Gilead's Language System in Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"

Essay by abest1High School, 10th gradeA+, May 2004

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The Handmaid's Tale, a dystopian futuristic novel by Margaret Atwood recounts the story of a totalitarian state, Gilead, which endorses the dehumanization of women with the excuse of effacing all scurrilous events and resolving a catastrophic problem of waning population rates. Gilead's tyrannical power lies in its ability to reduce multiplicity of thought in its subjects by banning all types of reading and writing, and reducing the daily vocabulary to a number of "politically-correct" assertions. It is of paramount importance, therefore, to first peruse the state's language system and discuss how it holds power over its subjects, before analysing the effects it has on the demeanour of a member of this oppressive society.

In order to see how Gilead's language bolsters its totalitarian regime, it is vital to comprehend what a totalitarian regime is. The word totalitarian describes a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life.

The very goal of a totalitarian state, therefore, is to hold complete supremacy over its subjects and subdue all concepts of independence and individuality. The Handmaid's Tale shows that apart from using terror, torture and fear to maintain order, totalitarian states engage in the manipulation of language as another important tool to control the minds of their subjects. By controlling the language, Gilead eradicates any thoughts or inclinations which inspire rebellion and disorder.

Although there are innumerable aspects of Gilead's language which insinuate domineering control, there are some which stand out in the narration. One such aspect is the nomenclature of the different positions in society. The different classes in society are concretely set and are of colossal importance in daily life. Each particular feminine and masculine group is conformed within several characteristic personalities, defined by their speech, clothing and overall mien.