Why is reading and writing forbidden in The Handmaid's Tale?

Reading and writing are entirely forbidden for women in The Handmaid's Tale as a means of tightening control over their lives, particularly in terms of their ability to communicate with others. This severely restrains their ability to communicate independently and secretively, thus limiting the possibility of rebellion.

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Reading and writing are forbidden for the women of Gilead, as these activities might give them ideas, and in this misogynistic dystopia, that's the last thing that the men in charge want.

Throughout history, illiteracy has often been used as a weapon of control by the ruling classes, and the same dynamic can be observed at work in Gilead. If women are able to read and write, then they'll be able to communicate with each other. This would threaten the powers that be, as it might encourage women to join together and resist this barbaric regime.

From the point of view of Gilead's ruling class, female literacy would also have the baleful effect of allowing women to develop horizons beyond the narrow dystopia in which they live. The men in charge are determined to control reality, and that means ensuring that women only believe what the men want them to believe. And what better way to control reality than to prevent women from reading and writing?

For the rulers of Gilead, enforced illiteracy...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 961 words.)

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