Depiction Of The Negative Manipulation Of Power In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale lends itself well to the feminist literary theory by presenting a dystopic fantasy that illustrates the government’s negative manipulation of power in the Gileadean regime through an effect use of colour symbolism in clothing, the accentuation of the significance of language, and the government’s use of vulnerability through fear.

First, Atwood’s use of colour symbolism through clothing is a strong visual establishment of the government’s unequal distribution of power throughout Gilead’s society. The colour of clothing is used to identify a woman's role in society. For example, the Handmaids wear all read except for their wings. Offred, the main character of the story is a Handmaid herself. When she explains her clothing to the reader at the very beginning, she states ‘everything except the wings around my face is red: the colour of blood, which defines us’. The Handmaid’s clothing have symbolic meaning behind them. Offred states that the colour red is what defines the Handmaids, it is of symbolic importance. The colour red covers the Handmaid's body, which is her 'purpose' in the Gileadean society. They are meant to provide children and are deemed worthless unless pregnant. Their bodies are important in this totalitarian society, which is why they are dressed in the colour red. Their faces are covered with white wings because white is neutral. It signifies that their heads are unimportant. Red is the colour that defines each Handmaid, they are not meant to be anything more. This is the Gileadean government’s way of provoking an image and establishing their power over women. Even the clothing the women are required to wear is a method of manipulating power.

Next, the emphasization of language in The Handmaid’s Tale displays the Gileadean government’s unfair manipulation upon the society’s women through restriction. Atwood uses the idea that language is the facilitator of power in Gilead. Those who are in power, more specifically the men, are those who hold the knowledge and information. For example, before she is enlightened, Offred puts an immense amount of meaning into the phrase scratched into her dresser: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” She is made to believe it is Latin, but can not find out its true meaning. It is not until a man of power, the Commander, enlightens her on its actual translation, revealing the joke phrase “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” In this instance, Atwood created meaningless words to give them weight to demonstrate the suppression upon those who are not permitted to increase their knowledge.

Lastly, by inducing fear upon them, the Gileadean government allowed women to become vulnerable. This vulnerability allowed the government to once again establish their restrictive power. This is evident through the Wall which is used to display executed bodies for people who committed crimes such as sexual deviancy or homosexuality. By displaying these bodies on a large brick wall for everyone to see, the government is creating fear in rebellion. They are sending a message to the women that this is what could happen if they broke the rules. With this, the government is demonstrating its power over the citizens of Gilead. Fear creates vulnerability, which allows power to the offender.

In conclusion, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale accurately exemplifies the effect of a negative manipulation of power among a society. She has shown the reader this idea using colour symbolism through clothing, emphasizing the importance of literature and indicating the strength of a sense of fear upon vulnerability.

09 March 2021
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