“I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolour picture of blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatter-proof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge”. The chilling novel written in 1985 is set in Gilead, however it is considered to be set in the near-future. Gilead is the totalitarian and theocratic state that has replaced America. Surely we are able to see Control is a huge factor within this novel. Control is a theme in the chilling novel “The Handmaids tale” written by Margaret Atwood; that is exerted through language, clothing, state media, fear of violence, and a fear of the eyes. It is a worthwhile read due to it being very topical and with the popular release of the tv series.
 Throughout the novel control is used as an underlying factor that enables us to understand certain situations within the novel. It is often underestimated how they incorporate this in the tale, for example control was continuously enforced by religious sayings like “Under his eye”, “May the Lord open”, “Praised be”, and “Blessed be the fruit”. Also the neologisms such as Unwomen, Unbabies, Computalk, and Combubite. These were presented in such a way where they were subconsciously controlling the women with how they were able to speak. Reading this makes me frustrated for the women in the tale to have to act like this all due to the fear of the commanders and government. it is growing our knowledge on what the past times and possibly future could be like.
 The commanders wear black which symbolise fear and authority. Whereas the handmaids are in red which symbolises fertility which is their primary function “The colour of blood which defines us”. It can also be seen as a sin, as red is the colour of Ambiguous sinfulness of the Handmaid’s position in Gilead. As their whole body is covered, removing any sign of individuality or identity this can relate to nuns in the real world and the islamic women. This quote intertwines with this perception “The white wings too are prescribed issue; they are too keep us from seeing, but also from being seen.” However the colour red can also be perceived in a sexual context. For example the “Scarlet Women” in the Jezebels  “A sister dipped in blood.” We can see the author has made these clear symbols to help us understand the control over the handmaids and how the commanders are seen only through fear of the handmaids.
 Evidently the fear of violence is the ultimate control within the handmaids. It is unquestionable that Atwood illustrates that fear guarantees collusion, meaning the individuals are afraid to speak up for what they believe and rebel. It is seen that through fear a totalitarian regime is able to control members, even the oppressed. In the tale family and friendship becomes obsolete and no one can be trusted. The violence is the punishments the people will face if they do not follow rules, such as salvagings (public hangings) these can happen to anyone such as priests, doctors, or gender traitors. ” They are like scarecrows… since they are meant to scare”.The handmaids punishments usually end up in them being sent to colonies or being stoned. As long as the government of Gilead have excessive amounts of power and control over the population everyone including the handmaids are made to abide to the laws of Gilead.
Similarly to George Orwell,1984 there is consistent eyes and surveillance over the population. “Fear of the eyes”. This is due to “Big Brother” being in control over the actions of society. The people are unable to ever be truly alone, considering there may always be someone watching them. This enforces the idea of no freedom and constant control.
The novel shines a light on the persistent theme of control throughout the text. The novel emphasises common symbols control and how it was used to tell the chilling tale of the handmaids. Language, clothing, state media, fear of violence, and a fear of the eyes, these symbols enabled me to increase my knowledge on the overall theme control. Ultimately I would recommend this novel due to it being a good read, and inevitably giving you an insight on what once was, what is and what could be in the near future. I am unsure if I were to read the novel again due to the unappealing nature of the topics, however the understanding I have gained about the importance of freedom and independence is valuable.
Samantha Garrick




Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. She gives readers an insight on the chilling story of the Handmaids tale.- who is she?!

  2. This is looking good Samantha, by focusing on control you can be specific with your discussion. Maybe give some background to why she wrote the novel or what was happening during the period when she wrote the novel


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About Tracey Hames

Teacher of English at Mount Aspiring College, Wanaka, New Zealand.

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