In The Handsmaid Tale, freedom of women is something that is not talked about much. The women just do as they are told and live by the rules. In Chapter 5, Aunt Lydia says to Offred,“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” This quote says a lot about freedom; it hints to Offred not to take the type of freedom she has “for granted” because things could be a lot “worse”. Freedom from, the type of freedom Aunt Lydia says Offred has, can be defined as protection or security. A few lines before this quote, we see the words “Women were not protected then.” This gives us the hint that freedom to during the “days of anarchy” must have been when women were not protected. Now, what Offred has, freedom from, keeps her confined, from whom? Men. Men are no longer able to speak, touch, or make any typeof contact with them. The text states, “Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.” This type of freedom, freedom from, can be a good and a bad thing. Good, because the women are somewhat protected from men and out of harm’s way. Bad, because now women may have a hard time finding a soulmate, or possible husband. Also, sex life for them is also scarce. Aunt Lydia tells Offred “not to underrate it” because in some way, it is better than freedom to. Overall, in my opinion, it’s a “lose-lose” situation. Women can not have total freedom. They can not have their own voice or do what they please in either situation. Men will always have the “upper hand” and control them. As in today’s society, the male gender is the dominant gender. This is a reoccuring trend in society which may never be reversed.
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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.
In the first half of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, freedom is largely the issue of focus. This passage, “There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are given freedom from. Don’t underrate it” (Atwood 24), suggests that freedom from such things as control and decisions is more of a luxury than Offred may think. This lack of control and decision-making is constantly shown in the first half of the book through simple, everyday occurrences such as what the individuals wear. What makes this passage so important is the way Aunt Lydia presents “freedom to and freedom from”. This differentiation presents a great contrast between Red Center and society outside of it.
This direct comparison of “freedom to and from from” is shown when Offred and Ofglen encounter Japanese tourists of Westernized society (that Aunt Lydia would refer to as “anarchy”), the society to which Offred once belonged. At one point, Offred is “mesmerized by the women’s feet” (Atwood 30) and continues to fantasize about what wearing open-toed shoes with polished toe nails felt like. She delves so deeply into this thought that she even says that “I can feel her shoes, on my own feet”. Something that is so simple, to people who have the freedom to paint their toe nails and wear open-toed shoes, is a daydream to an individual who has “freedom from” having to go through the complications of choosing a color and finding a way to paint their nails.
When Aunt Lydia says “don’t underrate it”, she is trying to convince Offred that giving all control to the Commanders of the Red Center is more liberating than having the ability to do whatever she pleases. She makes it seem that the freedom to do something was found only in the days of anarchy and chaos, implying that a place of stability and order provides an environment that requires no thought from the individual besides completing the task assigned to them.
This is main struggle for the first half of the book; despite every attempt by women of the house to show Offred that the “freedom from” is more valuable than the “freedom to”, quite often she still finds herself thinking about the way her life used to be and how badly she wants to return to it, flaws and all.