Governments around the world till this day continue to misinterpret constitutions and laws with the intention of manipulating the ideas of its citizens. In the dystopian fictional novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood the author firstly uses the manipulation of biblical words and passages to maintain theoretical dictatorship within the society. Secondly, the handmaids have a number of restrictions put on them, which depict how the government and society are limiting and controlling how and why the handmaids interact with one another. Thirdly, the constant name change removes the common sense of identity from the handmaids, allowing the society to gain control over them. In this way, the society uses language to oppress the handmaids by controlling their identity and restricting their speech.
The government in Gilead uses the manipulation of the bible to back up their laws. People in authority over the handmaids, the Aunts, have the habit of only selecting certain passages in the bible that will help control and manipulate the handmaids by giving them a false sense of security and justification for what they are going through. “Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed be the meek. Blessed are the silent.”(Atwood 101). The handmaids are only told parts of the bible that justify their usefulness in the society to show them evidence of their importance. This goes to further show how the society uses the bible to their advantage to persuade the handmaids into being their personal “two-legged womb” (157). The totalitarian government of Gilead appropriates the Bible by using it to justify all their harsh and unreasonable rules and regulations. “Give me children or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her” (101). Gilead claims to base their laws on the bible although the bible does not justify or encourage their methods. The government use words and statements from the bible that could be misrepresented and show a different meaning. In brief, the bible is indirectly used as a means to control and mislead the handmaids.
Restricting the handmaids from having the basic right to speak and see freely creates a sense of confinement for the handmaids. Offred and the other handmaids are not allowed to have access to certain information. They are no longer allowed to discuss what they want, and because of this, they cannot share the information they learn. “In the past, it would have been a trivial enough remark, a kind of scholarly speculation. Right now it’s treason” (193). The government has made it clear that the handmaids are not allowed to even hear anything that is of value to the state because it can pose as a threat to the society. Furthermore, the handmaids are restricted from reading, writing or even talking to other handmaids. They do not have the freedom to talk to each other to say anything that is not in line with what the government agree’s on. “Still, it was a message, and it was in writing, forbidden by the very fact, and it hadn’t yet been discovered” (58). Similarly, the handmaids are not allowed to watch TV except on ceremony nights. They are not allowed to follow the news and/or create their own ideas or opinions on different topics. “This is one thing good about these evenings, the evenings of the ceremony; I’m allowed to watch the news” (93). They are restricted on what they can watch and when. These restrictions put up against the handmaids show proof of how the government uses the power of language to oppress them and take advantage of their knowledge. As a result, the restriction of speech enforced by the government keeps the handmaids in the dark about what is going on around them.
Taking control over the handmaid’s identity gives the government the illusion of having authority over them. The concept of the women’s individual identity is nonexistent because of the enforced colour coding of clothes. The roles isolate the women from each other and from themselves. “Like a distorted shadow, a parody of something, some fairy-tale figures in red cloaks, depending towards a moment of carelessness that is the same as danger” (9). The concept of a uniform is to unify the community and make them all equal. The purpose of the uniforms in Gilead is to identify which woman belongs to which group. The handmaids wore a red cloak which symbolizes fertility and the blood of parturition. In addition, this creates a lack of identity because the handmaids are forced to wear clothing that they do not want to wear and does not represent their individuality. Language allows the patriarchal government of Gilead to strip away women own sense of identity and replace it with their own forming (idea). This is most evident in the naming of the handmaids which is ever-changing and dependent on the commander they belong to at the time. “Offred”, “Ofglen”, “Ofwarren”. When Offred’s friend Ofglen, is replaced with a “new” Ofglen, Offred reflects that “And of course she is, the new one, and Ofglen, wherever she is, is no longer Ofglen” (326). This allows the handmaids to be claimed property “of” their commander and removes any sense of individuality they originally had. To summarize, Identity is an issue in Gilead and an example of how the government maltreats the handmaids by restricting their ability of individuality through the use of names and clothing.
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