Literature on the beds, turned sideways, watching

Literature Circles:ENG3UO Dystopian FictionCulminatingThe Handmaid’s TaleRole # 2: EssayistParagraph # 1 Comparing: Individualism and Identity Inthe Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead has taken all the precautions to preventindividualization, however from the very beginning, it has become apparent thatthere will always be someone that will oppose unity to assert their sense ofself. The new government of Gilead believes that by taking away the women’sidentities, names and ability to communicate amongst each other, it takes awaytheir power.

Powerless women fit much better into the new form of subordinatesin a mainly male dominant society. Imprisoned at the Red Centre in Gilead,Offred, the narrator and generally all women are forbidden from speaking to theother women captives or using personal names. It doesn’t take them long tobreak the rules and assert their minimal power to reclaim a small butsignificant piece of themselves, their names.

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They learned to lip read, withtheir heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. Inthis way, they exchanged names from bed to bed: Elma, Janine, Delores, Moiraand June (SchoolWorkHelper, 2018)1. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offredrecounts the story of her life and that of others in Gilead, but she does notdo so alone. The symbolic meanings found in the dress code of the women, thenames of characters, the absence of the mirror, and the smell and hungerimagery help her in telling of the different conditions in the Republic of Gilead.The symbols speak with a voice of their own and in decibels louder than Offredcan ever dare to use. They convey the social structure of Gilead society andcarry the theme of the individual’s loss of identity.

All the women in Gileadwear color-coded uniforms. The colors display their social status and role inthe reproductive process. The ‘Aunts’ who run the Rachel and Leah Re-EducationCenter wear brown; they are responsible for the training of the handmaids. The’Marthas,’ who wear green, are the servants. The ‘Wives’ wear a type ofVirgin-Mary blue, which signifies their inability to bear children.

Thehandmaids wear red robes and white peaked hats which resemble nuns’ habits. Inaddition, the red color of their clothing symbolizes their fertility. Thecolor-coded uniforms that the women wear do more than just signify theirfunctions. Along with the names of characters, they symbolize the individual’sloss of identity. The loss of individual identity can also be seen in the namesof characters. First, it is symbolized by the handmaids’ patronymic names.Their names are formed with the word, ‘of,’ and the first name of the’Commander’ for whom they are to bear children for instance: ‘Of-Fred’.

Thehandmaids are moved to a new household after three attempts to bear the childfor the ‘Commander’ and his wife; at each new location, they drop their formername and adopt their new Commander’s name. Like their names, the handmaids haveno personal identity and they lack stability (Brightkite.com,2018)2.  Paragraph # 2Comparing: The Commander and Nick Luke and theCommander have a number of things in common. Both have an extensive knowledgeof Latin which they use as a subtle reaffirmation of classic gender roles andinequalities. Luke does this when he explains to Offred that another word needsto be created that means ‘to behave like a sister’ as the word ‘fraternize'(meaning ‘to behave like a brother’) can’t apply to women because only men canbe brothers to each other. The Commander is more obvious and crude when hedelivers a joke to Offred which uses Latin to make a comment which objectifiesthe female body. Luke and the Commander also like old ideas about the rolewomen should play in society.

Luke believes in stereotypical differencesbetween genders, such as men needing more meat than women and men being morecapable of complex thought than a woman. Similarly, The Commander believes thatwomen are incapable of understanding simple math. The Commander reveals hisbelief that women should be on display for and dependent on men as well when hetakes Offred to a whorehouse where all the women are trying to sell themselvesto men with their revealing clothing. These two men have similar roles inOffred’s life as well in terms of their control over her. Both Luke and theCommander have a great deal of control over Offred, although the Commander’scontrol is a result of Offred, essentially, being a possession to him andLuke’s control stems from Offred’s quiet agreement. Finally, these two men aresimilar in that they both enable Offred to become ‘the second woman’.

At somepoint during Offred’s relationship with both men, they are married to anotherwoman. This connection is emphasized when Offred sleeps with the Commander inthe same hotel that she had met Luke in while he was still married. Neither ofthese two men expresses any regret over having an affair. Although Offred’srelationship with the Commander is not based on love, it serves as an importantindicator of the true nature of Offred’s relationship with Luke. Thesimilarities between the poor actions of the Commander and Luke’s actionsreveal Luke’s true nature even though Offred portrays him as a loving husband.

Luke contributed to the oppression of Offred long before Gilead did.                                                              

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