The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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24 ‘Now places are known by their signs alone.’ – The regime is trying to ensure that all women are illiterate. It is implied, though never explicitly stated, that this applies even to Wives. The Commander’s Bible is kept in a locked cabinet, for example, and Serena Joy is only seen gardening and knitting, never reading. Gilead’s attempt to oppress women in this way mirrors the practices of the Taliban when in power in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. The Taliban, however, did not emerge as a religio-political movement until the 1990s and The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, so there can be no direct correlation. It should also be noted that the Taliban are most unusual in the Islamic world in their denial of education to women.

24 ‘a Humphrey Bogart festival’ – Ironically, the films shown at ‘Lilies’ when it was a cinema seem to come from a thoroughly patriarchal, pre-feminist period of American history.

24 ‘We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.’ – Interestingly, Offred writes that heroines played by the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall ‘ seemed to be able to choose’ (emphasis added). For ordinary women in the 1950s, there was, in fact, far less choice than this implies. Liberalisation in the 1960s and 1970s led to more choice, but as Aunt Lydia points out, giving people more choice inevitably increases the likelihood that they may choose the wrong things. Such an analysis obviously involves tricky value judgements, difficult to establish in a culture of moral relativism, but it is certainly reasonable to suggest that after the liberalisation of the 1960s, more people chose promiscuity, divorce, abortion, pornography, drugs etc. and that these factors had a detrimental effect on society. This would, essentially, be the right-wing view, associated with the ‘Moral Majority’ movement of the 1980s; the left-wing view would be that liberalism and the freedoms it brings outweigh any perceived disadvantages.

25 ‘the Libertheos’ – Liberation Theology was an influential movement within the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980s and subsequently. It was criticised by more conservative elements within the Church for, essentially, ‘baptising’ Marxist ideology, in calling for political liberation for oppressed peoples and taking up the priority of an ‘option for the poor’. While Gilead’s internal religious resistance groups seem to either represent the result of schisms within the assumed pre-Gilead evangelical alliance (the Baptists?) or religious groups never assimilated to the regime (Quakers? Roman Catholics?), the term ‘Libertheos’ seems to imply that most of the American continent has become theocratic. Possibly this is the case, or, perhaps more likely, this is simply the way Gilead tends to view the outside world. Given its own theocratic nature, Gilead might well be expected to characterise its political enemies as religious heretics. A loose analogy would be with the way modern Iran refers to America as the ‘Great Satan’.

25 ‘Moira’ – First mention of this important character (other than in the list of Handmaid’s names in Chapter One).

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