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In all societies exists some sense of spirituality. This may be religion or simply a sense of mindfulness and connection. While this aspect may be beneficial for communities, it may oppositely corrupt depending on in which ways it is enacted and received. In Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, the society, Gilead, is built upon a totalitarian government derived from a strict interpretation of the Holy Bible. Set in the near future, Atwood writes about a country riddled with infertility; the women, handmaids, who are capable of conceiving children are domesticated, nearly property to their household. Because of this infertility, birth transforms into a sacred occasion — revered as the most valued event in Gilead — so much so that “Birth Days” are shrouded as a holiday of sorts. Through the examination of a “Birth Day,” one is able to recognize how this absolutist government presents this holiday as a means to maintain control, present hope, and manipulate freedom over the women.
The women in Gilead are intensely segregated. Handmaids are employed in order to continue the race for the officials and wives who are unable to bear children. On these “Birth Days,” the handmaids are refused cakes and other sweets that the wives snack on. The wives employ the excuse that the luxuries are unhealthy for the women and the babies; however, they only intend to oppress these women because they have leverage over the wives through intercourse with their husbands. Therefore, in any case control must be maintained. Depriving them of luxuries as simple as sweets is one way it is achieved easily. Secondly, the vehicles the two types of women take to the house of the birth is drastically different. The wives enjoy plush seats with large windows to the outside world while the handmaids receive wooden benches and thick drapes to obstruct their views. By placing this extreme difference in luxury, the handmaids are forced to recognize their caste. Their worth is based only on their ability to produce a child; they have become vessels instead of people.
Oppositely, “Birth Days” present a positive light. Due to the fact that babies are sacred and coveted in Gilead, producing one earns the handmaid a reward. She is able to receive praise and exemption from her duties for the entire term. Therefore, for one handmaid to conceive a child offers hope to the remaining. It is readily understood what a baby equals to these women. For a period they will have worth, praise, and love — despite it being a false appearance. Secondly, the thought of a baby presents hope to the other house staff. For example, Cora, one of the Marthas, a maid, desires a baby because it equals recognition for her. Offred, the handmaid of her house, is a physical representation or hope for Cora. A baby for the family means that she will have a child to care for. It will bring people to the house whom she can wait on and impress with her skills of cooking and cleaning. A baby will make her life and efforts notices — the same being said for a handmaid.
All handmaids in the district are forced to attend Births as a way to create a false sense of freedom. Due to the importance of the day, they are exempt from all obligations. Once arrived at the house, these women may do as they please — within limits of course. They gossip with the other handmaids and become drunk off spiked grape juice. For a time, they are normal women not glorified sex slaves. They are free. It is teased before them intentionally alike to the control methods so that they understand their place. Moreover, the handmaid herself who is giving birth receives the scent of freedom. She is allowed to move freely around her room surrounded by her companions — all to help her give birth. These women are presented with a fleeting sense of freedom, one that is manipulated to look desirable in order to get the job, birth, done.
As the novel revolves around this obsession with child birth, one is able to comprehend much. Women have become vessels, tools of sorts. As an attempt to mask this, the government glorifies birth itself. It is manipulated into a holiday in efforts to hide the cruel use of these women, the handmaids. They are manipulated so much so that women of all categories yearn for a birth day — whether they be wives, Marthas, or handmaids. They yearn so that they may receive the benefit of control, hope, or freedom despite how temporary and oscillating they are between each birth.
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