The Handmaid's Tale: A Biblical Allusion
Imagine a country where choice is not a choice. One is labeled by their age and economical status. The deep red cloaks, the blue embroidered dresses, and the pinstriped attire are all uniforms to define a person's standing in society. To be judged, not by beauty or personality or talents, but by the ability to procreate instead. To not believe in the Puritan religion is certain death. To read or write is to die. This definition is found to be true in the book, The Handmaid's Tale (1986) by Margaret Atwood. It is a heartbreaking story of one young woman and her transformation into the Gilead society, the society described above. In the book, we meet Offred, the narrator of the story. This story is not the first to create a society in which the only two important beliefs in a society are the ability to procreate and a strict belief in God. It is seen several times in the Old Testament, the Bible. The Biblical society is not as rigid as the Republic of Gilead, which Margaret Atwood has built, but it is very similar. The Handmaid's Tale holds several biblical allusions.
The first biblical allusion is that of the Republic of Gilead. Gilead is mentioned several times in the Bible as a place of fertile lands. The Bible states, "To the east [the Israelites] occupied the land. . . , because their livestock had increased in Gilead" (Numbers 32:1, NIV) and "The [tribes], who led very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock" (1 Chronicles 5:9, NIV). The Biblical land of Gilead was a land of prospering livestock. Families and tribes came to Gilead because of the land's lush, green and fertile soil. The Republic of Gilead was also a land of prosperity, except the green and fertile land was that of the handmaid's womb. Every handmaid is used as a surrogate mother for the barren, and wealthy families in the Republic of Gilead. This allusion is applied with this one quote from Aunt Lydia, the woman who indoctrinated the handmaid's to the ways of the Republic of Gilead, "The Republic of Gilead. . . knows no bounds. Gilead is within you" (p. 23, italics: mine). The lush soil, and the future, of Gilead was located "within" the handmaids.
Another allusion is that of Offred's name. Each handmaid is required to take up the name of the Commander to which they are assigned. For example, Offred belongs to the Commander named Fred, therefore, her name is Of. . . fred. But there is a deeper meaning to her seemingly menial name. Offred's name could also be interpreted as Off. . . red. To understand this biblical allusion, one must first understand the required uniform of the handmaids. Offred describes, "I. . . advance my feet into the sunlight, in their red shoes, flat heeled to save the spine and not for dancing. The red gloves are lying on the bed. I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by finger. Everything except the wings around...