The Handmaids Tale A Product of Debates Essay

This essay has a total of 886 words and 5 pages.


The Handmaids Tale A Product of Debates





The Handmaid’s Tale : A Product Of Debates

Often times a reader finds that a character in a novel resembles the author’s friend
or a distant relative. There is almost always some connection to the author, his
surroundings, or events in his life. The Handmaid’s Tale reflects the life of
Margaret Atwood on a much stronger level. It is a product of debates within the feminist
movement of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Atwood has been much a part of
that movement. The defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, the rise of the religious right,
the election of Ronald Regan and many other historical events led writers like Atwood to
fear the antifeminist movements. With these fears came the ideas the antifeminist could
not only provide more gains for women but turn back the clock on the rights that they had
already fought to receive. Atwood uses her novel to examine some of the traditional
attitudes in the religious right which she finds threatening. At the beginning of the
novel we are given this bible reference:

Genesis 30: 1-3 “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied
her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob’s anger
was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from
thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go unto her; and she
shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”


This is one of several passages that justifies a man to have sex and children by his
servants. Atwood takes this idea and extrapolates from it outrageously. In her
“Afterword” she tells the reader that the religious aspects, “go back to
my study of the American Puritans.”(Atwood 316) The American Puritans founded a
society different than democracy as we know it, a theocracy. Atwood said she found
herself, “increasingly alarmed by statements made frequently by religious leaders in
the United States; and then a variety of events from around the world could not be
ignored, particularly the rising fanaticism of the Iranian monotheocracy.” (Atwood
316 ) During the 1980’s many people debated about the feminist attitudes toward
sexuality and their attitudes toward pornography. Many different views were expressed.
Some said that all erotica depicting women as sexual objects is demeaning. Others argued
that pornography was bad but erotica could be good, that “although pornography is
demeaning the protection of civil liberties is a greater good which requires the
toleration of freedom for pornographers.” (Feuer 2) It was the need to protect
“good women” from sex that justified the repression. Islamic women sometimes
argue that “assuming the veil and traditional all-covering clothing is aimed at
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