“Hypocrisy is the ability to forget your own faults in order to point out someone else’s”. In The Handmaids Tale, the theme of hypocrisy is found everywhere throughout the text in order to highlight the faults in the “Perfect society” of the Republic of Gilead built by the Commanders. This Society is not perfect in any way, as people who live in it don’t hold up to the code set by the society, including the leaders, or Commanders. This hypocrisy of the society of Gilead is included by the author of the story, Margret Atwood, to show a cautionary tale of religious control, and how people are hypocrites.The Setting in The Handmaid’s Tale is what I will be analyzing. Flaws in the society of Gilead are shown by Atwood to show that a totalitarian theocracy cannot work, as it will undermine itself.
An inherent flaw of the society is it’s basic mission. According to the Commander, after Nuclear war, Gilead was set up in order to prevent women becoming sex-objects, and rape. In the time before the theocracy, to which I will now refer to as the “Old World”, women were supposedly much more objectified and sexualised than in modern day times. The leader’s of Gilead claim “We have given more than we have taken away….They starved themselves thin, pumped their breasts full of silicone…..Think of the human misery”. It shows the mission of Gilead is to prevent the misery it saw in the Old World. However, while it may have prevented rape and sexualisation of women in the way the Old World had, the leaders have then made women completely subservient and ruled over by men. This exsistance is shown to us via the perspective of the main character, Offred. She lives in a world where “Sanity is a valuable possession…..” , where “….it (is) best not to speak unless they (a male) asked you a direct question.” and a “….lack of fear is dangerous” These changes to society as we know it, shows that while Gilead appears to help women in one way, by preventing rape and Old World sexulisation, it also hurts their rights as human beings by turning them into second class citizens who are controlled by men.
The exsistance of the Handmaids and how they are treated by the people they are subservient to is shown by Atwood in order to show more of Gilead’s flaws. In order to continue to exist, children are needed by Gilead in order to keep a population. However, due to the war, many people are sterile from residue radiation and toxic chemicals. Handmaids, women who can have children, are assigned by the state to the higher-class men, Commanders, so that they might conceive children, while the wives of the Commander’s watch. These women are horribly treated, despite their supposedly sacred duty of bearing offspring, with the Handmaid who came before our main character Offred committing suicide in order to escape her grim reality. The wives are “..vengeful..” of Handmaids, which is perfectly understandable given the circumstances, as Handmaid’s are younger than them, and have sexual intercourse with their husbands once a month while they watch in a ceremonial act of attempting procreation. Only fertile females can remain Handmaids, so if they cannot conceive a child, they are shipped off to the colonies, which is a slow but certain death sentence. Most Commanders are sterile, but since they control the population of Gilead, and control the women, “There is no such thing as a sterile man… There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren”, showing how little power Handmaids have over their own fate, and how even though Gilead may have put in place as system that prevented women from being sexualised, they have sexualised them in another way, where women are only viewed for their wombs, and can be punished for it. This system is flawed, unfair and hypocritical because it can damn those who it claims to help, even if they did nothing wrong. The Handmaids are allusions to the Christen story of Jacob and Rachel, from Genesis 30:1-3, which is a story where a women, Rachel, cannot have children for Jacob, and thus gives her Maid Bilhah to Jacob, with whom they could use to have Children with. These passages of the Bible are quoted in the front of the Novel, and are placed there by Margret Atwood in order to show what the Handmaids are based of off.
Atwood shows us the hypocrisy in the Handmaid’s Tale via the Republic of Gilead itself. In the Bible, Gilead was a promised land for Moses and his followers, as far as I can piece together, and was both fertile and fruitful in all things. The Republic of Gilead is not these things. It is a city set up in the city surrounding Harvard University after a great world war, and is subject to rationing and a totalitarian control of it’s people. It tries to see itself as a perfect society, as a place where its religious message and ideals, as “The Republic of Gilead knows no bounds…….Gilead is within you.” We are never directly told the religion of Gilead, but hints such as “…merely and usable body…..a oven minus the bun….” tells us of traditional Christen values and views, and makes us believe that Gilead’s theocracy is based of an extreme version of Christianity, taken to another level as a reaction to a world war. This was included by Atwood to highlight how Religion Controls, and has the ability for complete control. Atwood is a feminist, and thus wouldn’t agree on the views of Religion, especially traditional views for women, which demand submission and subservience to men.
The Author of The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margret Atwood, shows us that Hypocrisy is rife throughout the Republic of Gilead, and shows us that the totalitarian theocracy couldn’t work as intended, as it couldn’t uphold it’s founding words and keep itself running smoothly, and was . I believe Atwood used hypocrisy in Gilead as a way to show how the society, and thus our society, is full of hypocritical and contradicting opinions and values and possible ways of life. Even if some things were to change, in some ways for the better, like how in Gilead rape and old world sexualisation now no longer exists at all, “….better for some will always me worse for others.”