handmaids tale propaganda



Early in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Offred says, after having seen a group of Japanese women wearing short skirts, rather than the typical, compulsory dress of Gilead:

"We are fascinated, but also repelled. They seem undressed. It has taken so little time to change our minds about things like this"

This illustrates how the minds of the population have been manipulated to make them comply with the Government’s views.

Like in most totalitarian societies, the Gilead Government uses propaganda to manipulate the people’s minds into following their ideologies and supporting the government.

The propaganda methods depicted in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ are also similar to those used in totalitarian governments of this century.

Propaganda in the novel concentrates mainly on women, as they are the elements of society that have lost the most due to the establishment of the new government and they must therefore be controlled and convinced the most.

I will now examine some of the methods of propaganda used to persuade women, and try to explain their purposes and effects.

The Gilead society is based on one of the many possible interpretations of the biblical philosophy. The bible being a very respected, trusted and followed source for many people in America, explaining the new laws, such as compulsory surrogacy, in terms of biblical precedent makes it easier for people to believe they are justified.

This hypocritical use of the bible is also shown by the fact that non-biblical elements are included in the Gilead philosophy as sayings from saints. The quote “from each according to her ability, to each according to his needs” for, example is attributed to St. Paul, while it is in fact an adaptation of a Marxist ideal.

Many names of people and places also have religious connotations: Guards are called “Angels”, the indoctrination centre the “Rachel and Leah Centre” and stores are called “Milk and Honey” or “Loaves and Fishes”.

This is to insist on the fact that the Gilead society is a Godly society and therefore, it’s actions and policies are good and anything that would go against it would be sinful.

Women in Gilead have to wear a special uniform depending on their social rank, the handmaids are in red, the wives in powder blue and the aunts in brown. The effect of this is to create a loss of individuality by reminding women that they are now only considered by the role they occupy.

For the handmaids, and to a lesser extent other women, this also served the purpose of making it difficult for them to be recognised by people they once knew, thus cutting them for their past. The white scarf serves that same purpose and it also makes it difficult for the handmaids to see their surrounding.

Women in Gilead are forbidden to read or write which helps in censuring the information they receive, prevents them from communicating and limits their freedom of expression and thinking.

Even public signs and billboards have been replaced by images and icons as they are considered more safe than actual words who would be “too much of a temptation”. Signs with a ‘Red Hexagon’ mean STOP and a Huge Golden Lily is the sign for “Lilies in the Field” shop.

In the few cases when women are allowed written language to be viewed, the language functions as propaganda, furthering the message already drilled in the minds of the Handmaids.
Large banners proclaim:

“Women’s Prayvaganza Today” and
“God is a National Resource”

Knowing that the Handmaids are desperate for any written or verbal information, leaders of this society have turned this to their advantage, knowing that their propaganda will be devoured greedily by it’s citizens.

Banishing writing and reading is not the only form of censorship in Gilead. The only way for women to get information is by watching television or through dangerous underground networks. It is understood that the news available through the media is highly censored. As Offred says:

"They only show us victories, never defeats. . . . [The male newscaster] tells us what we long to believe. He\'s very convincing"

The media presents the information in such way that the government is shown as the ‘good guy’. This is called ‘white propaganda’, it’s attempt is to build credibility within the audience.

The Gilead state has set precise rules on