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Hand Maids Tale
In Margaret Atwoods novel, "The Handmaids Tale", the birth rate in the United States had dropped so low that extremists decided to take matters into their own hands by killing off the government, taking over themselves, and reducing the womens role in society to that of a silent birthing machine. One handmaid describes what happened and how it came about as she, too, is forced to comply with the new order.
Before the new order, known as the Sons of Jacob, took over, women had a lot to be afraid of. They had freedom to do whatever they wanted, but this freedom was severely inhibited by maniacs who could strike at any time. Women followed rules to keep them out of danger, but they were not enforced.
"I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but that every woman knew; dont open your door to a stranger, even if he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Dont stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, dont turn to look. Dont go into a laundromat, by yourself, at night ... Women were not protected then."(p. 24)
Nobody believed it could happen to them. When the Sons of Jacob took over and began to take away their freedom, they accepted it. They were afraid and the Sons gave them some security. Because they accepted the first few laws, it was hard to refuse to not go along with the ones that followed.
When the women were finally stripped of their identities, they felt as though they had deserved it because they had done nothing to try and save any of their other rights.
"We looked at one anothers faces and saw dismay, and a certain shame, as if wed been caught doing something we shouldnt. Its outrageous one woman said, but without belief. What was it about this that made us feel we deserved it?"(p. 166)
The Sons used this insecurity to round up the women and place them in institutions where they would be "safe". Once they had them within their clutches, they were able to use them for their own purposes.
The key to the whole program was using other women to train and control them. It is hard to go against your own kind, and the Sons knew that if they used men, it wouldnt work. The women would feel oppressed and strike back as one group, or could too easily seduce the males to get their own way. "Something could be exchanged... We still had our bodies."(p. 4) By using other women, known as the Aunts, they could tell the women that they understood and knew what it was like, and that all this was for their own good, to keep them safe and make their world a better place.
There were many of these training facilities, but we learn the most about the red centers, where the women are trained to be handmaidens. In other words, mistresses, to bear children for wives who were no longer capable of child birth, but too important to get rid of.
Older women, and some incapable of child birth were trained as Marthas. They were servants to the wives and raised the children, if they were lucky enough to have one.
The poorer women were called Econowives and performed the duties of wife, handmaiden and Martha. The final category was the "unwomen"; those who had committed some crime such as abortion, or who were too old to be good for anything. These "unwomen" were sent to the edges of the colonies to clean up nuclear waste or work in the industries. Both of which would soon lead to death.
The women were distinguished by the color of robes they wore, which reached to the ground, revealing nothing. This was another way of keeping them safe, so men would not be tempted. The handmaids wore red, the Marthas green, the wives blue, daughters white, the unwomen wore grey, and "the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimpy, mark the women of the poorer men."(p. 23) the econowives. "Sometimes there is a woman all in black, a widow. There used to
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Book of Genesis, The Handmaids Tale, Jacob, Handmaiden, Zilpah
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