What is Freedom?

The first half of The Handmaid’s Tale is centered on a loss of freedom that has occurred as a result of a change in society.  But as Aunt Lydia points out, “There is more than one kind of freedom”. (Atwood 24) The idea of freedom and loss of freedom continues to be an important theme within the first half of the novel. Offred and the other women affected by the Republic of Gilead’s laws have lost many of the freedoms they previously knew. They are now enslaved for their uteruses, and with the sighting of a pregnant woman they are reminded “showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved”. (Atwood 26) The fact that the only thing that can save the woman is the same thing that is enslaving them is highly ironic.

The handmaids should take Aunt Lydia’s advice and not “underrate it”. (Atwood 24)  Most of the time Offred, does not keep this in mind, but rather reminisces about the ways things used to be. However she does realize the freedom she has within her own mind, as she partakes in plays on words and pleasure in the cross-stich pattern.

Chapter 5 serves as an appropriate place to do a close reading because it is a culmination of the many themes we have seen in the novel thus far as it accounts for Offred’s mere existence. Analyzing the passage on freedom allows the book to open up because it forces us to not only consider the loss of freedom that has occurred, but what freedoms do still exist for these women? Perhaps this could foreshadow what the handmaids plan to do utilize the freedoms they have now to gain back their freedoms of the past as well.  When discussing freedom it is important to take into consideration who is it defining freedom and what is freedom?



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One response to “What is Freedom?

  1. It never really occurred to be how ambiguous the word freedom could be until this passage. This passage really does raise questions about freedom and how absolute it is. It cannot be denied that the pornography they women were shown is hyperbolic, but they still derive from a real problem, like rape. However, the “freedom from” of their present existence dwarfs the natural need for “freedom to”. This need is present in Offred’s introspection of her past, and how much she misses things she has taken for granted. I think the passage presents the imbalance of this to and from, and establishes how it is examined through the rest of the book.

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