Freedom From is No Freedom

I think that “freedom to and freedom from” in The Handmaid’s Tale is a nicer way of saying that the women in this dystopic society actually have no freedoms at all.  Whatever life they were living before they were handmaids, the women are now entirely “free” from them.

It is very difficult for the reader to understand what Aunt Lydia means by “freedom”.  Life for the handmaids is obviously anything but “free”.  The handmaids are not allowed to read, they are not to address people unless spoken to, and they cannot even walk around town alone- they must be accompanied by another handmaid!  I think that what Aunt Lydia is referring to when she says “freedom” is that the handmaids have been liberated from all the “obligations” of their former lives.  When Aunt Lydia says “Ordinary, is not what you are used to.  This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will.  It will become ordinary” (Atwood, 33).  It sounds to me as if Aunt Lydia is telling the women they have been liberated from their former lives, which were not at all unlike the Japanese tourists that Offred encountered during her shopping trip.  After a time, the handmaids will not even miss their former lives.  The womens’ new lives will become ordinary, and normal for them.

I think the passage at hand opens the book wide open to the horror that the book is expressing.  Yes, in this “new life”, the women don’t have to walk alone at night, or go into a laundromat by themselves, but they also do not have basic rights.  The Republic of Gilead is taking many steps backward, which is certainly opposite than a future society would hope to be doing.  Women are not meant to be just a uterus.  They can benefit society in so many ways, which is not at all true in this story.




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2 responses to “Freedom From is No Freedom

  1. Sophi

    The point you made about Aunt Lydia insinuating that they have been liberated from the way they used to live their lives is very true.
    This idea of liberation is blatant in the primary quote of “freedom to” and “freedom from” when Aunt Lydia says that Offred and the other women have been “given freedom from” (35), as though this supposed “freedom” is some sort of gift worth cherishing. We see, however, that this is clearly not the case at all.
    For example, the women in power know the most about the reality of the gift of “freedom from” for the women in Gilead. These “powerful” women are, most likely, more miserable than the confused handmaids and Econowives of the society because they know what “freedom from” truly is: the absence of freedom. A primary example of a powerful female figure in the story is Serena Joy. She is one of the most knowledgeable women in Gilead, and she is also one of the most miserable and hopeless.

  2. ashleighbarraca

    I definitely agree that the passage (as well as the book at large) is horrific. It’s certainly not horrific in a Kafka-esque way – there are no images of violent marring of flesh and blood. The horror is definitely drawn from the way that the society is evolving. Aunt Lydia’s quote about being “ordinary” is a great example of what the Aunts and the society of Gilead are trying to tell the Handmaids: that what is happening is totally normal. I also think that it’s interesting that Offred notes the length of the women tourists’ skirts – she says that they are “just below the knee.” This length is shocking to her now, whereas in her former life a skirt like that would have seemed matronly.

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