Handmaid's Tale. Is Atwood's novel ultimately a feminist work of literature or does it offer a critique of feminism?

Essay by blitz-aceHigh School, 11th gradeA+, October 2004

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Throughout her novel, Margaret Atwood conjures up a terrifying image of a society that has completely reversed all its ideologies and principles and named it The Republic of Gliead. In this society Ofrred's sole purpose in life is to reproduce for the elite, and failure to comply will result in expulsion to the colonies. The colonies are places separated from society where infertile women are sent. The new society of Atwood is set in the debris of a shattered America. In Gilead, women are completely dominated by men and their position in society is completely determined by the status of their husband and their fertility. Atwood depicts women as powerless beings in a society completely unfamiliar to anything we would understand. In her novel, the author offers more than just a critique of feminism as the issue of feminism is imbued into her work.

In Gilead, women are strictly categorized as Handmaids, Wives, Marthas, Econowives or Aunts.

Offred is a Handmaid because she showed her fertility in pre-Gilead society by having a daughter. Wives are women married to Commanders, men with a superior rank in society. Despite their elevated status, they have do not have much power. Infertile wives are allocated Handmaids who have sex with their husbands in order to give birth. Marthas are servants of Commanders and Econowives are those married to common men. Aunts are older, infertile women, dedicated to the regime, who train Handmaids. By referring to women as their category and not their individual name, Atwood impersonalises these women, making them represent their whole category within Gilead. This makes the novel more than just a fictional autobiography, in fact it is a study of women as a whole in certain situations.

Before Gilead was created, Offred, the protagonist, was a normal woman. She had a...