“My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.” This is a quote from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’. The story is told from Offred’s point of view who is the main character and it is set in a place called Gilead in a totalitarian theocracy which has risen up and overthrown the US government. Control of women is a recurring theme in the book and is one of the many topical issues that the book is based on. Gilead control women through fear, freedom of thought and language. Offred is controlled by the fear of never seeing her daughter again, the fearful thought of being banished to the colonies and through her sexuality. Atwood is able to link what is happening in the novel to what is happening in today’s world which demonstrates just how possible this dystopian future could really be and that it really could happen in our present day.
Atwood uses the the control of fear as a technique which gives the effect of the reader being in the handmaid’s position and helps us to realise what the handmaid’s go through in their day to day lives in Gilead. Offred is constantly controlled by fear throughout the text by what she see’s in Gilead. “Beside the gateway there are six more bodies hanging, by the legs, their hands tied in front of them, their heads in a white bag”. From what is gathered in the story, anyone who disobeys the rules of Gilead or tries to escape from Gilead is punished with death. The bodies are then hung in the public’s view in a place where Offred commonly passes by. By doing this act of humiliation for the dead, the theocracy is sending a message to anyone who might consider stepping out of line by publicly showing the consequences. Atwood includes this because it relates the real world, back in the day when public hanging’s were a common occurrence. It also tells us that this could happen again in the future and the reader responds to this by realising that these horrific scenes that Atwood includes could become a reality.
Control of thought is another technique that Atwood uses in The Handmaid’s Tale for the character Offred. Throughout the story, Offred has to stay sane in order to get through her day to day life. For Offred, “sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it so I will have enough, when the time comes.” This directly relates to how Offred is controlled by thought because it is a mental battle for Offred. She is constantly fighting the thoughts of the unknown; what has happened to her daughter? Will the eyes turn up tomorrow and drag her away to the colonies? What if she doesn’t become pregnant? What has become of Luke? These are all thoughts that have been instilled in her from the regime and the thought of the unknown is what scares her the most. Atwood includes this because it shows the true proportion of how much control Gilead has over Offred. Physical control is easy enough but when you have control over what a person is thinking, that demonstrates true power. As the reader, this has helped me to realise the significance of control and how it doesn’t just relate to physical power.
Sexuality is a major part of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaid’s are always fully dressed, “The skirt is ankle-length, full, gathered to a flat yoke that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are full. the white wings too are prescribed issue; they are to keep us from seeing, but also from being seen. I have never looked good in red, it’s not my color.” Even though Gilead enforce all of these rules on Handmaid’s, Offred is able to find power over the men that Gilead also have sexual control over. The theocracy’s ideal world doesn’t include material such as pornographic magazines or videos and masturbation is against the law so all of the young men who look over the women and control the checkpoints are essentially “sex-starved”. “They touch with their eyes instead and I move my hips a little feeling my full red skirt move around me, it’s like thumbing your nose from behind a fence or teasing a dog with a bone, I enjoy the power, I hope they get hard at the thought of us.” It is moments like this where Offred finds the power of will to keep on going and be hopeful. The control of sexuality could be linked to a cult in New Zealand which is known as Gloriavale. Here, the women don’t choose who they marry and are simply there to please and provide for their husband. Atwood includes this sort of control to give the reader the feeling of just how lucky we are to have freedom in this world at the moment. A dystopian future is a possibility for today’s society and one similar to The Handmaid’s tale is already real in the form of Gloriavale.
In conclusion to this essay, Atwood is able to relate the events in The Handmaid’s Tale to events that have occurred and still do occur in the world today. For reader’s such as myself, I have responded by understanding just how closely related Gilead is to our real world that we live in today. Atwood has used control as a major point in relation to todays world and has included control of fear, thoughts and sexuality. The dystopian future shows that it can easily become a reality and by using Offred as the narrator, the reader can gain a better understanding of how she has been controlled by Gilead through fear, thoughts and sexuality which allows the reader to empathise with Offred more.