Safety vs. Oppression

In this story, Offred is a girl who is living in a world of safety.  The life she leads is different from our lives in countless ways, however, it is all veiled in the idea of being safe and under protection.  The individuals in this story are being protected, it would seem, against their own will and to such a degree that it is no longer just protection and has moved so far to the extreme it has become negative.  Margaret Atwood’s story “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an intriguing discussion of the difference between being protected and being oppressed.

The women, and especially the handmaids, in this tale are confined to incredibly stringent rules that the concept of their safety has in many instances become a secondary concern to the need to reevaluate the freedoms that have been lost.  The women in this story used to have “freedom to” act the way they pleased and dress in a manner they wanted, whereas now due to all the oppressive protective measures that have been taken, they are able to “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).  Although these women have been given the “freedom from” men such as the ones who would yell at them on the street, they have lost much more than they have gained it appears.  While there may be less crime and this may be a safe place for them to exist physically, oppression is never a good place for individuals to exist.  The women of this novel will never really feel free because “freedom from” is being obedient and allowing someone else to make your decisions whereas “freedom to” is an individual making their own decisions and learning to be safe in the process.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Safety vs. Oppression

  1. siegvald

    “No man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us” implies that the women are safe. But to me, I didn’t really see it as being safe. I think perhaps the emotions of men/women seemed relatively unchanged, they just were afraid to show it. The exchange between Offred and the Guardian when she goes out to get groceries makes it clear. It also seems as if for the Handmaids, “safety” came with some consequences. Look what happened to Offred in the doctor’s office. She wasn’t safe there. And it would have been her word against the doctor’s because according to the Republic of Gilead, one woman’s testimony wasn’t good enough.

  2. vrosengrant20

    I definitely agree how the novel makes it clear that there is a difference being protected and being oppressed, especially with how they handle the free-will of the populace and their ability to make decisions. The government has taken away the people’s ability to make decisions simply because there is a possibility that they would make a mistake that would put them at risk. Yet, it is that risk which gives people a reason to live and though dangerous, makes the expressed freedoms and choices worth it. The novel works with flashbacks to show the emotional attachment and preference of the protagonist to the old days of risk and freedom.

  3. stperry1

    The idea of a fine line between protection and oppression is, I think, one of the most interesting aspects of this novel. The women in this story have been taught to think the world was so terrible and dangerous that they had no choice but to accept the protection offered to them and the rules that came with it. Offred, along with the other handmaids, are being oppressed but since it if offered under the guise of protection and safety it is much easier for women to allow themselves to be so controlled. This balance that the book discusses also shows how the way that control or oppression is presented has a great deal to do with whether or not it will be obeyed.

  4. I agree with your post. I also see “freedom to” as safety and “freedom from” as oppression. The women who are living “freedom from” are nothing more than oppressed. “But this is wrong, nobody dies from lack of sex. It’s lack of love we die from. There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I could love are dead or elsewhere.

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