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Feminist Issues in The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood raises a number of feminist issues in her novel The Handmaid's Tale, a book embodying a vision of a dystopian society, or a utopian society that does not work and does not serve the interests of the majority of its population. The novel is narrated by its protagonist, a young woman known as Offred who has been kidnapped by her government and separated from her husband and child. She is forced into slavery as a Handmaid, or surrogate mother, for a powerful couple that cannot have children of their own. This story is set in a future where such arrangements have become commonplace. Offred encounters not only the enormity of the demand placed on her to be a surrogate mother but a number of other indignities as her society imposes a code upon her, forcing her to dress and behave in a certain way in order not to be punished. Atwood develops here a vision of the place of women in society and uses an extreme situation to comment on the secondary position women occupy in Western society today. The novel uses an exaggerated social setting to delve into issues of women's powerlessness and loss of identity such as can be found in our contemporary society, different from the world of Gilead only in degree. The slavery of these women and the resulting powerlessness and loss of identity is comparable to the plight of blacks in the era before the Civil War.

The story is set in a future United States called Gilead. This new version of the U.S. came into being after the President was assassinated and the Constitution suspended, after which an authoritarian regime developed based on a return to traditional values and fundamentalist Christianity. Gilead has what amounts to a state religion and ruthlessly eliminates all who would take a different point of view. The world that has been created in Gilead is not only an extrapolation of the forces that Atwood sees in the U.S. from her vantage point in the mid-1980s but is also a ...

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Feminist Issues in The Handmaid's Tale. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:34, February 21, 2017, from