Thesis statement: The Handmaids Tale successfully helps us to think about the control of women through the use of the irony in Gilead.
“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.” – Margaret Atwood
Control of women is not a new idea to society. Women have worked towards equality and individuality for generations and still strive towards total control of their lives and bodies in today’s society. Men for generations have been seen as the supremacy. They hold the power. Till this day men are deciding what women are allowed to do with their bodies, taking backwards steps in the progress towards gender equality “As long as you live you’ll never see a photograph of 7 women signing legislation about what men can do with their reproductive organs” – Martin Belam. Women are excluded and powerless in matters that only affect their lives. Male dominance is evident and highlighted throughout the Handmaids tale, Atwood effectively portrayed women as the lower ranked race merely for the use of their reproductive system. “…We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” The irony Atwood uses helps highlight the control of women in Gilead and reinforces the power men will always hold over women.
“To succeed, you will soon learn…the importance of a solid foundation in the basics of education” – Alan Greenspan
We conceive certain elements Atwood displays in the text as relatable, but the twisted version of how they lead us to view their society through the use of irony brings realization to the reader; of how lucky we are, as we can relate to the environment they throw us in as readers on a deeper level. “Truth” the Harvard university motto, yet extremely controversial and ironic to its existence in Gilead. When modern society thinks of school we think of a place to become knowledgeable, where we grow and become individuals, where we get taught to become young adults setting us up for total freedom of our lives. “There is more than one kind of freedom…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.” Atwood’s version of the university is known as the Red centre, a place where true education is displaced, where handmaids learn to adapt and be the perfect handmaid for the new regime enforced upon them. Irony is effectively used throughout Atwood’s book and it continues to help readers relate to Offred in the red centre, as a school environment is one many citizens have experienced at some stage of their lives. “I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat, shot through with a sweet taint of chewing gum and the perfume from the girls watching” This setting of Harvard university ironically shows the control of women in Gilead, a situation where the women of the regime are forced to go to ‘school’ against their will and believes. Ironically different to the concept of university in today’s society where people with passions and drive to learn attend these high-class schools to broaden their knowledge, another ironic factor because common knowledge was stripped from women in Gilead creating powerlessness of women in Gilead. “…Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden.”
“There is no sexuality that is greater or lesser than another.”- Jasmine Guy Discrimination against sexuality has been an area of issue in society for generations. Hitler effectively showed discrimination against homosexuals, Jews and gypsies during the Nazi regime. This regime helps compliment Atwood’s ideas about the theme of sexuality showing readers how easy it is for power to try eliminate and alter the inferior race. Offred’s mum was avid feminist, anti-men and a strong individual women. “A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women.” We see how this regime destructed Offred’s mother, stripped her from her rights to believe and fight for what she wanted to working in the colonies cleaning up nuclear waste. Now eliminated from society but soon eliminated from the world. The mothers job is dangerous and there are studies showing that nuclear radiation cause mutations and cancer if exposed over long periods of time, these women that are no longer ‘useful’ to the regime are left doing the dirty work that eventually executes them from society. This control of sexuality in Gilead is ironic to today’s society where same-sex marriages are legal in 22 countries. women in New Zealand show control of their own sexualities where feminism isn’t punished and the freedom of body personalization and bare skin is seen a normality to society showcasing the total control the regime had over women in Gilead and how they have manipulated the mind into thinking the old normality is disgraceful.“ I can’t help staring it’s been a long time since I’ve seen skirts that short on women… nearly naked. We are fascinated but also repelled they seem undressed that was freedom westernized they use to call it.”
“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.” – Margaret Atwood. The commander is an ironic character in the novel, a man of power and influence in the society they live in. “You’d have to watch your weight, that’s for sure… there strict about that. Gain ten pounds and hey put you in the solitary” Jezebels the small glimpse of the ‘lost world’ that still exists in the regime created by the commanders themselves, is ironic because it is them who stripped the normality of what they desire from their everyday lives creating a bitter regime. “Better never means better for everyone it always means worse for some” The truth behind this quote is captivating helping us realize how similar our society is to the one Atwood created to inform and give new perspectives to readers of the novel about how power of given to the wrong people can be used negatively to have total control over society.
Atwood effectively used irony through setting, theme and characters in her novel to help captivate and assist the reader in gaining a greater depth of understanding of the novel. The Handmaid’s Tale helps us realize how different societies can be, but in one way or another they all have similarities that help us to relate and gain an understanding of each other’s circumstances. As a young female I can relate and understand the control of women in Gilead through the use of irony as control over women is recognizable in cultures of society today. “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.” – Margaret Atwood