The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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23 ‘The Republic of Gilead, said Aunt Lydia, knows no bounds. Gilead is within you.’ – A parody of Jesus’ saying ‘the Kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21). As frequently in the novel, the regime deliberately confuses a spiritual idea with a political doctrine.

23 ‘The sidewalks here are cement. Like a child, I avoid stepping on the cracks.’ – Evidence both of the underlying anxiety induced by the regime, and also of its regressive effect on its subjects – something that is, at least with regard to the Handmaids, actively encouraged.

23 ‘Women were not protected then.’ – The Handmaid’s Tale , like Nineteen Eighty-Four before it, uses the satirist’s technique of exaggerating societal characteristics is order to make a point. Here, the reader sees two extremes. In Atwood’s ‘pre-Gilead America’, equality and liberalisation have led to women acting independently (running on their own outside), but there has been an equivalent rise in attacks on women (the implication being that this was a far greater problem than in real 1980s America). The other extreme – ‘post-Gilead’ – has women under draconian control – unable to bare skin, heavily guarded etc. – but theoretically safe from sexual attack.

24 ‘Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.’ – This view is compromised by being spouted by Aunt Lydia (who is ‘in love with either/or’). Nevertheless, Atwood probably intends her reader to consider it seriously. When women are ‘protected’ they do not have autonomy, but they are, to a greater degree, freed from responsibility and certain kinds of hardship and danger. There are certainly women in the world today who would argue strongly for such a ‘protected’ way of life – in which marriages are arranged for them and strict social taboos and mores effectively determine what their life will be. In its rejection of liberty, Gilead does represent a ‘temptation’ of sorts, though Atwood strongly implies – here and elsewhere – that it is a temptation to be strongly resisted.

24 ‘habits’ – A word usually applied to monastic garments.

24 ‘Lilies of the Field’ – taken from Matthew 6:28, where Jesus criticises rich and elaborate clothes.

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