The Handmaid’s Tale as a Social Commentary

The Handmaid’s Tale is quite an interesting story that relates events as they occur in Gilead Republic that has happened to replace the democratic government in the US after a coup d’état.  In the rapture of events, the power seems to be placed on the hand of men and the women are prized for reproduction and not any other duty. Commodification of the women of the society in the novel is highly evident when the author notes, “Her lips were thin, held that way, with the small vertical lines around them you used to see in advertisements for lip cosmetics (Atwood 14).” For instance, the central element of Gilead society is attached to religion, but all efforts are geared towards controlling reproduction. “The novel’s outwardly conformist and once independent Offred has seen her social value reduced to reproduction, and her personal freedom completely curtailed (Neuman 857).” Women have no opportunity to work, possess property or acquire education. The denial of opportunity to women emphasizes the control that men have over them. As the handmaids, the women are given a commander for children reproduction. The aspect of social commentary in this tale is the explanation of the extremes of life under a ruthless masculine regime. The woman in the text is denied every right as a human and the only usefulness in the society when they are making the man happy or reproducing to increase the population.

This essay brings out the aspect of the tale being a social commentary by explaining a social issue covering the women roles in the society. According to the tale (7), the main role of women is a reproduction. “Most of those old guys can’t make it anymore…or they’re sterile…Lots of women do it. You want a baby, don’t you (Atwood 61).” This quotation plays a critical role in the illustration of the role of women in the society. The social problem explained in this essay is abortion that had debates during the setting of the story, and currently, the same debates are evident on the same matter. It leaves the mouth wide open when one sees the feminine suffering because of the restrictions by the government. The biggest surprise is that a big number of men were suffering because of the same precincts on women. The scenario makes the society to look like a battlefield where the winners are very few. The story portrays the future of the women as a commentary of the present. The theme of satire best explains how the handmaid’s tale qualify to be a social commentary (Latimer, 212). The author of the story is making the audience to the tale to fulfill some demand. The demand is that considering the prevailing social attitude the audience need to have a reflection on the manner in which they view and treat other people based on their differences in beliefs and background.

Based on the content of the text, Gilead seems shockingly tyrannical, but the author clarifies that in a similar regime, some people can raise their voice and question the authority about personal liberty (16). Aunt Lydia says, “There exists more than one kind of freedom that is, freedom from and freedom to,” (Atwood 49). Gilead has created a system where women in this society have nothing useful to offer to the society. Latimer (217) argues that the author portrays this by using the language that describes each sex in the society. In Gilead, men are identified by the ranking positions in the military of the state while women are merely by their gender roles. Gilead can only see women as Wives (blue attire), Marthas (green attire) or Handmaids (red attire with white frames on the face). The treatment that the state gives to the feminine makes the audience to see women as subhuman. “The Handmaid’s Tale has been widely viewed as a serious commentary on the socio-political conditions of the day (Beauchamp 11).” This quotation plays a critical role in the illustration of the position of women within the society.

The topic of abortion is quite debatable in many nations. It is not something that just emanated from some place rather it has been in existence since long time ago. In the time when Offred’s mother was exiting according to The Handmaid’s Tale (64), there existent debates on whether the social issue should be made legal or not. In the modern society, abortion is a legal thing that anyone can undertake. The comment that Offred makes when he sees the bodies of doctors who were killed for allowing abortion show that abortion was legal long ago (Atwood 67). She comments that “Long time ago, these things were legal in the society.”

It is a belief to many that it is the right of the woman to make a decision on whatever thing that happens in their bodies particularly when they face rape. On the other hand, men have the platform to engage in the reproduction process rather than caring for the children within the society. “Men are sex machines, and not much more. They only want one thing (Atwood 144).” The trauma that they undergo in the event of rape causes them suffer for an extended period of time. The psychological state of a woman is very critical when they are getting pregnant. If a woman is not preparing to get a child, they should not be forced to get one. If a woman gets pregnant through rape, they can do abortion and continue to the part of the society again. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the author makes the audience to understand that abortion was done in Gilead state whenever rape occurred (Atwood 67). To portray this, the author uses Janine who committed abortion at the age of fourteen years when a gang of thieves raped her. “Her commentary is often ironic, often analytic… It also shows her as having gained political awareness and as reassessing her earlier more individualist positions” (Neuman 861)

Abortion is indeed a risky activity because it puts the lives of both the mother and the baby at stake. The mother can also lose live in an effort to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Making abortion illegal will make people commit it in unhealthy conditions that make live of the mother to be at a greater risk. In the modern society, make cases of abortion have been reported where mothers are losing their lives in the process. In the hide, fatal attempts of mothers trying to commit aborted have been reported.

