude. Other signs of women’s limited rights are the fact that they wear different clothes compared to the past (48:30), can’t go on walks outside without another Handmaid to spy on them (12:17), and are seemingly forbidden from even doing an activity as simple as reading (14:30).

Another step back from equality is gay rights.  The first sign we see implying that homosexuality is looked down upon is when the hanging bodies are shown.  Ofglen, Offred’s Handmaid partner, notes that one of the three bodies is a gay man (15:42). What shows that this is a regression from the past is Offred’s flashback at, where she’s once again with her friend Moira who is able to laugh and spend time with her girlfriend (16:40).  Later on, Moira confirms that “dyke purges” are an event in the present and that Odette, who is possibly Moira’s girlfriend, was classified as an Unwoman and sent to work in The Colonies (20:10). Ofglen also states she had a wife around which furthers the idea that the world was far more equal in the past than now (51:25).  Considering the society has an excessive fixation on babies and giving birth, it’s understandable why they see gay people as incapable of fitting in (17:45).

The last sign that the society descended from equality is its lack of freedom of religion.  Around the hanging bodies scene, Ofglen also stated that one of them was a priest (15:42). Although the episode never specifically stated what religion the priest was or what the society follows despite their frequent use of phrases involving God (39:20), it’s likely that the priest was part of a religion that believed in chastity.  A vow of chastity would clearly go against the society’s value of childbirth, therefore it’s likely they weren’t seen as helpful to fulfilling the society’s goals. A scene from the past suggests that not everyone believes in religion based on Moira’s comment “Let’s go to Church” before she and Offred laugh over it (16:40). Therefore, it seems like the society in the future forces people to follow certain religious beliefs while also not allowing them to embrace the religion too deeply or else they turn out like the priest.

Although it’s only one episode, the flashbacks and present experiences of Offred seem to imply that the world used to be more freedom and equal rights before progressively becoming a totalitarian government.  Whether it’s gender, sexual preference, or religion, this society only allows people to follow their rules, and if they don’t fit in, they will be punished in some way. As our world seems to permit individuality and diversity among people, The Handmaid’s Tale could be seen as a path we might end up following if the fertility rates are lowered to the point of threatening humanity’s continues existence.

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