Religion is the prime subject inMargaret Atwood’s award-winning novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood’s novel invokes a theocratic dystopia;a version of the United States taken over by fundamentalist Christians. Thebible is being used in a political context to maneuver the society and attain patriarchalsupremacy. Religion is utilized to oppress women (also something from the video).
Religion is represented as a central theme in the novel because it is used to manipulatepeople for political purposes, it has caused a loss of faith in people and ithas increased the protagonist’s (Offred) faith in God. The people of Gilead are being manipulatedfor political purposes with the use of the bible. The Republic of Gileadincluded religious terminology in its official vocabulary as a method ofclassification. While describing Rita, Offred says, “She’s in her usual Martha’sdress … but nobody much cares who sees the face of a Martha” (Atwood 10). Ritadid not withstand any importance in the Commander’s household. She was justthere to serve. As in the New Testament, Martha “was distracted by all the preparationsthat had to be made” (Luke 10:40) that she had not paid any attention to Jesus’teachings.
Martha was just a hostess and in TheHandmaid’s Tale Rita is just a domestic servant. Seeing the face of a Marthadid not raise any issues, while the Handmaids were obliged to wear the whitewings “to keep them from seeing, but also from being seen” (Atwood 9). Thisshows the classification between the Marthas and the Handmaids.
Religion is used as a tool to impose rigorousrituals created by the Gilead regime. Salvation from the bible ismisrepresented as Salvaging, and praying is misrepresented as Prayvaganza. TheRepublic of Gilead is abusing people’s faith in religion and is using it forits own political purposes. Rituals like Salvaging, Prayvaganza, andParticicution are utilized to create fear in people’s minds using the name ofGod. Salvation and praying are such holy practices, but in The Handmaid’s Tale, they are used for public executions and massreligious celebrations for group weddings or military victories. Offred has notgotten used to watching Handmaid’s being hanged, which proves her reaction: “Idon’t want to see it anymore” (Atwood 318). Gilead’s way of salvation is deathsince they call their mass executions Salvaging.
The Gilead regime manipulatespeople into thinking they are doing the right thing. When a Guardian is broughtto the Handmaid’s accused of rape Aunt Lydia reminds everyone “The penalty forrape … is death” (Atwood 321) and also refers to the fifth book of the Old Testament;Deuteronomy. Aunt Lydia is involving the Handmaids into a mass murder of an innocentby brainwashing them into believing he has committed a treacherous sin. The government’s use of religion tocontrol the society is promoting to the further loss of faith in humanity. In The Handmaid’s Tale religion isconstantly used to remind women that “There are only women who are fruitful andwomen who are barren, that’s the law” (Atwood 68). God has gifted women withthe ability to bring life into this world but sometimes they are helpless andcannot get pregnant. In Gilead there is nothing wrong with men, if a womancannot get pregnant it’s her fault.
The doctor tries to take advantage of thisopportunity and offers himself to Offred so she could conceive. This shows thatpeople have forgotten about the seventh commandment: “Thou shalt not commitadultery”. It had become so easy for the doctor to ask the Handmaid’s for sex,even though if caught it resulted in death. Offred was the Commander’sproperty. This situation relates to when Mariam suffered many miscarriages in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and could not giveRashid a son. This leads to Rashid hurting Mariam and marrying Laila.
Rashiddid not consider Mariam’s feelings, she was his wife. He only thought abouthaving a son. This shows how women in both TheHandmaid’s Tale and A ThousandSplendid Suns, are repressed by men. They cannot voice their feelings. Mariamhad to accept her husband marrying another woman, and Offred had to accept thatthis was her reality. Although Offred refuses the doctor’s offer, he mentionsthat he has “helped others” (Atwood 68). Other Handmaids have had sex with thedoctor to have babies, which proves that those Handmaids broke the seventhcommandment. These women had lost all their faith in humanity and religion.
Thedoctor is not trustworthy as he has can control the Handmaid’s lives by falselywriting them off as cancerous and etc. But the Handmaid’s were willing to doanything to give birth. They gave up on God and gave in to the doctor. TheHandmaid’s Tale depicts lost meanings of religion. TheRepublic of Gilead is using people’s faith as a way to earn money. Praying is afree soulful act. But it has become an expense as “Ordering prayers from SoulScrolls is supposed to be a sign of piety and faithfulness to the regime”(Atwood 192).
