Lay the Law

The Laws of Gilead, in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, are well calculated to be as manipulative as possible. This particular passage establishes the rhetoric of these laws that consistently develop as the story progresses.

The syntax itself is conducive to the laws of Gilead. Aunt Lydia speaks in short, concise statements that offer no room for rebuttal or explanation, asserting the idea that reasoning for these laws are extraneous to the peons, and one must simply obey authority without question. Aunt Lydia also exploits misleadingly connotative language when she says “in the days of anarchy” (Atwood 24). The past existence was not an anarchy, yet Aunt Lydia still chooses to employ this term to arouse disdain for their former lives. This implication is conducive to the way Gilead propagates their laws and ideals. For instance, while watching the news with Serena Joy, Offred makes note of how “They only show us victories, never defeats” (Atwood 83). This news is misleading the viewers to believe how perfect the Gilead military is, yet if there have only been victories for this long, it does not seem likely that there should even still be a war. It demonstrates how the Republic of Gilead edits their projections to their benefit with no regard for integrity.

When Aunt Lydia vehemently says, “Don’t underrate it”, there is a commanding tone (Atwood 24). This instills a sense of duty to the women, and that they have to fulfill the demands of their authority. The severity of the statement also implies how there are dire consequences for transgression. It is clear how effective this domineering quality is from Offred’s mentality; she is often times presented opportunities to disobey the law, even in minute instances, like reading her “FAITH” pillow, yet she is always frantically conscious of the penalties (Atwood 57).

Aunt Lydia claims “Now you are being given freedom from”, as if their present existence was vouchsafed to them (Atwood 24). To be given something reaps gratitude, and implies that there is recompense to pay, which is how Gilead keeps the women from revolt. It is actually absurd that Gilead should be considered the benefactor: the republic has taken from these women their families, their identity, and their livelihood. Aunt Lydia’s “freedom from” idea is an oxymoron that presents the absurdity of these laws. “Freedom” is to be limitless, yet “from” implies that there are boundaries that is keeping something away. This presents just one of the numerous undermining discrepancy of Gilead, and foreshadows the impossibility to follow such absurdities.



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2 responses to “Lay the Law

  1. I agree with you that the laws were well calculated; however I do not believe them to be manipulative but rather controlling. There are many laws that focus on regulating not only female behaviors, but also what they are and are not allowed to do with their own bodies! I agree with you that Aunt Lydia’s sentence choices are a result of her believe that she has no other choice, and to argue the laws would be futile and foolish. They in which they choose to speak about the past serves as a mechanism to make them not value the past as being so wonderful and miss it, and rather be grateful and focus on what is their current reality. I don’t think Aunt Lydia is trying to instill a sense of duty in he woman, but rather remind them that the she focus on what they do have. This is a basic survival mechanism which was also during World War II by those in concentration camps, to allow them to have purpose and meaning in their lives. This kind of freedom is rather ironic.

  2. ashleighbarraca

    You brought up some really great points. What hit me especially was Offred explaining how only victories are shown on the news. There’s not a lot in the novel that can modern readers can really relate to, but I thought this detail brought it home. How many times have we heard of governments censoring what was shown on the news? It’s pretty frightening how far it can escalate. I think the use of the word “anarchy” is another great example, because eventually, the people of Gilead will forget what “anarchy” really was. Atwood does a great job of reminding us that governments can sway and control with the simple control of language (such as “anarchy”) and information flow.

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