The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood published in 1985 is categorized as a dystopian novel focusing on a totalitarian and theocratic Republic of Gilead. This is a society based on biblical beliefs that helps authorize inhumane state practices. This regime took the right of appealing and legally protecting the females from the government. The decrease number of population due to infertility is solved by using the sterile females to reproduce offspring for the Commander and his wife and that is the sole purpose in life of a handmaid. The protagonist of this novel is a handmaid referred to as Offred. In the Handmaid’s Tale, Gileadeans suggests that religion helps strengths the democracy but instead it further pushes it into a patriarchal and theocratic society.
Atwood chose very unique names for each character in this novel that relates back to the novel. For instance, the Angels, who were the guards/police officers who kept tabs on the civilians of Gilead to minimize treachery. Another clever name choice was with the Marthas or Unwomen who symbolizes Martha, sister of Mary that served Jesus Christ and in Handmaid’s Tale they served the Commander (Theo 454). Apart from character names, there were many biblical phrases exchanged between the Handmaid’s, such as, “praise be”, “May the Lord Open”, or “Blessed be the fruit”, when they encountered each other. These small phrases were used to constantly remind the Handmaid’s the purpose of their life in the new regime.
The Bible is the foundation of the new regime in Gilead and every law is established from biblical segments. Atwood states that “mind-set of Gilead is really close to that of the seventeenth-century of Puritans” (Howells et al. 130). The Commanders now often refer to themselves as the modern-day Jacobs and use Rachel and her sister to refer to wives and handmaids. When Offred is first introduced to the Commander during the ceremony, the Commander recites Genesis 30:1-3; “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and she unto Jacob, give me children, or else I die” (Atwood 61). This verse is consistently repeated throughout the novel to emphasize the fact that the wives (Rachel) are the sole reason why the couple cannot bear any children, men were never accused for being sterile. To resolve this dilemma, a Handmaid is used as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the aged Commander and barren wife. Offred referred the Handmaid’s as “two legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices” (Atwood 128). This resembles to the idea of surrogacy from Rachel in the Bible. Women are dehumanized to a soulless flesh of “viable ovaries” used for breeding purposes.
In a personal interview of Atwood, she was questioned; “If you can model a new human being, would you eliminate the hunger for God?” and Atwood replied with, “I could not eliminate the hunger for God without eliminating the language. I would however, eliminate the desire to use God as a weapon” (Atwood Interview). The hunger for God permits to personal realm so it can be used to bash other people. The Handmaid’s Tales depicts the status of females in the Gilead. The handmaids are used for regulated sex to saleable commodity exchanged for mere minimal survival. “”My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body” (Atwood 94). Offred had two choice, to die or capitulate to the government in the agreement of positioning her skirt up to her waist while a commanding man attempts to impregnate her. Using God as a weapon to terrorize and strip women from their rights in the name of national security to serve God and their country.
Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale seeks to eliminate any traces of the past. The government attempts to manipulate and erase the memory and even historical time itself (Theo 438). The “Red Center” in the place where each individual is trained to become a handmaid. The women area brainwashed into believing the theocratic system of Gilead. A very peculiar brainwash was in the early chapters where the Guardians/Aunts blamed Janine for being gang raped as a teen. The Aunts forced the other women to shame Janine by chanting “to teach her a lesion, teach her a lesson” to the question of “why God let such thing happen to her.”