Feminism and Totalitarism in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Dystopia Novel

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Table of contents

  1. Emphasized Expression of Feminism and Totalitarism in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
  2. Moira and Offred's Resistance for Women's Rights
  3. Conclusion

Dystopia is the opposite of the ideal society, which is a utopia, that often appears in literature and artistic creation. Dystopias are typically post-apocalyptic or totalitaristic, but there are other forms of dystopias as well such as feminist, cyberpunk, off-world, etc. With 'The Handmaid's Tale' novel, there two types of dystopian genres, both feminist and totalitarian dystopias are present. Because both genres are present and both genres influence each other greatly in this novel, focus on both is to be expected. However, one would argue that the feminist dystopia genre has a greater focus on the novel. The concept of feminism in the novel 'The Handmaid's Tale' will be explored in this essay as explample of feminist dystopia novel. Although the totalitarian genre of the novel is a big part of the story, in the form of Gilead, women are the main focus of the story. The strongest element of fiction within this novel are the characters. The women standing up for themselves, although very different, all want the same thing. Their choices and their freedom were taken away by Gilead, yet, some women will still fight to free themselves. Contrasting characters like Offred and Moira really make them feel alive with their different personalities, it shows that there are many different people in the novel's world who fight and believe in the same values. Women's choices were taken away by an authoritative group in the novel, such a thing could happen in the real world as well. It could be said that Alabama is headed towards that direction, with Alabama taking a woman's right to have control over their very own bodies in regard to abortion.

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Emphasized Expression of Feminism and Totalitarism in 'The Handmaid's Tale'

'The Handmaid's Tale' is both a feminist and totalitarian dystopian genre, however, since women are the central focus point in the story, this novel leans towards feminist dystopias. Gilead a totalitarian group, has made women completely lose their physical freedom. Women who are fertile are forced to train to be a handmaid their job is to bear children for the upper-class family that is infertile, with this, women are separated in different levels. Due to environmental pollution and war, the fertility rate in Gilead has fallen to terrible rates, a religious (Christian-Esque) Gilead believes that returning to old traditions can save them from this epidemic. Homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and divorce, are all considered to be a death sentences according to Gilead. At the same time, women are completely deprived of property and job opportunities. Women who are trained to be handmaids are forbidden to read, write, and communicate with others at will. The only function is to give birth to privileged classes. For example, during a monthly ovulation period, the commander, the commander's wife, and a maid complete the 'ritual”, and once they have successfully given birth, they will be sent to the next station to continue giving birth for others. In Gilead, a maid is a thorough utensil, or 'two-legged womb'. All women have lost their individuality, even the simplest form of expression (freedom of wearing what you want) is taken from them, evident from the quote: “There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimp, that mark the women of the poorer men. Economies, they're called. These women are not divided into functions. They have to do everything; if they can.” The quote describes how Gilead has divided women for different representations by using color code. The commander’s wife dressed in blue as a symbol of purity, green are the Marthas and the maids wore red nun clothes that symbolizes fertility, a symbol of birth and blood. The commander’s wives and concubines assigned to power are accomplices in captivity and extracting fertility resources for women. What is more terrifying is that punishment not only disciplines the maid's body but it also becomes possible to have maids monitor each other by having them watch one another. Since Gilead believes that punishment is the most powerful message to send to the women, Gilead forces many handmaids to witness executions and also forces them to participate and thereby thoroughly destroying their will to resist or rebel through fear.

Moira and Offred's Resistance for Women's Rights

Although there are characters who have very different and contrasting personalities they all stand for the same thing and of course aim for the same goal. For example, Moira and Offred, Moira being the heroine type of character and Offred being the opposite. “If I were Moira, I'd know how to take it apart, reduce it to its cutting edges. I have no screwdriver, but if I were Moira I could do it without a screwdriver. I'm not Moira' - Offred. The contrast between Offred’s timidness and Moira's courage makes the general image of Moira being a heroine stand out. She pursues sexual liberation, sexual freedom, opposes heterosexuality, and even hates men. She is also a lesbian. Although she failed to escape from Gilead many times, she resisted with heroic spirit. Offred is a non-adversarial female defender. Offred often suspects herself that she is not an ideal heroine like moria. She even refuses to work for the resistance group 'Mayday' in order to protect herself. Offred often tells herself to avoid trouble, survive the difficulties carefully, and only survive. Only then is the opportunity to retell history. She bears heavy burdens to survive. Only by recounting her own experience, she reminds herself not to forget the past. Even with those differences they both reject Gilead and reject how women are treated compared to men.

In Gilead, women with fertility became ridiculously state-owned property. Women are no longer have the right to say 'no' even when regarding their own bodies. Relating to that, the United States Senate in Alabama passed a certain abortion bill on May 14, which states that, abortion is not allowed in any situation unless the life of the pregnant woman is threatened. With this Abortion is prohibited even in the case of rape and/or incest. Twenty-five Republican men voted for the abortion ban, while two Democratic women voted against the ban. The bill completely prohibits women from aborting at any time during pregnancy, which means that women have no right to abort them even if there is no heartbeat thus they are forced to birth the child. The violations of the bill are very heavy. If Abortion doctors are caught in the act of providing abortions, they can have up to 99 years of jail. Very similarly in The Handmaid's Tale, women had lost the right to decide for themselves what they want to do with their bodies. The law controls their decision on whether or not they get to live with 9 months of pregnancy or to give birth. This does not even include whether or not the pregnancy occurred because of terrible incidents. This can cause psychological harm to women in this scenario. The scenarios the maid's experience isn’t quite the same, but the idea that women cannot be allowed to decide what they want for their bodies are present in the novel and the real world.


'The Handmaid's Tale' is a feminist dystopian novel with totalitarian aspects to enhance the feminist dystopia genre within its story. It’s characters, whether they are heroic in nature or timid in behavior all believe that women can be free of all the shackles placed onto them by Gilead. In the real world, however, governments such as Alabama may still believe in old traditions that Gilead follows, believing in women to be lower than men by passing a bill that restricts a women’s right in choices for abortion.  

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Feminism and Totalitarism in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Dystopia Novel. (2023, July 10). WritingBros. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/feminism-and-totalitarism-in-the-handmaids-tale-dystopia-novel/
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Feminism and Totalitarism in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Dystopia Novel [Internet]. WritingBros. 2023 Jul 10 [cited 2024 Jun 18]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/feminism-and-totalitarism-in-the-handmaids-tale-dystopia-novel/
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