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A Comparison of Modern Society and the Republic of Gilead

In Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the author created a supposedly utopian society in which traditional values were restored and social and political systems are governed by biblical propaganda. The Republic of Gilead, which Dodson (1997) noted to have been established within the borders of the United States of America, presents a social characteristic that in initial impression, is the opposite of what an American society is now. The country does not tolerate other religions other than the state religion, and the government runs on a theocracy and military dictatorship.

In the novel, the Republic of Gilead has stripped the rights of the women and has categorized them according to function and usability; for example, the most advantaged women are the Wives who are married to the Commanders or the top officials of the Republic whereas women who are lesbians, feminists, and the sterile are labeled as “Unwomen” and are shunned to live in the “Colonies” (Atwood, 1985). The new society, evidently, is formed based on what can be regarded in the modern times as a “backward” view on re-creating a society.

Gilead has put the power back to the men, similar to the time when women were fighting for their rights. What makes the new republic more disturbing is that Gilead has even managed to create slaves out of women and basically stripped them off their rights. In addition, the country seems to function in a “twisted” way; women are not allowed to have sex for pleasure, and the Wives, for some reason, can have children on behalf of a ceremony in which their husbands sleep with the Handmaid assigned to their household.

Only certain types of women are allowed to read and write, and most of them are under strict surveillance which does not allow them to socialize with other people other than those who they are allowed to have business and communication with. Execution is also held in public where those who are considered “criminals”, from homosexuals to abortionists, are hang at the Wall (Atwood, 1985). Although this seems like an opposite of the modern society where there are more civil liberties, there are some aspects that show some similarities.

One of these is a point raised by Dodson (1997) in which the author noted that Gilead functions similar to the United States in a sense it has a strong imperialistic grasp, and that those who do not agree with the United States’ views on acceptable governance, in a way, end up at the “Wall”. For instance, the United States seems to have a strong promotion on what democracy should be about, hence, it has been reinforced in nations who do not have the same views on democracy. On another point, there is clearly the difference in how modern society works.

One of the noted examples in the novel that is not common in modern society is the language; Cavalcanti (2000) mentioned that in The Handmaid’s Tale, verbal hygiene was implemented thereby creating more formal communication modes within this particular dystopic space. In comparison, the Republic of Gilead is an opposite of the current reality, but certain themes can generate thoughts as based on other contexts in which the dystopia can also exist today. Gilead represents a nightmare in which power and control plays a critical role, and suppression and execution are seen as solutions.

In the novel, the threat is seen in women, but in examination, what women stand for can also represent other aspects that can threaten an established power. References Atwood, M. (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale. Toronto: Seal. Cavalcanti, I. (2000). Utopias of/f Language in Contemporary Feminist Literary Dystopias. Utopian Studies, 11, pp. 152+. Dodson, D. (1997). “We Lived in the Blank White Spaces”: Rewriting the Paradigm of Denial in Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale. Utopian Studies, 8, pp. 66+.

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