The novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, discussed three main themes: feminism, religious totalitarian society and the significant of literacy. By reading the book and other materials, this paper considered that the argument of the author about citizenship in Gilead is feminism. The saying of the protagonist, “woman’s culture”, means women’s absolute obedience to men’s rights and religion at that background. Prohibition of literacy, another themes of the book, restricted and denied the rights of women tightly, and made this country stupid, cold and impersonal.
Margaret Atwood, the great author of the book, built a cold, horrible, hopeless world by using some amazing expresses, such as scratching satires, black humors and so on. However, these great expresses described many tortured souls and a story of sadness. This book criticizes the extremism of patriarchal society and religion from the perspective of women. Gilead is a country like this: it terminates America's increasingly exaggerated carbon emissions, terminates the use of many chemicals, restores the traditional way of life, and lets women concentrate on their "born" mission - to have children. But because the United States is too indulgent when it is alive, there are many sequelae, the most notable is the creation of a group of men and women who lose fertility, the birth rate is very low, and the probability of children's health after birth is only 1/4. But in this context, the whole world has a similar situation. Only the United States has become Gilead, because in the Bible, this is the case. God has turned his face and abandoned his children.
Feminism: The hopes in despair
Margaret Atwood wanted to make feminism the theme. The rulers of Gilead have gathered women who still have fertility, wearing white double wing scarves, wearing a fertile red, no learning, reading and writing, entering the detention center, learning the rituals that are commensurate with birth and the new country.
“We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.”(Atwood 124) Atwood showed a helplessness of pessimism to feminism. Offred did not resist, maybe revolted, but gradually yielded unconsciously. This is just a story of an ordinary woman, who use “do not let those bastards ride on your head”(Atwood 54) to encourage herself, but only to survive, to find a little happiness from the misfortunes to comfort their ordinary women, she is afraid of suffering and fear of isolation, so she chooses to be a handmaid; she is not an independent woman, not advocating feminism, she only wants to feel happy and love the people they want to love (even if it is the third who destroys the family of others), like having sex with the driver Nick, and get a moment of paralysis and satisfaction. After reading her story, there is no feeling of anger. Because the world is so bitter that it is painful to keep awake. Let alone fight.
But the author seems to be fighting against the world in desperation. She constantly rests on the misfortune and inactivation of this life, with Offred’ s desire for freedom, the normal family and love, and even a little touch with the stranger,Atwood looked forward to redemption and hope as Offred. There is a shadow in the light, just as there is a shadow with light. She finally gave Offred the handmaid a very uncertain end. Mayday, stands for hope, fight and a new, uncertain world, hugs Offred. Feminism climax here, the protagonist is rescued, symbolizing the ray of light that the author seeks in the cold and dark world of the world. Hope is in despair, there is always a desperate, and always a struggle in oppression.
“Women’s Culture”: A pungent satire on the patriarchal society
“Women’s culture”, a simple phrase, said by Offred, actually shows an attitude: The intransigence of the patriarchal society. The phrase includes Atwood’s interesting expresses: In normal times, women’s culture means that female have equal rights to their male counterparts, they are human, not machines only used for having babies. In Gilead, the religious totalitarian society, everything has changed, so “women’s culture”stands for obedience and a compromise of that deformed age. Women become tools, toys, men needs them only for children. Handmaids are typical women for “women’s culture”, they cannot have their own feelings, and not allowed to learning and entertainment. Their rights are deprived of the patriarchal society. Although Offred and her friends have fighting in their heart all the time, the society still shackles them tightly. These are Atwood’s helplessness and anger. At the same time, the simple phrase is also a violent attack on the patriarchal society.
Literacy: A good medicine to cure the country’s disease but not allowed
Offred and other handmaids are not allowed learning and other activities, their actions are limited only to birth. Once she read the word “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”(Atwood 54), she does not understand the meaning. Because this is the only sentence she read in her space, she regard the words as a mantra, a prayer, when she gets into trouble, she uses them to pray, and when she gets the meaning, she gets the courage, the power of heart to fight the environment -- she has the courage of slight hope, the desire of love. Literacy is a powerful medicine to cure diseases of people’s heart. When they nerves, or helpless, a book or even a warm sentence, an encouraging word can help them to face with the environment and have the desire of change and hope. Offred wants to love somebody, believe other people, she chooses Nick to love, to release her natural desire. This is undoubtedly a struggle. Without literacy and knowledge, human will never learn how to think critically and logically, a country will fall into mess, ignorance and even barbarous.
The rulers of any totalitarian society are well versed in the truth that it is not enough to squeeze the society out of the society by state violence. To maintain their rule, it is necessary to promote a group of people who are loyal to the eldest by the rulers to act as the adhesives of the system. In Gilead, the rulers prohibits literacy of women so that they will be more ignorance, and afraid of any rulers. This is like "1984", “even death, you are also as a member of our dead”.(Orwell 138) Women’s rights as human beings are tightly held in the hands of rulers.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” makespeople realize the importance of human rights protection and be vigilant about the dangers of religious fanaticism so as not to fall into the terrible situation of the country in the future. There is no doubt that this is of great practical significance
Atwood, M. The handmaid’s tale. New York: Random House, 2002. Print.
Orwell, George. 1984.New York: The New American Library, 1961. Print.