To what extent has Margaret Atwood made you think differently about the position of women in our own society?  How has she done this?

Expert Answers
amerie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Margaret Atwood came of age in the Second Wave of feminism, when rights had been established, but there were still significant inequalities in society regarding gender roles.  I think the best Atwood novel to address your question is The Handmaid's Tale.   Going back to the Biblical precedent of the handmaid as a vessel to bear children, Atwood places women in the subordinate role of breeders.  Even though the premise of Gilead (the newly-formed theocracy) is that women are "elevated" because of their ability to create life, it is still the women who are punished if they can't conceive.  "Officially," men are never sterile; it's only the women who can or cannot have children - obviously untrue.  The women in Gilead are assigned duties based on their function:  breeders have viable wombs, women past their prime are maids, wealthy women are Wives of Commanders, young virgins are gifts for returning soldiers, rebellious feminists are sent to The Colonies to clean up toxic waste.  The clear message here is that women are not important in society beyond their ability to make babies or as a convenience to men.  Atwood does an excellent job giving an fictional illustration of what will happen if women ignore or take advantage of the strides toward equality  which were made by their predecessors.  In this way she echoes George Orwell's message in 1984 that if the citizenry chooses not to think, others will do it for them, and not at all to their advantage.

Read the study guide:
The Handmaid's Tale

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question