Language as a Tool of Power in
The Handmaid’s Tale
When asked to describe a glass filled with water, some people will say that the glass is half empty and some people will say that the glass is half full. The ability for people to adapt language to fit around certain situations allows them to portray something in a positive light or in a negative light, as in the glass is half full or half empty respectively. In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Offred is a young woman trapped in a dystopian society where men attempt to gain back control by subjugating women. Throughout the novel it becomes clear that language is used as a tool of power. Through alterations in the English language, officials in the republic of Gilead are able distort old societal practices and therefore suppress women.
The Republic Gilead creates a system of titles to rank the position of women in society. Women are categorized into Aunts, Marthas, wives, and handmaids, which puts a large amount of emphasis on the social hierarchy. Through this ranking women are stripped of all individuality and are solely defined by their role. Through adjusting the terms used to refer to women, Gilead is able to take control of how women are perceived.
A separate way that the Republic of Gilead attempts to control language is by outlawing certain words. “Sterile” is one of the words that is never meant to be said. While undergoing her routine check up, Offred’s doctor offers to have sex with her so that she can conceive a baby and complete her task as a handmaid. As the doctor’s hand slips in between Offred’s legs, the doctor acknowledges that most of the Commanders “can’t make it anymore…or they’re sterile” (61).
The Handmaid Tale "The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is a dystopia about a world where unrealistic things take place. The events in the novel could never actually take place in our reality." This is what most people think and assume, but they " re wrong. Look at the world today and in the recent past, and there are not only many situations that have ALMOST become a Gilead, but places that ...
Offred is immediately taken back by his liberal use of language because the doctor has “said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially.” In the republic of Gilead “there are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.” From Offred’s thoughts it seems as though the word sterile implies that there is a problem with the men and that’s why the society is faced with declining birth rates. By outlawing the word sterile, the problem is no longer in the men and it can be transferred on to the women.
Another thing that Gilead does when controlling language is outlawing reading for women. Gilead replaces all storefront signs with pictures so that women are never exposed to reading. As Offred travels into the heart of town to go shopping she describes the store which has “a huge wooden sign outside it, in the shape of a golden lily….you can see the place, under the lily, where the lettering was painted out, when they decided that even the names of shops were too much temptation for us. Now places are known by their signs alone. (25)” By controlling how much language the women are exposed to, Gilead is also able to subjugate women even further to a role that is more submissive and dependent of men.
The Republic of Gilead also has specially created terms that define certain rituals. For example, Offred gets the opportunity to attend a Prayvaganza. A Prayvaganza is a ceremony for women to celebrate the weddings for the daughters of the Wives. Very young girls are subjected to marriage in these mass ceremonies. This is an interesting word created by Gilead because it combines the word pray and vaganza, which can be thought to come from the word extravaganza. Combining these two words could imply that a prayvaganza is an extravagant event that involves a lot of praying, making a prayvaganza a very important event in a young woman’s life.
The differences between happiness, joy and gladness1.IntroductionThe concept of happiness can be characterized by three separate prototypes, which all refer to happiness but each approaches the concept of happiness from a slightly different meaning. The differences reveal mainly in the intensity of the emotion. Therefore it is very interesting how these differences appear in the English language. ...
Gilead also has especially created terms to denote what could be thought of as a social gathering. A women’s “Salvaging” is a large-scale execution where all of the women in the area attend and watch other women get hung. These gatherings are done to show what could happen when people do not follow the rules. The use of a term that means rescuing or saving to refer to executions may imply that the executions are performed to save the society from being affected by unwanted activity that is posed by offenders who do not follow the rules. As Aunt Lydia sits on the stage she announces that “a detailed account of the crimes of which the prisoners stand convicted” (275) will not be given due to similar crimes that often follow the salvagings. Immediately a rustle occurs in the audience because to the handmaids, “the crimes of others are a secret language… through them [they] show [themselves] what they might be capable, after all.” It is interesting that even without realizing it, Gilead is able to control the “language” used among the women. Another term that is presented after the salvaging is a “particution.” This term is used to disguise a group killing carried out by the handmaid’s. When Aunt Lydia says “You know the rules for a Particicution…you will wait until I blow the whistle. After that, what you do is up to you” ( 278), she is implying that a particicution is a way for the handmaid’s to let out any pent up emotion that they are harboring. By disguising this event with the word particicution, the society can think of the event as much more acceptable.
It is clear that when creating The Republic of Gilead Atwood placed a lot of emphasis on language because language has the ability to change the way people perceive certain things. By picking a term that would portray something in a more positive light, people may be more likely to do it. Language is one of the most explicit ways in which Gilead controls people’s actions by focusing on positive aspects.