Motifs In The Handmaid's Tale

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Often, we see a society’s cultural values reflected in its citizens. For example, the United States values equality, a standard that is shared in all facets including gender. The opposite is true of Gilead, a fictional society in Emily Bronte’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel’s main character, Offred, is subjected to degrading treatment simply because she is a woman. It becomes apparent that this repeated degradation has affected the protagonist’s mind. Through first-person point of view and the motif of eyes, Brontë establishes the effects of Gilead’s patriarchal society on Offred’s psychological and moral traits, revealing that the only way to survive in an oppressive society is to outwardly conform. Bronte’s use of first-person perspective…show more content…
Throughout the novel, Offred constantly feels watched and anxious about people’s views of her. The secret police in Gilead are called the Eyes, and they patrol around, looking for anyone who goes against the country’s values. The motif of eyes represents the surveillance as well as the lack of freedom women face in Gilead. Offred must be careful about what she says around members of the eye, and is always cautious as to what persona she exudes in public. An instance of Offred’s fear of the Eyes in when she converses with the interpreter of the Japanese tour group. She questions whether the man is an agent of the Eyes, here to catch her saying something bad about the current government. She can “feel their bright black eyes, the way they lean a little forward to catch our answers” (Bronte 29). Offred feels pressure by the gaze of the tourists. She cannot tell who she can trust and decides to lie, answering the interpreter's question by stating that yes, the handmaidens are very happy in Gilead. Obviously Offred has been affected by the constant surveillance, she lies in order to protect herself against the consequences that the other handmaiden’s have endured. Further in the novel, we see Offred’s moral traits become even more compromised by her surroundings. When a black van with an eye painted on it drives by her, Offred’s fears that “there must have been microphones, they’ve heard us after all” (Bronte 169). Living in Gilead has taught her to fear her opinions of the society; those before her who rebelled all ended dead. When the police drag a man to the car and brutalize him, Offred’s first feeling is relief and says “What I feel is relief. It wasn’t me.” (Bronte 170). She no longer fights any notion that Gilead’s practices are barbaric and unfair, but feels
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