Monday, November 3, 2008

The Handmaid's Tale

A) Religion as a Front:
In Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale there are many moral questions raised in the novel that are addressed by Atwood's stylistic symbolism, allusions, and connotation. The largest of these questions addresses the validity of religion. The Republic of Gilead, where the main character Offred is forced to reside in, is an extreme fundamentalist christian society. In this society, religion is taken to the extreme by forcing the separation of the sexes, forcing their religion upon nonbelievers, and subjugating and degrading women.
One central component of any religion is faith, which is one of the three religious virtues along with love and charity. One of the central symbols in the novel is the "faith" embroidered pillow. The pillow is dingy, used up, and the word "faith" is faded. This represents not only Offred's questioning of her own faith in this horrible society but also poses the question of the validity of faith in a radical sect of religion. However, Atwood subtly points out that the pillow is, "worn, but not used up". This shows shows how no matter how dire or hopeless the situation, faith will always be prevalent, even if it has been battered and bruised and is at the breaking point. Faith is the major component of religion and if faith is lost in the religion at large, then it is truly not a religion at all.
Some philisophers proposed that, "Religion was created by man as a means to control the masses." Atwood exploits this philosophy throughout the entire novel and questions if religion can allow personal freedom for all. One such way in which she poses this question is through the characterization of the Commander. In the beginning of the novel the Commander is percieved as a stern keeper of the "faith", with the greatest freedoms among any other members of society. However, as Offred gets to know the Commander, she sees the Commander is truly a man of appalling values who remains miserable, even with all of the freedoms he has. The Commander, who is the personification of the high command of society, reveals to Offred all of the hyprocisy and double standards the seemingly orthodox society have upheld as "sinful" actions. The lack of compassion even in other people such as the Commander's wife opens Offred's eyes to the true evil of the society. The fact that the commander mentions, "We had to break a few eggs to make an omelette" is a major understatement about a society where women are subjugated and forced to become walking uteruses.
Religion is something that should be heartfelt and true. Atwood questions just how heartfelt and true the religion is in the novel and in various extreme sects today when she introduces the Soul Scrolls shop. Soul Scrolls, a building where prayers are mechanically processed and ordered mock the devout parctice of prayer by making it into a comemrcialized, monotonous, and mechanized entity. These soul scrolls question just how valid the religion in Gilead can be if it isn't heartfelt.
Overall, while the novel appears to many a direct attack by Atwood upon religion in general, one must remember that the setting is in a fictional extremeist society. On the other hand, Atwood's novel is an attack on extremist sects of religion that promote some of the practices that many members of society find questionable. It doesn't proclaim how religion is bad, but how religion, when used as a front, can get out of hand and ultimately ruin the society at large. Atwood emphasizes the golden rule of religion, 'Do unto others as you would do unto yourself." Questioning the validity of religion in a totalitarian, hypocritical society allows the reader to connect with the novel and better sympathize with Offred's plight for change.
* * *
B) "It's a club?" I say.
"Well, that's what we call it among ourselves. The club."
"I thought this sort of thing was strictly forbidden," I say.
"Well, officially," he says. "But everyone's human after all."
......"Who are these people?" I ask him.
......"Well, some of them are real pros. Working girls" -he laughs- "from the time before. They couldn't be assimilated; anyway, most of them prefer it here."
"And the others?"
'The others?" he says. "Well, we have quite a collection........." (Atwood 237-238)

Throughout the entire novel, the Republic of Gilead is shown as a society of impregnable standards that not even the men appeared to be able to break. However, with the introduction of this quote, that entire buildup goes down the drain as the Commander explains how there can be exceptions to the rules. This helps attribute to the clause that Gilead implements religion in order to suppress the masses. Power corrupts. And Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This entire personifies the full-blown extent of hypocrisy in a society that suppress all sexual activity.
* * *
C) The setting of The Handmaid's Tale is one that to me was extremely too farfetched of a concept to deliver Atwood's message. While Atwood's motiffs were generally clear, they just simply couldn't be purveyed to me in such a bizarre setting. While Atwood rejects religious fanaticism, what ends up popping up in mind is the reassurance that this is a ridiculously figmented situation. Comparing such an extreme form of mysogyny to the treatment of women today is truly absurd and to me the message becomes muddled by Atwood's awkward attempt at making pseudo a world where she can direct her criticism on certain aspects of modern society by over-exaggerating the fake society in her book. Yes it is true that in the past that the world cultures were greatly mysogenic. And yes it is true that even today women aren't treated as equally as they should be. However, that doesn't deviate from the fact that the message Atwood sends is through a rather biased situation where she can implement over-the-top situations that just don't compare to the situations of our modern day society in the United States. While some may argue that in today's world a similar situation is happening in the Middle East, i am not denying that. I am simply saying that Atwood's setting is in the USA and that her idea of a radical and abrupt change in the USA's government is slightly airing on absurdity. While one could go off on a tangent about the objectible themes in this novel, it would simply drive one askew from enjoying the book.
In closing, I found the plot and the themes of this novel somewhat questionable. The disturbing nature of the entire novel definitely did not convince me to read another one of Atwood's works. Overall, I give this book a 2/5 for its failure to convey a thoughtful, moral statement in a far fetched setting.

General reaction to "The Ceremony" scene


E-Rock said...

blood covenant thing was totally unnecessary... moving on:

I agree with your ideas that Atwood's views on her topics are exaggerated and barely applicable to today's society. I really don't see what she's complaining about. However I don't agree with the morally questionable content present in the novel attributing to its quality as a piece of literature. This may affect a person's enjoyment of the book, but the content is completely appropriate for the topics discussed.

Truthiness said...

Thank you for your input :)

Mr. Klimas said...

Your analysis of each novel is excellent. Great job! I would like to point out, however, that Atwood most likely created an over the top situation on purpose. Creating something that is hard to believe, yet is actually happening on different parts of the globe is what makes it powerful.

Truthiness said...

Indeed..........well put. (strokes beard)