Literature of her life and that of others

Literature Circles:
ENG3UO Dystopian Fiction


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The Handmaid’s Tale

Role # 2: Essayist

Paragraph # 1

Comparing: Individualism and Identity


the Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead has taken all the precautions to prevent
individualization, however from the very beginning, it has become apparent that
there will always be someone that will oppose unity to assert their sense of
self. The new government of Gilead believes that by taking away the women’s
identities, names and ability to communicate amongst each other, it takes away
their power. Powerless women fit much better into the new form of subordinates
in a mainly male dominant society. Imprisoned at the Red Centre in Gilead,
Offred, the narrator and generally all women are forbidden from speaking to the
other women captives or using personal names. It doesn’t take them long to
break the rules and assert their minimal power to reclaim a small but
significant piece of themselves, their names. They learned to lip read, with
their heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In
this way, they exchanged names from bed to bed: Elma, Janine, Delores, Moira
and June (SchoolWorkHelper, 2018)1. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred
recounts the story of her life and that of others in Gilead, but she does not
do so alone. The symbolic meanings found in the dress code of the women, the
names of characters, the absence of the mirror, and the smell and hunger
imagery 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 Offred
can ever dare to use. They convey the social structure of Gilead society and
carry the theme of the individual’s loss of identity. All the women in Gilead
wear color-coded uniforms. The colors display their social status and role in
the reproductive process. The ‘Aunts’ who run the Rachel and Leah Re-Education
Center wear brown; they are responsible for the training of the handmaids. The
‘Marthas,’ who wear green, are the servants. The ‘Wives’ wear a type of
Virgin-Mary blue, which signifies their inability to bear children. The
handmaids wear red robes and white peaked hats which resemble nuns’ habits. In
addition, the red color of their clothing symbolizes their fertility. The
color-coded uniforms that the women wear do more than just signify their
functions. Along with the names of characters, they symbolize the individual’s
loss of identity. The loss of individual identity can also be seen in the names
of 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’. The
handmaids are moved to a new household after three attempts to bear the child
for the ‘Commander’ and his wife; at each new location, they drop their former
name and adopt their new Commander’s name. Like their names, the handmaids have
no personal identity and they lack stability (,



Paragraph # 2

Comparing: The Commander and Nick


Luke and the
Commander have a number of things in common. Both have an extensive knowledge
of Latin which they use as a subtle reaffirmation of classic gender roles and
inequalities. Luke does this when he explains to Offred that another word needs
to 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 can
be brothers to each other. The Commander is more obvious and crude when he
delivers a joke to Offred which uses Latin to make a comment which objectifies
the female body. Luke and the Commander also like old ideas about the role
women should play in society. Luke believes in stereotypical differences
between genders, such as men needing more meat than women and men being more
capable of complex thought than a woman. Similarly, The Commander believes that
women are incapable of understanding simple math. The Commander reveals his
belief that women should be on display for and dependent on men as well when he
takes Offred to a whorehouse where all the women are trying to sell themselves
to men with their revealing clothing. These two men have similar roles in
Offred’s life as well in terms of their control over her. Both Luke and the
Commander have a great deal of control over Offred, although the Commander’s
control is a result of Offred, essentially, being a possession to him and
Luke’s control stems from Offred’s quiet agreement. Finally, these two men are
similar in that they both enable Offred to become ‘the second woman’. At some
point during Offred’s relationship with both men, they are married to another
woman. This connection is emphasized when Offred sleeps with the Commander in
the same hotel that she had met Luke in while he was still married. Neither of
these two men expresses any regret over having an affair. Although Offred’s
relationship with the Commander is not based on love, it serves as an important
indicator of the true nature of Offred’s relationship with Luke. The
similarities between the poor actions of the Commander and Luke’s actions
reveal 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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