Assignment 1 Literary AnalysisThe Price of ComplacencyAn analysis of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s TaleBy Elise RalstonOffred, the narrator and protagonist of the novel (and the Handmaid referred to in the title of the book), remembers a time before the Republic of Gilead; throughout the story, she frequently recalls going out drinking with friends, having a job, owning money and property, and living a free life. In spite of this societal regression, very few characters throughout the book actively resist the regime.
A prominent theme in the novel is the idea that people are willing to tolerate terrible situations when repaid with minimal relief, and Atwood’s story makes a poignant case for the importance of not giving in to the temptation of complacency.After discovering a plummet in fertility rates, the United States of America is systematically and deliberately dismantled, in a way that reminds vividly of the Nazi occupation of Germany in the 1930s. Fascism spreads its roots the same way it has throughout history: infiltration of government, segregation, fearmongering, and the gradual stripping of rights of a people group; in this case, women.
The Handmaids – a product of Gilead – are tasked with reproducing and repopulating the country. They suffer immensely at the hands of the regime, living in constant fear and lacking any control of their bodies or lives. The limbo between the death of the United States of America and the birth of the Republic of Gilead is a time defined by uncertainty, change, and crippling fear. Women lose the right to own property and find their bank accounts frozen. In spite of this, Offred does not participate in the protests, and takes her husband’s advice: stay safe for your daughter. Fear drives her to stay home with her family, and that same fear stops many from demonstrating. Fear is what loses them the country.However, while fear is a potent paralytic and a natural response to danger, not all of the characters react this way to the new world. Valiant resistance in the face of severe punishment is a prominent pattern in the novel, as is the theme of rebellion. Offred herself longs for resistance and disobedience. She fantasises about stealing things and breaks whatever minor rules that she can. Whatever she can do to remind herself that she doesn’t belong to Gilead, she does. Then, as Offred recalls the Red Center, where the Handmaids were sent to be indoctrinated in the customs of Gilead and learn their new roles as Handmaids, Offred’s best friend Moira tries to escape. The first time she’s brought back and tortured, but rather than this killing her spirit, Moira is incensed and makes another attempt; the second time, she’s successful. Even the Commander in Offred’s household – one of the characters in the book that truly represents the Republic of Gilead – resists the regime he built. He secretly spends time with Offred in private, despite the strict rules against it. He plays Scrabble with her even though women aren’t allowed to read, and he shows her magazines from old times. He even takes her to a brothel for a night out, which should go against everything that Gilead means to exemplify. These small gestures suggest a desire even in those most privileged citizens of Gilead, a longing for freedom and genuineness, which in turn leads to a silent – and most likely subconscious – mutiny.But rebellion in response to suffering isn’t always enough. It’s shown in the second half of the novel to be a fickle motivator, especially when faced with even the slightest measure of comfort as compensation. Moira is reintroduced later in Offred’s story when Offred finds her working at Jezebel’s – the brothel the Commander takes her to – but the Moira she meets there is frighteningly different to the friend she remembers. Moira seems to have accepted her fate, surrendering to a short life of prostitution. At Jezebel’s, Moira has a degree of freedom that she would never have if she had become a Handmaid. She has access to drugs and alcohol, and she is even allowed to sleep with women, her preferred sex, which would be punishable by death anywhere else. While this is far from a good life, it is just enough for her to become content. The same can be said for Offred, who noticeably loses her yearning for defiance when presented with a break in her routine. Her inner monologue changes prominently when she starts seeing the Commander in secret, and the excitement that her covert excursions give her quickly erase whatever drive to change her situation she had prior. Offred’s complacency proves to be cheap and easily bought with excitement, and later, when her relationship with Nick begins, the closeness and comfort she finds in him only enhance her contentment.But Offred’s complacency only lasts as long as the life of her friend and fellow Handmaid Ofglen. In the last chapters of the book, Offred and Ofglen take part in a particicution’; an execution that the Handmaids participate in. Ofglen, a spy herself, recognizes the man as a member of the underground resistance Mayday’ and she kills him quickly to spare him a slow death. Her actions during the particicution raise suspicion and Ofglen sees them coming to take her for questioning; so she hangs herself. Ofglen’s death and the brutality of the particicution reawaken the fight in Offred; she is reminded why she must be brave, why she mustn’t give in to the urge to surrender herself to Gilead. Ofglen’s death is a merciless awakening for Offred, and in it, she rediscovers her spirit. Throughout the novel, Atwood paints a vibrant picture of fear having a powerful role in the birth and build of the Republic of Gilead. First as a facilitator, being used to restrain women to their homes, stopping them from using their voices and protesting their growing oppression. Second, it becomes a motivator. A life in fear is one of suffering, and suffering sparks resistance in most people. But Atwood also indicates how easily bought resistance is, and how quickly complacency can take its place. It only takes slight improvements for the fighters to become passive and accepting, while it takes a terrible tragedy to inspire new resolution.The Handmaid’s Tale aims to serve as a warning against complacency, and, perhaps more importantly, as a reminder to always stand against oppression and to always try to fight injustice. Complacency, turning off, is easy. Fighting back is difficult, but essential. At the end of the novel, it is unclear what follows for Offred and most of the other characters in the story. We don’t know if Gilead remains, if the narrator is killed, or if she ever finds her family again. What one can know for sure is that there is no change without resistance, and that there is no resistance without soldiers, and that there are no soldiers without selfless individuals willing to give themselves to a cause. Resistance may have a high price for the individual, but for the greater good, it is a price that must be paid.Bibliography1. Wilderness Society, ‘Greenhouse Gases – Choking the Planet’, Wilderness Society [web page](2005) , accessed 10 Nov. 2018.