Dystopia In The Handmaid's Tale

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The Implementation of a Dystopia: The Annulment of Self

In the dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the patriarchal Gilead operates under the dictated obedience of its people. Before the installment of Gilead, people lived in a democratic civilization, free to expression. After leaders of the Gilead regime overthrew the democracy, the new government subdues people and annuls self-identity, the unique characteristics and identification of an individual. The narrator Offred becomes a handmaid, a low-status servant used only for reproduction. Offred’s deferential response to the totalitarianism echoes the reactions of other handmaids and exemplifies how Gilead uses the destruction of self-identity as the foundation to building
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Along with family, possessions, job, and rights, the government also erases people’s names. At first, Offred remains optimistic, comparing her new given name to a “telephone number, useful only to others” and her old name to a “charm that’s survived from an unimaginably distant past” (84). Handmaids take possessive names, “Of” and the name of their commander, stressing ownership. If they move to a different household, their name changes to the new commander’s name. Names no longer identify individuals, but rather the handmaid’s robotic purpose of reproducing for her commander. Offred tries to convince herself that names do not correspond to self-identity, but they do. The original names can invoke a relation to the former times and give handmaids, replaceable property, a sense of uniqueness. Removing distinct names breaks the remaining link to life before the regime, making a reformation to pre-Gilead times seem less tangible. Gilead strips handmaids of their last “charm”, compelling the past to slip from their memory. It allows people to see Gilead as the normal reality and leave behind the “unimaginably distant past.” Degrading labels replace individualized names to objectify handmaids and destroy lingering hopes of returning to the bygone