Atwood is ridiculing religion and the Gilead regime. When Ofglenasks Offred if “God listens … to these machines?” (Atwood 193) Offred says “No”(Atwood 194). This was Offred’s small little rebellion against the Gileadregime, but she is soon reminded of the consequences as a man is captured bythe Eyes in front of her. Religion is used to ease people into believing in theGilead regime as they see references from the bible. But, this also shows the inhumanityof the Republic of Gilead as they are using religion to manipulate people.
Offredwas deeply offended by the question at first. Even though she wants to be freeof the Gilead regime, she never does anything to help herself. Offred calls outthe question to be “Subversion, sedition, blasphemy, heresy, all rolled intoone” (Atwood 193). She is scared to answer a question. Offred does not to doanything that would jeopardize her position and make her situation worse. TheGilead regime has changed other’s faith and outlook on life, but Offred isstill a strong believer in God.
She obeys the Gilead regime as someone staystrue to their religion or faith. Offred is a true believer in God. Despite her whole life beingturned upside down she still continues to have faith in God.
Offred expressesher love for God by reciting her own version of the prayer: “My God. Who Art in the Kingdom of Heaven,which is within. Iwish you would tell me Your name, the real one I mean … But whateverit is, help me to get through it, please.
Though maybeit’s not Your doing; I don’t believe for an instant that what’s going onout there is what You meant … Don’t worry about forgiving me right now … keep the others safe, if they are safe. Don’tlet them suffer too much. If they have to die, let it be fast. You might evenprovide a Heaven for them. We need you for that. Hell we can make forourselves.
I suppose I should say I forgivewhoever did this, and whatever they’re doing now. I’ll try, but it isn’t easy”(Atwood 225). This showswhat religion means to Offred. She relies on religion to survive throughGilead. Offred is searching for God, so he can help her. She expresses all heremotions to God through her prayers, which shows her deep connection towardsher faith and what she believes in. Gilead overthrowing the government, andusing religion as a tool to gain control has not changed Offred’s perspectivetowards her religion.
Offred uses the “technique of forgiveness” and thinks ofGod and His love for her and forgives the ones who have hurt her to be free(Murphy 224). Her faith in religion has strengthened since she needs God morethan ever. It is not clearly evident if Offred has forgotten the originalprayer: “OurFather in heaven,Hallowed be your name,Your kingdom come,Your will be done,On earth as it isin heaven.Give us today ourdaily bread.And forgive us ourdebts,As we also haveforgiven our debtors.And lead us notinto temptation,But deliver usfrom the evil one. (Matthew 6:10) Or she chooses to pray in her own version. But the most important thingis that Offred prays.
Even if she has forgotten the prayer, she puts an effortto pray relying on what she remembers. Offred choosing to pray without anyobligations shows her love for God. She believes God will listen to herprayers, and fix all the wrongs in her life. Offred’s faith inreligion is increasing. She imagines life to have a higher purpose. Offredremembers God when she feels alone or needs help. It is in our subconscious to “rememberGod” when we are in “trouble” (Murphy 92). After praying Offred complains toGod how she feels “unreal, talking to Him like this” and wants him to answerher as she feels “alone” (Atwood 226).
Offred is declaring her love for God,and her need for His presence in her life. She expresses her loneliness, as itis important for a person to “interact” with others in order to live lifehealthily (Murphy 125). Offred has her own way of reaching out to God, she doesnot believe in the traditional way of praying as she says, “I pray where I am,sitting by the window, looking out through the curtain at the empty garden. I don’teven close my eyes.
Out there or inside my head, it’s an equal darkness. Orlight” (Atwood 251). Offred stays closeto God and prays when she feels it’s needed. She does not require a holy placeto reach out to God. Offred is shown to have a personal connection with God.
“Yourconcept of God is the most important thing in your life. If you really believein a God … your subconscious mind will respond in countless blessings to you”(Murphy 226). Religion plays a central role in The Handmaid’s Tale. It is used to manipulatepeople for political purposes, it has caused a loss of faith in people and ithas increased the protagonist’s (Offred) faith in God. The religion whichbelonged to God is used as an oppressive tool to control people. Some peoplecontinue to have faith in religion which is disguised as the Gilead regime in The Handmaid’s Tale, while some rebelagainst it. In Gilead torture is justified in the name of God with the abusingreligion.