As a dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale reflected a repressive society, through the first person point of view. Offred, the woman who brings the reader to her daily life in the Republic of Gilead, tells the story as it happens. She also leads the readers to her flashbacks, when Gilead did not exist, the times she still had a husband and daughter, when she was still free, not a property but a person. The title Offred, replaced her real name, demonstrate that she is a property of the Commander Fred. As a handmaid, her only duty is to produce children for the Commander and his wife.
The Republic of Gilead created the system which handmaids are assigned to elite couples who have trouble bearing children, due to the low production rates. Her freedom is restricted, like all other women; she owns no property of her own, she wears the handmaid’s red dress with the white wings on her head, covering up all parts of the body; she cannot leave the Commander’s house except for shopping trips with another handmaid as her partner. Even on her shopping trip, Offred still has to be very careful of what she says and does, nothing unorthodox, because the shopping partner or The Eyes, could hold it as an evidence of crime.
On the way back from the shopping trip, Offred and her shopping partner Ofglen encountered a group of Japanese tourist, she refused their request of taking a photo of her because it is very unorthodox, and their interpreter could be an Eyes, secret police of Gilead, which makes the act even more dangerous. Ofglen suggests to take a walk by the Wall, where the sinned ones are hanged and left on the wall to demonstrate. During their walk they realize the Wall added three corpses, later they found out those corpses used to to perform abortions before Gilead’s time.
The traditional values Gilead praises so much, more or less like the Puritans, has no tolerance for abortions or any other act against production rate. The phrases handmaids use to greet one another, such as “blessed be the fruit” shows how fertility is their obsession. This extremely patriarchal society represses women to an extreme, when a couple cannot conceive, the blame is on the women, she would be labeled “barren”, because there is no such thing that a man is sterile. The handmaid are given three chances to produce a child, which means they have three households to try to fulfill their duty.
If the handmaid fail at all three households, they will be exile to colonies where death might even be a better choice. The handmaid are as good as their fertility, once they are “barren” they are no use to Gilead and can be discarded casually. Under such circumstances, handmaids has no other choice but to find any way they can to be pregnant. Those who become true believers see the pregnancy as a proud badge. Jeanie, a women Offred knew from the Red Center, came to shopping trip so that she can show off her big belly to other handmaids. She became the center of jealousy instantly.
But those who refuse to do as they are told and be a birth machine, as Moira, best friend of Offred, who is independent and rebellious, did not give trying until she successfully escaped the Red Center. Moira and Offred are the ones that remembers the past and have a clear mind about what they have lost since Gilead took control. They do not forget their real name, for they believe one day they will become free again and be themselves again. Sadly, later in the novel when Offred sees Moira is working at the club, where Commander smuggled her in for a night out, and found out what happened after Moira had escaped the Center.
But in the end, Moira claims that she thinks it is not better to work at the club than being sent to the colonies. She seems to accept the circumstances. Offred was shocked, “have they really done it to her then, taken away something that used to be so central to her. ” She imagines Moira to be the person that blows up the whole Club with forty Commanders inside, not the indifferent and obedient working girl in costume and high heels that she used to hate. Handmaids are not the only group confined to their little room and their paired shopping trips.
Although Commanders’ wives have more privileges and seems to be living a protected and happy domestic life, however in fact their freedom is stripped away as well. Since women are not allowed to have jobs, “Many of the wives have such gardens, it’s something for them to order and maintain and care for. ” Serena Joy, wife of the Commander, knits all the time. She knits scarves to support the angels fighting at frontline, like all other wives do. Nevertheless, Offred thinks that this is only a task to keep the wives busy, to make them feel like they are doing something.
As for the scarves, they might very well be send back to the factory and become a ball of yarn again, never dreaming of reaching to the angels at frontline. The laws in Gilead prevent women getting hurt by men, and the price of safety is freedom. As for men, they are not as free as they use to be either. Guardians and Angels are not allowed to have relationships with women, nor can they masterbate since it is banned. Their only hope would be to become a Commander someday, when they will be able to have a wife and a handmaid of their own. “The problem is with men… There is nothing for them anymore. even the Commander himself told Offred so.
Commanders may have access to clubs and such, but they what they crave for is love. “Sex is easy. “, but love is not. “They are turning off on feel, on marriage. ” The more indifference a man become, the less strive and desire one has. Obedience comes after. As men become more obedient, and women need the protection they are having, Gilead has control over both sides. Moreover, Commanders who can perform outlawed activities would attract more Guardians and Angels want to become one. The corruption of higher class holds together Gilead leaderships.