While the focus of The Handmaid’s Tale is primarily on the subjugation of women, just as much attention could have been placed on how fearful the idea of reverting to early Christian ideals is in all cases. The society that brought forth the Republic of Gilead seems to have progressed slightly more liberally than our own, or perhaps Atwood is only focusing on the most negative aspects of our own society, but for a world even similar to our own to allow itself to embrace nothing more than tradition and religious precedent; that is a frightening premise.

Interestingly enough, Atwood proves through the actions of nearly every character in the book that although The Republic of Gilead has proven itself a strong enough force to capture a large portion of America, it has failed in capturing the hearts and minds of its people, and is most probably doomed because of this. The fact that the novel is taking place in early Giladean history could prove that the nation still has a chance to establish itself further, but in reality, the characters’ passion for the world they left behind is too persistent and alluring for them. The Commander himself never mentions as he tours Offred through Jezebel’s that this “necessary evil” is something to be left behind over time. He still yearns for socialization with women and the many other fragments of pre-Giladean society that were lost. Serena Joy is just as troubled with this new society, although her own religious preaching could have been a propellant of Gilead; ultimately, she is left without that outlet in the new society, and is something of an empty shell.

A realistic analogy for the state of The Republic of Gilead and its people would ask: If you were to throw a stone down a chasm with a rope attached, you could always pull it back up, but if the stone fell too far, would you still be able to, or is the stone too heavy, and has it traveled too far? Could a society similar to our own actually revert to tradition and early Christian ideals or would attempting to do so prove that they’ve come too far (through good or bad progress) to ever really allow that of themselves?

The appendix seems to justify that Gilead does indeed fall, but to what extent, and at what cost? Apart from naming The Republic of Texas, the world is left open for interpretation. Atwood could have been leaving something optimistic for the reader, going against so many other dystopian novels, but at the same time she chooses carefully to include some chauvinistic attitude in the speaker, and never truly focuses on the atrocity of Gilead, just the occasional fact. Is post-Giladean society dehumanized, or is it back to what it once was? Which is better, and which is worse?

If society has returned to the state it was before Gilead, have all the negative aspects of society returned as well? It’s interesting to propose that while the feminist movement was undoubtedly positive, demanding so much freedom could have been the lone catalyst that propelled Gilead into being. The feminist movement, in some small way, is responsible for much of the open sexuality and lack of “traditional values” that inspired the men in The Handmaid’s Tale to rebel. Women like Serena Joy, scared of the waning morals in modern society, were content with letting, and even helping, the change to take place. Of course, our society doesn’t parallel this exactly, and while we have obvious similarities, it would be difficult work to prove that the feminist movement did even close to as much harm as it did good.


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