Statement of Intent:

I intend to write a critical review of the ‘Handmaids Tale’ with a focus on the theme of control that is evident in the novel. I will also discuss the importance of freedom, especially in relation to current problems that we are facing in the world.

Freedom is an often underestimated and undervalued aspect of modern life with many people taking it for granted. The value of freedom is a predominant feature in ‘The Handmaids Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. Women are converted to nothing more than ‘walking wombs’ in an attempt to revive the human race, entailing severe control over their emotions, actions and decisions, essentially a loss of all freedom. This ideology is based upon religious fundamentalism of the American Puritans and the theocratic society that they founded; whom Margaret Atwood had studied extensively. In the Republic of Gilead males are the dominating gender and remain in this position through fear. They maintain control over the freedom that is possessed and highlight some very potential real-world problems whilst also presenting problems that have occurred in the past and threaten to occur once again. This identification and awareness of what could happen is a conscious part of Margaret Atwood’s writing in the novel, she decided to only write about things that human beings had already done. Atwood projects the key idea of why we must fight to protect our freedom.

Throughout the whole novel is the underlying idea of fighting to protect freedom, displayed through the Handmaids. These handmaids have very limited freedom and are deprived the freedom of movement, thought, expression and sexuality. This confined life neglects rights and needs and ensures that the Handmaids live a life not worth living. Examples of this are apparent in Offred’s life as a Handmaid to a commander, her body is abused for the betterment of the state, her thoughts are observed closely and any slight hint of non-conformism would result in dire consequences for her. Additionally, her movement is heavily controlled, she is only allowed off the property when going to the shops, and even this is accompanied by another Handmaid which enforces a feeling of control. The Handmaids have no way to express themselves; clothes are prescribed by the government to maintain similarities and contain individual identity, they are bland and non-descript. Offred is not even allowed to alter or design her room to make it feel ‘homely’, leaving it unexciting and without stimuli.

Control like this is also seen in the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell where The Party controls the people through physical pain keeping them in a state of exhaustion. This is paired with the omnipresent threat that ‘BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU’, which is a constant reminder that the authorities see and are in charge of everything. Expression of self is also controlled as it is in ‘The Handmaids Tale’, this leads to huge amounts of pent-up frustration. This climaxes in displays of hatred against the governing body’s enemies, or in ‘The Handmaids Tale’, climaxing in the salvagings where the handmaids deliver gruesome executions upon enemies of the state. Both of these novels display potential real-world occurrences where the common people are controlled to a point where life is unenjoyable and you question the value of it. We see the beginnings of this in countries where communism is the way of life and many aspects are subsequently limited by control.

For example, China has imposed regulations on internet use and accessibility, limiting contact with the outside world and influencing opinions. North Korea, another heavily communist country, has strict control over media outlets and communication which means that those living in North Korea are certainly isolated from the goings on of the rest of the world. This could become the norm in the world as it is in Gilead should we stop fighting for freedom.

As Willie Nelson puts it; “Freedom is control of your own life”. ‘The Handmaids Tale’ resonates with the reader through the theme of control. This so important due to its topical nature and the threat that is posed to the world if it is taken for granted and under-appreciated. Margaret Atwood efficaciously translates this message in the form of Offred’s continuous battle against unjust conformity and leaves the reader understanding the true value of freedom.

“It is never more than one generation away from extinction. It isn’t passed to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” (Ronald Reagan)

 

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Great start!

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  2. “they maintain control over the freedom that is possessed and in doing so highlight some very potential real-world problems and also present problems that have occurred in the past and threaten to occur once again.” – you should go in to more detail about these problems

    Each handmaid only has a very limited amount of freedom; freedom of movement, freedom of thought, freedom to express oneself, freedom of sexuality. – ?????

    “her body is abused for others benefit,”- add detail

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  3. Additionally, her movement is heavily controlled, she is only allowed off the property when going to the shops, and even this is accompanied by another Handmaid which enforces a feeling of control. The Handmaids have no way to express themselves; clothes are bland and common and actions repetitive. Offred is not even allowed to alter or design her room to make it feel ‘homely’, leaving it plain and unexciting. – can you read through this passage and be a bit more detailed, Alex

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About Tracey Hames

Teacher of English at Mount Aspiring College, Wanaka, New Zealand.

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