In the city of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, women are protected from violence but at a horrible cost- their absolute freedom. Women are no longer raped or abused by strange men but must submit to the state-sanctioned rape by their commanders. In chapter five Aunt Lydia speaks about freedom: “There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. 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 24).
The “freedom to” she is referring to is the freedom to choose. In chapter eleven we can see how Gilead has taken away Offred’s ability to choose. The doctor has given Offred an escape and yet she is horrified at the thought of such freedom, of being able to make her own decisions: “Why am I frightened? I’ve crossed no boundaries, I’ve given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It’s the choice that terrifies me. A way out, a salvation” (Atwood 61). Offred has become accustomed to the prisoner lifestyle of Gilead. When she bears her chains well they are almost comforting for her and she does not dare to do otherwise.
The “freedom from” that Aunt Lydia talks about is freedom from violence. “Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles” (Atwood 24). In chapter thirteen Janine testifies about how she was raped and had an abortion at fourteen, something that would never happen now in Gilead. However, with this freedom from, another freedom is taken away. In the society of Gilead, women are always the guilty party as is shown when the women in the group chant that the rape is Janine’s fault for leading the men on. The next week Janine admits, “It was my own fault. I led them on. I deserve the pain” (Atwood 72).
Through a close reading of Aunt Lydia’s quote in chapter five, we see that in Gilead women are protected and given freedom from many evils but at the cost of their own free will and choice. Furthermore women are dehumanized in this society as shown in the quotation: “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . . Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping” (Atwood 73). Before, Offred’s body was an extension of herself but now she is no longer the master of her own body. Her body is now only the covering of the only thing that matters in Gilead- her womb. Offred is no longer a woman or even a human being-only a womb.