Why is reading and writing forbidden?
Reading and writing are entirely forbidden for women in The Handmaid's Tale as a means of tightening control over their lives, particularly their ability to communicate with others. This severely restrains their ability to communicate independently and secretively, thus limiting the possibility of rebellion.
Reading and writing are forbidden for a number of reasons:
First, women are forbidden to read and write because the government of Gilead does not want them to be able to communicate with one another secretly. They cannot send one another letters or messages that they might use to start or join a resistance. Since they are deprived of all modes of communication besides verbal speech, the women's communication can be much more tightly controlled, because it can be monitored: overheard, caught on video, and so on.
Second, reading is one major way that people educate themselves. When we read, we learn about other people and other societies, and we expand the way we think about the world. The Gileadean government does not want women to be educated or thoughtful. They are supposed to be obedient and submissive. In fact, if you think about it, it is only the first generation of women in Gilead who will be literate. After...
(The entire section contains 2 answers and 492 words.)
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
In The Handmaid's Tale, the act of reading and writing is a tool of those in power and control. As Gilead is a theocracy (meaning that religious doctrine dictates the law of the land), those who have the divine power to read and interpret God's law also have the supreme power to shape the rules and laws of the land. Therefore, how the male Commanders read and interpret the Bible -- regardless of whether their interpretation of scripture is correct or not -- has dire implications for those who are banned from reading and writing. For instance, lines of scripture are used out of context by the Commanders to justify Ceremonies, the act of raping Handmaids in order to impregnate them in God’s name. As the women of Gilead are banned from reading, they are thus banned from questioning the interpretation and application of law, as to even begin the process of questioning would be an offense punishable by mutilation and even death. To deny one the power to have a voice -- regardless if read, spoken, or interpreted -- is to deny one to have agency and choice. This is a deliberate move by those in positions of power: the Commanders of Gilead.