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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The ability to read and write is reserved for men in the dystopian, totalitarian world of Gilead. This is one of many strategies designed to keep women subjugated, and it’s taken pretty seriously, with the penalty being having a woman's hand cut off if she is caught reading. Consider the old adage of knowledge being power. It stands to reason that since the powers-that-be want to keep women ignorant and suppressed, reading should not be allowed.

Being able to read and write would also give the women enslaved in Gilead more chances to strategize and make plans for escape. By making sure that women can only verbalize their thoughts (and often have to resort to lipreading for any kind of privacy), the authorities successfully make it very difficult for women to share a secret or covert thought.

In addition, let us consider the role of the Bible in this society. Gilead is meant to be based on scripture, and if women had permission to read, they would soon realize that the powers-that-be...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 717 words.)

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