This provides the platform for the women to engage in other approaches, which might enable them to terminate pregnancy. “Maybe you should try it another way (Atwood 205).”  In order to prevent such instances from occurring, abortion needs to be made legal. Many religious faiths will never allow such in the society thus the debate on whether to allow abortion continue to exist. The author of the tale supports the legalization of abortion as demonstrated in (Atwood 112) where feminists match holding placards written things like FREEDOM TO CHOOSE (Neuman 863). These shows that the author is arguing that women in Gilead are for the legalization of abortion. The situation that women are passing through so that they become pregnant is much traumatizing and hence the only way these women can have a choice is fighting for the legalization of abortion.

The topic of abortion through the various debates that it has posted to the society brings dilemma. Some situations facing the pregnant mother may pose termination of the pregnancy to save the life of the mother. The debate on abortions, when scanning results find out that the infant has serious physical defects, comes in because even a small deformation of a baby will lead to abortion. The religious faith will see it as a sin and de-campaign abortion whosoever the reason leading to the abortion. To avoid abortion incidences in Gilead society, the author of the tale offer the solution that there is no form of scan to pregnant women (Beauchamp 11). The absence of the scans will ensure that these people do not have a clue of the formation of the infant. Offred asks the need of knowing the formation of an infant. “What is the point of knowing the situation anyway?” (Atwood 94-95). The genesis of Gilead state was to bring more lives into existence that is why the women are seen as tools for power in the bureaucratic system of government.

Legalizing abortion has many debates with arguments that sometimes there is need to allow it, and at times, it should be prohibited. Women are not supposed to make any decision in Gilead state, but the social problem of abortion and rape are directly affecting them. The comedy comes in here when the audience wants to know what action the women can take to get their freedom. The author at first makes the audience to see that women can do nothing about the situation that men have subjected them into through restriction. Children are believed to take the character from the genetic make-up of their biological parents. Having subjected the feminine into the situation where they can offer nothing in the society would mean that they would give birth to children with deformed body parts due to stress.

The tale shows that men who lived long ago before the establishment of Gilead were suffering for missing the intellectual company that women offer to them. The main theme that the tale is centered on is sexism (Miner 149). It places women to look like lesser humans as the only thing that made a feminist critical was the womb. The discrimination against women in Gilead shows the same treatment that women in the modern society in the past went through. The argument for this is based on the observation that Offred’s Commander primarily had mixed motivations. “Women can’t hold property anymore. It’s the new law,” (Atwood 178). Gilead kept power at the hands of the current administrators by being violent on sinners (Neuman860). The drastic occurrence of events in the tale brings the thinking that it can be crazy people easily ceding to power by being organized a knowing exactly what they want from the formation of a group. The authority at Gilead was violent to defectors so that it could have social control over its people.

The happenings in the entire story seem to be warnings by the author that in the society today, allowing small concessions regarding inequality could bring changes over control. It is advised that the society needs to understand its rights before it is too late so that they can fight for them. The tales shows that Offred did not recognize her rights until it was too late that is why she had to pass through intimidation together with other feminists. The ignorance of not knowing the rights makes people suffer in the society, as it was the case of Offred. From this perspective, society members in the novel tend to engage in activities, which have enormous implications regardless of the information or knowledge on the issue. “You can’t stick your hand through a glass window without getting cut,” (Atwood 180). The aspect of commentary in this situation is suffering out of ignorance in the society. Gilead led the fight against sexual violence so that women can continue to play their role of procreation in the society.






Work Cited

Atwood, Margaret. “The Handmaid’s Tale. 1985.” London: Vintage (1996).

Beauchamp, Gorman. “The Politics of the Handmaid’s Tale.” The Midwest Quarterly 51.1 (2009): 11.

Latimer, Heather. “Popular culture and reproductive politics Juno, Knocked Up and the enduring legacy of The Handmaid’s Tale.” Feminist Theory 10.2 (2009): 211-226.

Miner, Madonne. “Trust Me”: Reading the Romance Plot in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.” Twentieth Century Literature 37.2 (2011): 148-168.

Neuman, Shirley. “‘Just a Backlash’: Margaret Atwood, Feminism, and The Handmaid’s Tale.” University of Toronto Quarterly 75.3 (2006): 857-868.


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