The Handmaid's Tale Questions and Answers
by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale book cover
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Comment on the dystopian elements in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

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The Handmaid's Tale is set in a dystopian near-future world where reactionary Christian fundamentalists have seized control of the government and set up a totalitarian theocracy. Any deviations from the government's strict interpretations of Christian behavior are harshly punished. Offred, the main character, is cut off from the normal flows of information that one would have access to in a free society, such as newspapers or magazines. She has to assume she is being spied on and be extremely careful about what she says. She is forced to pass dead bodies hanging on walls as she goes to market. The bodies are graphic reminders of the power of the state and are meant to terrify people into obedience.

Offred has no control over her body or destiny. She is a handmaid, forced to sleep with a commander, a powerful man in this society, because his older wife is infertile. Infertility is a serious problem, and Offred's having had a child consigns her to the fate of being treated as a breeding...

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agreenroy | Student

While a utopian society is based on the idea of perfection, a dystopian society focuses on oppression and misery with the pretense of perfection. Often the story is projected as a future society should be aware of, though generally the author is focusing on contemporary events in political climates. In Atwood's case, she focuses on past and present events, forseeing a frightening future for women, warning against a government with too much power, and more specifically men with too much power, and all the women in the novel, regardless of class rank, are oppressed and livign in fear of the future.

In order for a dystopian world to succeed in literature, it must be juxtaposed against the utopian ideal. In Gilead, we see the world of Offred against the idea that the government has everyone's best interest at heart. We see the world through the eyes of Offred. She is basically a prostitute living in a world where women have lost their rights, hence oppression and misery.

Dystopian works often have rebels, and this novel is no different except that Offred is rebellious in a way that makes her more miserable. When the Commander, Fred, begins to spend time with her away from the monthly ritual, Offred goes willingly, but we know she disgusts herself doing so.

Perhaps what sticks with readers most of all is the fear that Offred lives with. She is both strong and weak, brave and cautious. She is unlike typical dystopian protagonists in that she is not defying the government publicly.