Handmaids Tale Essay, Research Paper
In what ways can The Handmaid&rsquos Tale be considered a feminist novel?
The Handmaid&rsquos Tale is narrated by an oppressed woman, so it is to
be expected that feminism becomes a recurring theme. Women have no rights
or money unless they have a valid marriage to a man. They are given few
options&ndash if they are fertile they can become sex slaves&ndash&lsquo
womb on legs&rsquo to Commanders or choose to go to the colonies.
Infertile women or&lsquo unwomen&rsquo are seen as having no use so they
automatically go to the colonies where they will die from disease or
radiation. Their use and status is totally dependent on their
relationships with men and ability to have children. Women are used by
men and treated as far inferior, in Gilead women are the men&rsquos
property. The handmaids especially&ndash&lsquo We are a commodity&rsquo,
their names in the household reflect this&ndash Offred&ndash Of Fred.
They can be disposed of at will, even the Commander&rsquos Wives have
little real importance and are given menial tasks such as ordering
prayers at Soul Scrolls and knitting the Guardians scarves&ndash&lsquo
Maybe it&rsquos just something to keep the Wives busy, to give them a
sense of purpose&rsquo.
But this concept of women being extensions and property of men is one
used in our own society. Though mostly out dated now,&lsquo Mrs Peter
Watson&rsquo is similar to&lsquo Ofglen&rsquo. But practically all terms
for women are the extension of the term for men&ndash Mr/s, fe/male,
wo/man. This leads to the idea that Atwood is really just exaggerating
the current situation of the world. The second quote at the beginning of
the book from Swift&rsquos&lsquo A Modest Proposal&rsquo indicates that
The Handmaid&rsquos Tale is Atwood&rsquos own satirical view of present
times. In an interview Atwood says&lsquo theres nothing in the text that
hasn&rsquot already happened&rsquo. The third quote&ndash&lsquo There is
no sign in the desert that says&lsquo Thou shalt not eat
stones&rsquo&rsquo indicates that she believes Gilead could never come
into existence because of the common sense of people, no one could really
believe in its philosophy and beliefs, the society&rsquos flaws are too
Another interpretation of the novel is that it is a reaction against any
idea that the woman&rsquos place is in the home, that her sole use is one
of reproduction. It demonstrates where these views could lead if
encouraged or entertained. It gives the idea that men would act that way
if given the power, that they would like to be in control and superior.
That although men outwardly accept and respect women, inwardly they do
not see them as equals&lsquo I sense in him (the Commander) none of the
animosity I used to sense in men, even in Luke sometimes. He&rsquos not
saying bitch in his head.&rsquo This quote shows that the Commander
doesn&rsquot feel resentment against her because he&rsquos not expected
to treat her like an equal. He is not threatened by her as men perhaps
would be in our society. In fact it indicates that he is amused by her
will and spirit, he doesn&rsquot take her seriously.
In the novel men control the society outwardly, but the women stay
together and support eachother. There is empathy between women of all the
classes, though they have varying status they are all secondary citizens.
Perhaps this suggests that men wouldn&rsquot act that way, that they are
violent and commanding while women make the best of what they can and
stay supportive. There are few attractive male roles; Nick and Luke are
the only ones who are genuinely kind-hearted and brave. But though the
novel is primarily concerned with women and their positions, it
isn&rsquot as supportive of feminism as one might expect. Offred&rsquos
mother is an extreme feminist and she is often ridiculed and shown as
over the top&ndash&lsquo A man is just a woman&rsquos strategy to make
another woman&rsquo. Gilead fulfils many of the extreme feminist&rsquos
designs&ndash separate culture for men and women, women valued and
protected from rape and male abuse, the banning of pornography,
cosmetics, and the idea that magazines are degrading to women.&lsquo You
wanted a women&rsquos culture. Well, now there is one. It isn&rsquot what
you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies.&rsquo Moira is
also a radical feminist, Offred has a more&lsquo common sense&rsquo stand
point and she shows us the paradoxes and dilemmas within feminism. She
loves men; she strives for equality as far as possible between the sexes.
We see how extreme feminism can be as ridiculous as the notion of female
oppression and degradation.
Women suffer in Gilead but men too, though not to such an extreme. Their
plight is not concentrated on so much because the main character is a
woman, and their problems are not as diverse as women&rsquos are. But men
are not ignored by Atwood as much as women are ignored through out the
book and at the end, nearly two hundred years later, by Professor James
The Handmaid&rsquos tale highlights the dangers of all extreme views,
they are so extreme that they overlap. Offred represents a responsible
and sensible stand point, her only request that of equality and respect,
to be seen as a&lsquo valid&rsquo person. Feminism is hard to
define&ndash her mother&rsquos hopes for the redundancy of men and
Offred&rsquos wishes to be equal can both be seen as feminist. I think
The handmaid&rsquos Tale is one of common sense, irrespective of what the
view point may be called.
