In the novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ written by Margaret Atwood, Control of women is used to warn us of the future. This is shown through three main themes, control of thought and language, control of sexuality, and control through fear.
Margaret Atwood effectively uses control of womens thought and language to warn us of the future. There are many examples of this throughout the novel such as when Ofglen looses her new born baby. Ofglen blames herself for the death of the baby as she is made to “think it’s her fault… for being sinful” and thinks (through influence from society) that she brought it upon herself. This control of thought that the Republic of Gilead has on women makes them easier to control and abide by the rules. Another example is during testifying when Ofglen testifies that she got raped at the age of 14 and had to get an abortion, however it was forced upon her that it was “her fault, her fault, her fault” and that god let this happen to her to “teach her a lesson”. Again this reinstates how the Republic of Gilead forces women to feel accountable for their every action even when it may not have been their fault. Margaret Atwood involves this control of thought in the novel to try make the reader understand the importance of free thought and how it should not be taken for granted. She also includes this in the novel to further show how control of women in society is a not only a problem for the future, but also in todays society. This is shown in the fact that we can relate the control of women (and also people in general) to historic events and also current day events and societies. Control of language is also shown evidently in the novel through several ways such as the inability for women to access pens, paper and books. This controls womens identity and ability to express ideas and limiting their knowledge, reinstating the idea in the novel that women serve the purpose of bearing children. We also see biblical language used in the novel in a different way to which it may have originally been conceived such as “the angels stood outside with their backs to us”. In the bible an angel is a messenger from god in human form however in the Republic of Gilead the angels are government military/police. This shows how the government influences the publics language to benefit their cause which is to control the population. By naming the authorities ‘angels’ then it gives them a positive connotation. Margaret Atwood included these ideas about control of language in this novel in the hope that we realise how todays society still controls peoples language and that future society can be very grim if our language in controlled, especially if our ability to learn and explore is take away from us.
Margaret Atwood also uses control of sexuality in the novel to warn us of the future. We can see countless examples of this throughout the text mostly through the thoughts and views of the narrator, Offred. Womens sexuality is controlled constantly in the Republic of Gilead, and this is because of the ideas and beliefs that the society is operated off. A clear example of control through sexuality is how women are suppost to view themselves, and how Offred “avoid’s looking down at my body… i dont want to look at something that determines me so completely”, this shows how Offred is not proud of her sexuality and body as it defines who she is. This is a big issue in todays society as people can be judged on their body instead of their personality, this can be the cause of inequality and sexism. We also control of sexuality by the items of clothing worn in the novel. The handmaids (and most women) have to wear completely covering clothing, this is another way the regime controls women through their body image and it reinstates the idea that women are “walking wombs” and that they need not reveal body parts. We can also see comparisons to life outside of Gilead when the tourists walk past Offred and they are wearing short skirts… “nearly naked” and Offred is “fascinated but repelled” as they seem “underdressed”. This shows us how women in Gilead are controlled to the point they are repelled to see women not covered completely. This control of sexuality is used to warn the reader of a possible future where women are not respected and treated equally but also relates to the past when women have not had equal sexual rights to men. This relation means we can easily visualise a future where women are not treated equally and helps us formulate thoughts on this.
Control though fear is a huge part of this novel and is easily relatable and comparable to historic events making it easy for the reader to experience what the (Offred) is feeling. Gilead is a society that is run off peoples fear of what might happen to them if they break the rules and this is shown through Offreds narration. When Offred is walking with Offglen and they pass the main gateway where “there are six more bodies hanging, by the necks,thier hands tied in front of them, their heads in white bags”. The facts that these people are hung up there for everyone to see tells us how the government inflicts fear upon the people by hanging up people that have broken the rules. This form of punishment and way of inflicting fear can be seen throughout human history with occurrences such as public executions and shaming. Control through fear (especially to women) is used in the novel to give the reader a better understanding of how tough and restricting life is in Gilead.
In “The Handmaid’s Tale” control of women through ways such as control of thought and language, control through sexuality and control through fear are shown effectively.