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Critical Essay on 'The Handmaid's Tale'

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In the book, The Handmaid’s Tale, many topics from a global aspect are satirized. Atwood uses satire within the book to help shed light on issues that our society, as well as many others, are facing. There are issues about, feminism, gender roles, gender stereotypes, and political gain. Within this essay, there will be a greater understanding of political increase and how Atwood satirizes this topic in The Handmaid’s Tale. One of the first issues that Atwood is trying to satirize in the novel pertains to human rights. For example, there is slavery still going on within the theocratic regime, called Gilead. Women are being forced to have babies and black individuals also known as The Children of Ham are being deported to Gilead. Another issue that Atwood satirizes would be about the topic of government. Atwood contrasts the regime of the Gilead’s government and notions they follow, to other governments that follow the same values. For example, Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party also known as, the Nazi Party. The last issue that is satirized within the novel is the government’s control of literature. In the past, many governments have put a hold on the education of their people, because they want them to be uneducated and obedient.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the only individuals that have rights within the government are the Commanders. The Commander that the readers are introduced to in the novel, has no regard for human rights. Commander Fred does not really have any affection for Offred, he only enjoys the companionship and the intimacy that he feels around offered. It becomes quite evident within the novel that he cannot get that same intimacy from Serena Joy. For example, The Commander arranges for Offred to meet secretly in his study in the evening on particular days to play Scrabble. Human rights play a huge role in this because Offred does not have a choice. In this quote, Offred says,” But to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power.”(Atwood 136).

In the book, the Children of Ham, are deported from Gilead to National Homeland One. Atwood is satirizing the history of America, and how they treated slaves. Within Chapter 14 the reporter says,” Resettlement of the Children of Ham is continuing on schedule … [t]hree thousand have arrived this week in National Homeland One, with another two thousand in transit.” (Atwood 83). Before the 13th Amendment was created, slaves were racially inferior to the people they served. This is a contrasting element between the book and society. In Gilead, it is evident that the government has the same views, as the government before the 1860s. Atwood is also satirizing the trip that the Africans took to get to America. During this time, many black individuals were shipped in high quantities, resulting in the deaths of more than a thousand individuals. Their human rights were violated and disregarded because the white individuals felt superior.

In the book, handmaids are overlooked as individuals and they are objectified as baby-makers. Marthas are women who handle domestic duties around the house. Economies are individuals that do all the roles combined. These roles are significant within the novel because the ladies do not have the opportunity to choose what roles they are given. Women do not have a say in anything pertaining to their rights, because the government feels that men should be making the decisions. Before the regime of Gilead was fully formed and put into action, they proved within Chapter 28 that the government did not want women to have power in society. Offred recalls the moment when her director comes into a room with a few other women and says,” I have to let you go... It’s the law.”(Atwood 176). Another quote that would prove this idea would be from Chapter 28 as well. In the novel, Moira is telling Offred,” Women can’t hold property anymore, she said. It’s a new law.”(Atwood 178). It proves that the government of Gilead just wants women to focus on menial labor. The government wants to take all civil liberties away from these ladies as well. Atwood is satirizing the change for women and their roles. Women fought for their right to vote, to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination, to own their own property, to be educated, and to earn the same as a man. Women doing this for years, fighting for their rights. It can be easily taken away by anyone that believes that traditional values should be upheld. In a quote from the Portrayal of marginalized women in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale essay, the writer states:

Women's position in Gilead is subordinated and subjugated because they are not allowed to keep their own names which are generally considered the major source of someone's identity. Their names have been obliterated from their memories by using some psychological treatments. The memories of the handmaid's daughter and her husband are very weak. In her mind, she feels 'My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden.....I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I'll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried. (HT 94) These are often addressed after the name of their commanders to whom they are assigned for childbearing as Fred 'Offred' and Oglen 'Ofglen', for Warren 'Ofwarren', etc. These handmaids are the marginalized section of the Gilead as they are disunited into different categories.

This quote helps to shed some light on how the women were made for the men of Gilead. This proves that Atwood was satirizing many topics pertaining to human rights, and how society and their governments have neglected the rights of so many individuals.

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In the book, Atwood satirizes many governments. One of the main governments that she focuses on is Hitler and the Nazi Party. Within Chapter 4, Gilead creates a group for the younger generation called the Guardians of the Faith. These teenagers are supposed to mimic Hitler’s group called Hitler’s Youth. Another government that creates a group for the younger generation, was the Chinese government. The government was under the leadership of Mao Zedong. They were trained to be spies for the government, making sure that all citizens were to abide by the rules and regulations. The Guardian of Faith is the same as well. Their duty in the novel is to stay loyal to the Gilead government and make sure other individuals are following the law. They are the Eyes. In the book, Offred says,” The young ones are often the most dangerous, the most fanatical.” (Atwood 20). This proves that the government needs to train the minds of the younger generation so that Gilead does not die.

Other regimes that Atwood is satirizing within the novel, are the Islamic-controlled countries. For instance, the book forces women to be covered and the sexes to be segregated. A big reason why they do this is that they find women’s sexuality dangerous. Foreign countries, that share traditional belief systems, force women to do the same. In these regimes, women have very few liberties because they must follow Sharia Law. This law is also known as Islamic Law. Women are not allowed to drive cars without being escorted by a male figure, they must be covered in a burqa. They cannot be educated. Women would be subjected to public flogging and amputation under Sharia Law, which is still followed in Sudan and in Saudi Arabia, and many other Middle Eastern regimes. In a quote from the writer that produced Reading Atwood after the Taliban. She states:

Atwood saw cultural conditions that might support the oppression of women. Most of her readers did not. We read with interest, not with empathy. We could not imagine our America in ruin. We could not imagine ourselves as Marthas or Econowives or Handmaids. We failed to imagine a government ruled by religion. We entertained ourselves with an unbelievable story, but Atwood had predicted the Taliban.

Of course, American readers failed to empathize. We assume gender inequality is a past issue. Universities now drop women's studies programs, claiming they have achieved their goals. Male and female students commonly argue that women are no longer oppressed by beauty standards. They argue, instead, that both genders are equally damaged by body and beauty ideals. We exaggerate our own progress while projecting similar successes on the global women's community. But our projections were recently shattered. Americans can no longer ignore the possibilities or realities.

Atwood is satirizing these types of society not being very understanding of the changing world. In the Western world, women have civil freedoms and the governments of the Middle East are not open to changing their society for the better.

The last issue, within the novel, that is heavily satirized is the government’s control of literature. Atwood has been satirizing throughout the novel, that the freedom of education is not provided to all. Women are not allowed to be educated because their government does not want women to be critical thinkers. In the book, Offred states, that reading would be punished by having “only a hand cut off.” (Atwood 273). For example, the women in the book, are not allowed to read the Bible, even though the government is a theocracy. This is important because the government wants to continue using the Bible in a manipulative manner. Another reason why the Bible is only read by the Commander is that the Bible possesses many passages about freedom. This would give the citizens a message of encouragement, and that’s not the goal of the government of Gilead. The only person that is allowed to read the Bible, is the Commander. The reason why the Commander has this power is because of his powerful position. That is why he gets away with many things he does in the novel.

In conclusion, The Handmaid's Tale is a book that provokes thought and reflection on how our society is. It is a trigger to evoke action. These political regimes are wrong on all levels. When they censor their citizens from their freedom of speech, control how women should dress, and how they have all disregard pertaining to the rights of their citizens. Atwood satire unquestionably works because she is able to shed light on topics that are not talked about, this causes discussion and change in our future.

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Critical Essay on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. (2023, November 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
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