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Freedom and Confinement in The Handmaid’s Tale

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One of the main concerns of both Utopian and Dystopian societies is Freedom. How do people maintain the human right that has existed for centuries and it even became the main section of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Should the utopian society be confined? What is the amount of freedom that people should be granted? Sometimes giving absolute freedom might form a dystopian society but so can confinement. Many cultures associate “disability” with confinement and this event strictly infringes freedom. Society would have to find a perfect margin so as to make this type of society work. The Republic of Gilead, as it is described in the book, definitely is not a free society. Men are not allowed to be with women, families are not allowed to exist, women are not even allowed to satisfy their simplest wants such as reading, eating the food they want, smoking a cigarette. They formed a totalitaristic government, resembling theonomy, which technically disabled most of the United States of America. In the novel – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Freedom and Confinement is the most widely discussed topic. By examining three main parts of the book, we can see what effect freedom and confinement have on society. These parts are the flashbacks when Offred remembers her past life and compares it to the present, when she talks about Aunt Lydia’s lectures and what she taught the handmaids, and when Offred starts crossing the law and violates the rules with Commander and Nick. In the past, before the revolution happened, she was a free person, with a job and full life but she didn’t appreciate it. Later she got brainwashed by the Aunts, they tried to convince her that they should not underestimate the power of confinement and that their life is actually safer in Gilead. And once she started violating the rules, even living in a prison-like environment became bearable. Gilead seeks to silence women, but Offred speaks out, denies Gilead to take control over her inner life, Offred’s describing the horror of Gilead as she experiences it from day today. Serena Joy, she used to be a powerful woman but Gilead’s government seems without freedom of choice. She worked as a gospel singer and anti-feminist activist and crusader for “traditional values” in Pre-Gilead times. After that, she used to give speeches as a television personality who promoted an anti-feminist about the sanctity of the home she was advocating the women return to the home and submission to their husbands. Now, she’s the commander’s wife. Atwood makes it obvious how unhappy she is in the current domestic situation, acting as a wife, she is broken inside. This unhappiness derives from the restrictive and male-dominated society. Gilead’s society cannot bring happiness even to its most powerful women. Only men have the freedom to read, and while he is in the room he opens the bible and reads a verse that Serena Joy is identified.

It is quite safe to say that, today’s society in North America is free. There are some rules and laws that apply to most people, but they are within reasonable limits clause. There are some countries around the world that are far from having a free society. Some of them are strictly theocratic, the others’ governments claim having democracy but in reality, they treat their citizens with double standards and violate most of their freedoms. The important thing is that most people in democratic countries, take these freedoms granted. Most Americans are so focused on their country, they forget that the world doesn’t revolve around the “Land of Stars and Stripes”. In many middle eastern and Asian countries, women are not allowed to buy or smoke cigarettes – same as in Gilead. It’s obvious that religion plays a huge role in this. In the book, the main character, Offred, remembers how things were before, back then when the people of New England had freedom. She remembers all the good memories of Luke. How she could buy Tobacco, or pretty much anything. How nice it was to have a job and a family. Later in chapter six, she says: “When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that”. Obviously, not everything was as good as she remembers but freedom was definitely much better than living in a confined community. In chapter ten, Offred compares their situation to rats in a maze, “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze”, this again focuses on how the handmaids, in reality, live in a confined environment, controlled by the aunts and guards like the maze controls the rat. They are free to go anywhere as long as they stay in the boundaries where other people want them to be. “We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.” this quote from the ninth chapter of the book focuses on how people in today’s world think they have freedom but in reality, we only have what the government wants us to have. Even in today’s world people, a huge part of the society is confined but this fact is well hidden on the white spaces on the blank sides of the papers.

