The Republic of Oppression

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the perversion of power over individuals is exemplified. One of the main aspects of the Republic of Gilead is its removal of personal liberties, both palpable and intangible, which is thus displayed in the prompt quote. The novel explores the idea of freedom from the past, from personal decisions, and from the impending pressure of the future.

In order to depict the impact of the prompting quote and to impress its importance as a thematic element in the text, the first section of the novel entitled “Night” (the first “Night” section, as there are multiple) can be read as an ironic description of the quotation through close reading. The entire first chapter of the novel centers around the past and its liberties. Beginning with defamiliarization, Atwood applies personal knowledge of the reader such as the familiarity of the idea of a gymnasium and corrupts the image, morphing the gymnasium and all of the memories and sensory aspects into an army barracks. Additionally, the past of the gymnasium is juxtaposed with the future of the encampment. “There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectation” (Atwood 3). This quote, although pertaining to the environment of the gymnasium, foreshadows the Ceremony during which the Commander attempts to impregnate Offred. The loneliness depicted in the quote is applicable to the loneliness Offred feels in the oppressive and detached world she finds herself in, while the expectation of a child is ever-present. By alluding to the Ceremony, the opening passage depicts the removal of the freedom of one’s own body- Offred is seen as nothing more than a means to repopulate the Republic. Instead of having freedom to choose the one to be with, she is being granted freedom from making that, or any other, decision.

Every freedom taken away or “granted” throughout the novel can be explained by the prompting quote. Even suicide, the greatest and most final freedom to control oneself is taken away in the Republic and is instead morphed into the freedom from taking ones own life. Because of its relevance to the novel, this quote would justly fit into the opening.


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