The Role Of Women In The Handmaid's Tale

Submitted By Gracee-Connelly
Words: 2307
Pages: 10

“Whereas Atwood is concerned with showing the reduction of women’s role in society to one of functionality, Huxley is more concerned with how women’s enslavement is merely a symptom of society’s destruction of individual freedom.”
How does each author’s presentation of women reflect their separate thematic concerns?

The thematic concerns of authors often differ depending on their individual perspectives. In Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the author strives to address modern society’s attempt to achieve equality for women and illustrates the implications of its failure. Atwood’s novel presents the role of women as widely enslaved and sees the position of women in society to be incommensurate to men’s. It is one of the novels ironies that a dystopian world is seen to adopt the atavistic values of the past. Atwood’s dystopian novel was published in 1986, shortly after the election of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister of Great Britain.1 Atwood’s novel ironically and deeply sastirises these fears for it depicts a group of conservative religious extremists gaining governmental status and returning to traditional values where women were subjugated by men. In Atwood’s daunting world of Gilead, women have lost their right to vote and even to freely read and write. The immense achievements gained in the 70s[1] were presented as having been extinguished, which inspired critics to believe her novel was written to try to inspire women to argue for their equal treatment and not adopt an indifferent attitude towards the issue of gender equality. Hence, the author’s presentation of women is hyperbolic in an attempt to try to jolt readers into action, for even those women who were not feminists would still fear for the future given the implications of her novel. Atwood uses various narrative techniques to present women in her novel, including the retrospective first person accounts of her protagonist “Offred”, to allow the author to have a spokesperson for her opinions.

In contrast, the thematic concerns of Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” differ somewhat. Huxley desires to convey the consequences of society’s destruction of individual freedom, including the enslavement of women. While women’s position in “Brave New World” is ostensibly equal to men, in effect it denies women’s natural right to bear children and consequently results in both women and men being enslaved by the modernised society. Huxley’s novel aims to show readers that all society is constrained; the future is shown through Huxley’s eyes to be potentially regimental where humans are conditioned to believe they are free when ironically the opposite is the case. This is achieved, appropriately, through his sardonic, distanced third person narration, which presents a broad picture of a society where all individuality is not only despised but virtually eradicated.

2 Huxley feared for the advance of science and technology and the potential use for evil. Having witnessed the destructive technology in the Second World War he was able to critique the growth of knowledge in his novel. Alongside his book in the dystopian genre, was George Orwell’s novel “1984”, which too criticized the concept of a constantly observed society. Huxley’s novel demonstrates a constrained society that, unlike “1984” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” with their force driven regimes, uses hypnotism and genetic modification to achieve its aims.

Atwood’s fundamental thematic concern is to show the reduction of women’s roles in society to be that of functionality. Women in “The Handmaids Tale” are used as an instrument for the totalitarian state of Gilead to rebuild their population, in addition to being general slaves to the needs of society as chefs and cleaners. Atwood’s presentation of women being exploited has been likened by many critics to the use of women in the past during times of conflict.3 The Republic of Gilead removed women’s rights and unwillingly forced them into roles