Estrangement in The Handmaid’s Tale

One of the of the themes of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was the ever-present estrangement throughout the novel. Although things in Gilead society seem to appear normal, the reader knows nothing is as it seems. This produces a nostalgic and almost sickening feeling as one reads the novel.

A specific example is Gilead’s false pro-women advocacy, the reality is women are subjugated and ultimately viewed as subhuman. In Gilead society women are reduced to nothing more than their reproductive capabilities. As Offred describes, “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 73-74). Offred’s description of her own body describes how Gilead only value women for their uteruses and their ovaries. One could even go so far and argue that they are slaves of the state, with their bodies owned.

Further estrangement occurs in a society based upon misogyny. The women are traumatized and demoralized, through ceremonies of forced rape. This rape is then juxtaposed with the communities supposed acknowledge of rape as an evil, punishable by death. The only difference in these two instances is if the government has sanction the rape to occur or not. The handmaid’s name is the taking on of the word “Of” and their master’s name, makes the handmaid not just a possession of the state but of their master as well. Although The Handmaid’s Tale possess many of the characteristics of a normal functioning society, the characters within the novel know something is just not right about the circumstances.


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