The Handmaid’s Tale Critical Review: Control
I intend to write a critical review on “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. I will be focusing on the theme of control, especially the control of women.
The dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” written by Margaret Atwood tells the story of the protagonist, Offred. We learn about the controlling totalitarian regime which has overridden the United States of America. In this state, Offred has become a handmaid to the Commander and his wife, with the task of providing children for the couple as they cannot conceive. Women such as the handmaid’s, Marthas and wives are controlled by men who influence how they use their bodies, dress and what actions they can or cannot do.
“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.” Margaret Atwood was prompted to write “The Handmaids Tale” due to the previously occurring events in history. It was around the same time she began writing the novel that Ronald Reagan was elected president and the time of the “Sexual Revolution.” Women in this era became fearful that the hard work towards equality would become undone. I saw the HMT as a way of warning people of the dangers of humanity, and just because events have happened in the past, there is nothing to say that they won’t occur again. It is a warning that society could fall apart and men could become significantly superior to women. In today’s society, there has been an improvement as women in most societies have to right to vote and do as they please. There are many movements and campaigns that are focusing on the rise of sexual equality. Women have begun to stand up more for themselves such as the “Me Too” movement against sexual harassment and assault which came about in late 2017. Women are afraid of sexual harassment. “Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.” “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a novel about the loss of freedom. Although the women within the story have lost most human rights, they have also gained some of the freedom they once wished for, the absence of catcalls and being objectified. Despite the circumstances the women in the novel are under, some things have changed for the better. Offred and the other women who have their most basic human rights taken from them should be focusing on these small improvements. One day their life may be full of safety and freedom for everyone.
Rebel: to reject, resist or rise in arms against one’s government or ruler. In every community with constraints and constrictions, there will always be individuals who try to overthrow the society, for the bettering of human rights or because they do not align with their personal beliefs. Today we are able to see the idea of the handmaids is still in place. For example in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, we see the women wearing similar clothing attire such as the long dresses and covering their skin. Women in these cultures also have fewer rights to men. For example, they don’t have the right to make decisions without a man’s consent, wear makeup or clothes that enhance their beauty or even compete in sports. After 20 years of campaigns and protests of women saying “no this is not right,” Saudi women now have the right to drive a car. I believe there is always the chance of change within a society. However, sometimes standing up for personal values and what one believes is wrong may result in consequences. In “The Handmaid’s Tale” some women who disagree with the hierarchy system and lack of women rights rebel as they do not want to be controlled by Gilead’s view on women as “Walking Wombs.” Moira, Offred’s friend from before had many unsuccessful attempts at escaping Gilead. “Nolite te bastards carborundum” which translates to “Do not let the bastards grind you down,” is a reoccurring quote in the text. Initially Moira did not let the society break her down, instead, she planned escapes and was almost successful until she was captured and had to become a prostitute at Jezebels. This meant that Gilead has eventually got the better of her. Even the strongest people eventually can be ground down and their previous spirit and “daring” attitude can become nothing but another sheep following the orders of their master.
The women in The Handmaid’s tale are made to think that their main purpose is to bear children for the commander and his wife due to the rules and laws they face. By not being able to speak to whoever they like and the restrictions surrounding reading any text and writing, they are made to think that the government has reinforced these restrictions for the safety of humanity. Most of the women are forgetting what their lives use to be. Offred once said “I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.” She hopes one day that life will go back to like it was before Gilead. A society where women can express themselves.
I believe that the ending was not what the reader expected. The book finished abruptly on a cliffhanger. We were left wondering what happened to Offred. I also saw this is a cunning way to get Margaret Atwood’s point across. By leaving the readers hanging and waiting to know what happens next, we are scared of the unknown and Offred’s future. This correlates back to our lives, we are unsure what is going to happen in the future and people are left hanging and anticipating what life will bring.
Control means “to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.” The theme of control throughout “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood was particularly strong. Each human should have basic rights, which include freedom and the right to express one’s self. The society of Gilead has oppressed the women within the community but they still have some of the basic human rights such as the right to food and water, and they also have a small amount of freedom. “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”