The Handmaid’s Tale-Dystopian Literary Tradition Dystopia is defined as being a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. Dystopian is also considered to be about futuristic societies that have degraded into repressed and controlled states. Dystopian literature uses cautionary tones warning us that if we continue to live the way we do, this can be the consequence. A Dystopia is contrary of a utopia (a world where everything is perfect) and often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government.
Dystopias usually feature different kinds of oppressive, socially controlled systems and a lack of or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions, and in incessant state of warfare and violence (Utopia and Dystopia. ) These types of novels can also explore the notion of humans abusing technology, and how humans individually cope with technology that may have evolved too quickly. A dystopian society can also often be characterized by poverty and brutal political controls. The Handmaids Tale is described as being part of the Dystopian Literary Tradition.
This is an accurate descriptor of this work because the novel follows all the criteria required to be considered Dystopian in nature. While reading the Handmaid’s Tale, you will notice the criteria needed to be considered dystopian. Some examples of criteria that can be found in the novel are as follows: totalitarian control, dehumanization, theocratic government, and (in this case) misogyny. In the Republic of Gilead, there is complete control over women and most of their rights are restricted. The same rights women have fought to gain for over many years.
Simple things that the modern woman would more than likely take for granted. Things such as reading, a marital status, an education, dating, driving, wearing makeup, choosing your own clothing and much more. This dystopian tale is frightening because the logic of how the society became the way it is happens to be very believable. Offred is a maid in a time when fertile women were forced to be breeding machines to keep the human population going. The world is a post-nuclear world and many women can’t have children. Offred, a citizen of Gilead, lives in a society where women no longer have rights.
Certain women from Gilead are chosen to be Handmaid’s and are assigned to Commander’s in which they are to be intimate with on a monthly basis while their wives watch, in hopes to become pregnant. Not only is the wife present, but she must watch as her husband is intimate with another woman. In Gilead, women who are fertile and unmarried are recruited as Handmaids; they wear red habits with white hoods and are assigned to a Commander, and his Wife. The sole function of the Handmaid is to reproduce, a task that requires her to engage in ritualized, visits with the Commander in the presence of his Wife.
In the Republic of Gilead there is a caste system set in place, specifically designed for women. In the new caste system there are Handmaid’s, who wear red, Econowives, who are the spouses of lower class men; and wear striped dresses. The remainder of infertile and unmarried women are also divided into the following: Marthas, a servant class who wear green dresses; Aunts, who are supposed to watch over the Handmaid’s and teach them about God and the ways of the new world and lastly, Unwomen, a group of women who are sent to the plagued Colonies to clean up toxic waste due to the fact that they refuse to convert to the new laws of Gilead.
The women are all given new roles in society. They no longer have their previous identities, and new names are given to them based on who their commander is. Women from Gilead are forced into being intimate with these men, regardless of their past life. The Handmaid’s could have had children and prior husbands, but the past no longer matters. Gilead, which is now a totalitarian and theocratic society, was said to be set up in a way to protect the people, but it is actually doing more harm by dehumanizing the people and restricting all of their constitutional rights.
The same rights many American’s fought to possess many years ago. A totalitarian society is one in which the political system is characterized by people who are completely controlled by the government (Longman Dictionary, Fourth Edition. ) Unfortunately in this case the Republic is controlled by the government and by the military. The people, especially women, have no control over anything including even basic aspects of their own lives. Women from Gilead are no longer allowed to be with their families, husbands, or loved ones.
Citizens are stripped of their educational backgrounds and previous jobs. In the Republic there are no longer doctors, attorneys, nor teachers. Women are no longer allowed to read or to sleep with men (they choose) willingly. Simple things, for instance, using lotion, wearing makeup etc. are all taken away from these women. They have all lost their religious rights and freedoms. If you do not convert to the ways of the people in Gilead, you are either executed or sent to the colonies to live which are similar to concentration camps and still hold a lot of radiation.
The people have no rights; and there is complete misogyny against women in the Republic of Gilead. Totalitarian control is based on political systems in which the people are controlled by the Government (Longman Dictionary, Fourth Edition. ) The President was murdered, and due to this happening, (“Presidents Day Massacre”) the US abolished the Constitution and theocratic government was formed under the rule of military dictatorship. In Gilead there is no money, smoking, reading, movies, and no sex for pleasure, amongst other things.
The people’s rights are revoked and they are denied their rights and freedoms. For instance, smoking is a right that should never be denied, but in Gilead, it is illegal. Offred wants a cigarette badly and notices the Commander’s wife smoking one. Looking at the cigarette and thinking to herself she says: “The cigarettes must have come from the black market, I thought and this gave me hope. Even now that there is no real money anymore, there is still a black market. There’s always something that can be exchanged. I looked at the cigarette with longing.
For me, like liquor and coffee, they are all forbidden” (Atwood 14). Something insignificant like being able to smoke a cigarette has been forbidden by the government. The government of Gilead has put restrictions on many things. Another item the reader will discern in the story is that the Republic degrades people and makes them feel inferior. They must abide by the rules of Gilead, if you do not, there are serious and even deadly repercussions. This is a prime example of Dehumanization. Society in Gilead is no longer free to think for themselves. The Government does not want a society with educated people.
They have done away with the people’s educational backgrounds. They have taken something very dear to these people, something they have worked so hard for. It is as if they want the people to be ignorant. People are only allowed to be what Gilead forces them to be. While speaking to a friend, Offred explains the new found sadness in this Republic of destruction. She speaks about their lack of freedom and how they have been stripped of everything, including their social/educational statuses, “There are no children. Doctors lived here once, lawyers, University Professors.
They are no lawyers anymore and the University is closed” (Atwood 23). Gilead abides by all the rules to be considered Dystopian. It is not only a totalitarian country, but it is theocratic as well. Everything is supposed to be done in the name of the Lord and religion. If you do not adhere to the new testaments’ teaching and convert from you prior religion, you can be executed or sent off to live in the colonies. The women must speak and remain holy, or else, there are consequences for their unholy actions “We go to church as usual and look at the graves.
Then to the wall. Once was a Catholic priest placarded with an upside down cross and one from another sect I cannot recognize” (Atwood 20). These are things done in the name of the Lord to show people if you do not accept God, you will be executed. Misogyny (hatred against women) plays a big role in Gilead. They are separated into a caste like system. They wear certain colors and whatever color they wear can inform others about their role in society and their assigned partner’s social status. There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Martha’s, some in stripped dresses, red, blue and green, cheap and skimpy, that marks the women of the poorer men, they are called Econowives” (Atwood 24). Overall, The Handmaids Tale is a great novel. It really put into perspective how realistic Dystopian Literature can be. Dystopian literature is not only realistic, but many people believe that it is not too farfetched, because the government does have so much control over us already. It would be a sad, sad world, if in fact, one day this really happened.