Why does Shakespeare include the comic sub-plot? Does it add anything to
The comic sub-plot has various uses for the play. It brings light
relief&ndash without it, it would be a very dramatic play, if not boring.
As because Prospero controls the whole island we know that nothing can
really happen that he doesn&rsquot want to, so the play is lacking
tension and the comic sub-plot prevents it from being a very boring play.
Drunkness is amusing anyway, they fall about and say stupid things which
is entertaining for us, plus this is Caliban’s first drink and we
recognise the feelings he expresses for this&lsquo celestial liquor&rsquo
and makes it all the more funny. That Caliban sees these two fools as
kings also makes it amusing&ndash&lsquo I prithee, be my God&rsquo as
Trinculo says&lsquo A most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a poor
drunkard!&rsquo. When he sees what they are later he is disgusted with
himself&ndash&lsquo What a thrice-double ass Was I, to take this drunkard
for a god, And worship this dull fool!&rsquo
As well as providing humour, this trust of Caliban&rsquos echoes his
former trust for Prospero. He hasn&rsquot learned from when Prospero
turned on him, his na?vety shows through his trust and adoration of the
wine. Through the&lsquo aside&rsquo comments of Trinculo and Stephano we
know they are using and teasing him. Its in this situation we feel almost
sorry for Caliban, this&lsquo abhorred slave&rsquo, this&lsquo
demi-devil&rsquo is still very trusting and doesn&rsquot he have reason
to hate Prospero? He is an animal, with animal instincts and cannot be
trained otherwise. Though Prospero is understandably angry that he
tried&lsquo to violate the honour&rsquo of Miranda, but he is overly
harsh with him. The sub-plot shows us how Caliban is trusting yet again,
and we can see how affectionate he would have been to Prospero when he
first arrived on the island, and how understandably bitter he would be
when his master turned on him.
This is an echo of the theme of usurpation, Prospero usurped from his
dukedom, Caliban usurped from his island&ndash Prospero tries to get his
dukedom back and Caliban tries to get his island back at the first
opportunity. It would seem at the end that justice has prevailed,
forgiveness over vengeance, good over evil, but really just Prospero has
prevailed, he successfully usurped and successfully got un-usurped.
Caliban is shown as the most na?ve of the three, but he is the cleverest.
He knows Prospero&rsquos power is in his books, he knows that the robes
Stephano and Trinculo are duped by are&lsquo but trash&rsquo and above
all he speaks some of the most beautiful poetry of the play. This shows
Shakespeare has sympathy with the character and wants us to feel it also.
This is linked to the issue of colonisation, Prospero assumes he was
doing good for Caliban when he tried to educate him, but&lsquo You taught
me language; and my profit on&rsquot is, I know how to curse&rsquo.
Prospero thinks Caliban is completely ungrateful for what he did for him,
but he came and immediately took charge as he thought he was superior,
taking Caliban&rsquos island from him. The sub-plot makes us give thought
on why Caliban has reason for seeking to kill Prospero, other than just
assuming he is evil.
The comic sub-plot also echoes the theme of man&rsquos greed for power.
Sebastian and Antonio have an obvious greed for power, Stephano and
Trinculo do as well. They are just a butler and a jester, when the
possibility for power arose they took it immediately and without
conscience about using Caliban. I think the theme of class and&lsquo
natural hierarchy is there also, they are duped by the trash Prospero
sets for them, indicating that they aren&rsquot cut out for power
naturally, if they were meant to rule they would see that it was
superficial and real power is more than that. Which is presumably what
Prospero would see as he is meant to be in power.
What the sub-plot also touches on is the idea that left unattended evil
will grow. Sebastian and Antonio at the end aren&rsquot remorseful, they
stop because they are caught not because of their conscience. Evil has to
be watched constantly or else it will start to work. This applies to
Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, it is the idea that because they are away
from their masters they all plot together to overthrow them. This
reflects the mistrust and disrespect the&lsquo noble&rsquo men of the
time had for their servants.
Overall the sub-plot is a comical undramatic version of the main events,
giving relief to the fiery vengeance of Prospero and allowing comparisons
to be drawn&ndash why do we think Prospero should have his revenge but
not Caliban his?