Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Atwood’s central intention is to provide a warning about the danger of turning back the clock to a time when women were wives and mothers and no more. In The Handmaid’s Tale, she has constructed a fable which shows how dangerous it would be to deny women the opportunities for independence which have come in the last few centuries: gainful occupations, free choice in love and other personal matters, and political and economic power. To remove these rights for the sake of a religious ideal would be to depersonalize women.
Atwood points out that such a change could be accomplished only with the cooperation of a large number of women. The “Aunts” and the officials’ wives are essential to the new order. They accept their roles because to refuse them would mean torture and death. Yet their acceptance means that those in charge need not worry about a concerted resistance by women to these changes. Like all dictators, the officials use force, but they also use members of oppressed groups to control others in those groups.
The society depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale is most immediately menacing to women, but Atwood makes it clear that the threat is not limited to women. Any group in a society can be effectively controlled only if the entire society is subject to strictly applied rules. Men in this society may seem to have more freedom than women, but in fact they, too, have been deprived of virtually all the rights and...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Handmaid's Tale Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!