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In order to create a handmaid from regular everyday women, the Aunts, Commandeers and the whole system worked on their brainwashing process. They had been tortured, taught, and shaped into totally different people. One of the main quotes about freedom is when Aunt Lydia says that they shouldn’t underestimate the significance of the “freedom from” granted to them by Gilead. If you think about it, it’s wrong to decide what people should be free from. It’s their life, who is the government to decide if they should let people read the books or not? People getting education doesn’t hurt society, it can only improve their own, and the lives of those who make up a community It is not valid reasoning to say that educated women might not be obedient. People and especially women are not tools for reproduction. Everyone is devoted to living their life as they will, as long as it doesn’t harm other people. “Freedom, like everything else, is relative,” says Offred. Back then she had responsibilities, family, and job and thought she wasn’t free, when she became a handmaid she realized she had so much freedom in the past. Later when she started violating rules with the commander, she thought she gained a portion of her freedom back and actually started appreciating the life that she had at the commander’s phone. Gilead seeks to silence women, but Offred speaks out, denies Gilead to take control over her inner life, Offred’s describing the horror of Gilead as she experiences it from day to day. Serena Joy, she used to be a powerful woman but Galilea’s government seems without freedom of choice. She worked as a gospel singer and anti-feminist activist and crusader for “traditional values” in Pre-Gilead times. After that, she used to give speeches as a television personality who promoted an anti-feminist about the sanctity of the home she was advocating the women return to the home and submission to their husbands. Now, she’s the commander’s wife. Atwood makes it obvious how unhappy she is in the current domestic situation, acting as a wife, she is broken inside. This unhappiness derives from the restrictive and male-dominated society. Gilead’s society cannot bring happiness even to its most powerful women.

Although the Handmaids lived in a confined, prison-like environment, there are some things they could do to feel less imprisoned. Offred and some of the other girls arrange small rebellions against Serena Joy and the whole system. Sometimes they would steal butter to use it as a face cream, or steal some sugar from the lunchroom. One of these rebellious activities was when Offred started going out with the commander. Even something as simple as playing scrabble made her feel like she gained a portion of her freedom back. Once she started violating all the rules with Nick she no longer felt the need to escape the colony. “The fact is that I no longer want to leave, escape, cross the border to freedom. I want to be here, with Nick, where I can get at him”. This shows that once you give people a little freedom, a little rest from confinement and control, they will get accustomed to their situation. This is very bad for the overall situation in the book. Probably the worst thing about Nick is the way he makes Offred complacent, lessening her desire to ‘escape, cross the border to freedom.’ Being with him, although it’s dangerous and can’t last, makes her life palatable. But even finding love and desire after a long drought shouldn’t stop her from wanting to get out of a place like that. In confinement, many feelings so familiar to us, disappear. They change and transform into something different. In the regular world, Nick and Offred might not even have had a relationship but the need for romantic relationships in Gilead is so powerful. ‘I have no rose to toss he has no lute’ ‘It’s the same kind of hunger’. This quote means that there is definitely sexual chemistry between them and romance is quite impossible to achieve. Just like Offred felt good violating the rules, it was the same with Moira. She was fed up with the Aunts having power over the handmaids. She was fed up with being confined, not given a choice and used as a tool. So she decided to set herself free. ‘Moira had power now, she’d been set loose, she’d set herself loose. She was now a loose woman.’ (Chapter 22) and setting herself loose, gave her huge power. In the eyes of other handmaids as well as the commander and the Aunts.

In conclusion, the effects of Freedom and Confinement is the main topic of the book The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood describes the positive and negative effects of giving people, on one hand, infinite power(commander and his wife) and absolute confinement(handmaids). These people who once were equal and created a functioning society were put in two different situations which pushed them to do the things that they did. The narrator tells things about the freedom that is to be considered. While we have our freedom, as she did in her past life, people should be careful not to let it fall in the wrong hands. If the freedom is forcefully taken away, the only way this situation can be maintained is by brainwashing the majority of society, like the Aunts did in the book. If a wrong set of morals becomes popular, it can cause the world to collapse. And most importantly, once the freedom is lost and the whole country is in a confinement, the only way people can feel free again is by violating rules. Offred went against the law and she felt better. Moira did the same and ran away. Even though she got caught and tortured, she didn’t regret. Some Handmaids secretly read books, others smoke or even merely violated the code of conduct. These actions made them feel like they had a part of their life back

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Freedom and Confinement in The Handmaid’s Tale. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/freedom-and-confinement-in-the-handmaids-tale/
“Freedom and Confinement in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/freedom-and-confinement-in-the-handmaids-tale/
Freedom and Confinement in The Handmaid’s Tale. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/freedom-and-confinement-in-the-handmaids-tale/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Freedom and Confinement in The Handmaid’s Tale [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/freedom-and-confinement-in-the-handmaids-tale/
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