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Current Issues and Potential Dangers to Our Own Community in Handmaid’s Tale

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The Critical Analysis of the Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale originated as a novel in 1985 by Margaret Atwood and became a television show in 2017. In episode one, the plot is based in the future where there is a decrease in fertility, and a rapid decline in population due to abortion, same-sex marriages, or couples choosing not to have children. The government of Gilead is a totalitarian religious government that overthrew the US government in order to reinstate “traditional” roles for men and women. The government of Gilead removed all women’s rights, including the freedom to read, write and go to school, in order to enforce that a woman’s sole purpose is to reproduce. In this society, when highly ranked men’s wives cannot reproduce due to infertility, they are given a handmaid to rape and use as a surrogate for their family. The main issue is that these extremist religious views are overpowering the law and with a strong military force, they are able to dominate over a powerful county. The purpose of this paper is to argue that the dystopic society presented in The Handmaid’s Tale reflects current issues and potential dangers for our own society as the power of an extremist view can quickly overthrow an individual’s current views and change their thoughts and actions. This is demonstrated through the injustice of women’s rights, dominance issues, and religion.

Women’s rights

The main issue within the television show is the dethroning of women’s rights. In episode one, June was taken from her family while trying to flee into Canada, the family were pursued by a group of armed men into a forest where they were forced to separate. As June and her daughter were being chased in the forest, the armed men captured June, knocked her out, took her daughter, and killed her husband. The capturing of women to use for fertility is a common event within the culture of the dystopic society in Gilead as fertility is defined as a women’s main role in their culture. 

 In our course readings, chapter five of Exploring Sociology a Canadian Perspective defines the characteristics of the culture. Within this chapter on culture, the concepts of ethnocentrism, norms, mores, cultural shock, and cultural adaptation are frequently used to describe individuals’ behaviors towards other cultures. Ethnocentrism is defined as the tendency to view one’s own culture as superior to all others. Norms are rules that outline appropriate behavior and mores carry a strong sense of social importance and necessity. Cultural shock is the feeling of disorientation, alienation depression and loneliness experienced when entering a culture very different from one’s own. All of these terms relate to how handmaids are viewed in this society and how they feel when they belong to such a dystopic society. 

There is a form of ethnocentrism presented by the government of Gilead. The government’s power is shown by the armed men as they believe their culture is superior over women. The armed men were sent by the government to capture June as their culture justifies this as their role in society. When women try to escape while being captured, the armed men punish them as their culture believes they are in the wrong for trying to escape. For example, when June is captured, she tries to escape, however that was inappropriate behaviour in which she is punished by being beaten and knocked out. This shows that the government is superior over the handmaids as they have norms for women. Handmaids are known as the mores of the government and society because without them there would be no reproduction. Since women are only used for fertility, they are very important and are a necessity to society. However, how the handmaids of Gilead are introduced to the dystopic society leaves the women feeling disoriented, depressed, and lonely, as they are alone and away from their ‘normal’ lifestyle. These feelings are caused instantly as they are captured randomly.

The examples relate back to the thesis, as an individual’s current views can be quickly dethroned and changed, as June’s rights were taken from her when she was taken from her family. The government has claimed her as an item/entity, so June cannot leave the country or talk about her true identity because the government owns her. The dominance of the state has been demonstrated through the capturing; her daughter is taken away from her because she is an unfit mother in the eyes of Gilead as she does not conform to their religious way of life. Thus, her daughter is rehomed to a highly ranked family that is worthy of a child. This relates to the Children Aids Society (CAS) because they take children away from unfit mothers and rehome them to better families. Although this is relevant in today’s society, if our societal views changed on what is considered fit and right based on an extreme religious view, then this may rapidly change and apply to Gilead.  


The government of Gilead has formed a dystopic society due to their high demands and a strong force of dominance. In episode one, dominance is a recurring issue through patriarchalism between the commander, his wife, and June. This represents an extremely patriarchal society as men are in authority over women. Throughout the episode, two incidents occur in which others showed dominance over June. First, June introduces herself as Offred as she is now forbidden to use her real name, she says, “my name is Offred, I had another name, but it’s forbidden now, so many things are forbidden now”. Secondly, when June met Commander Waterford and his wife, his wife stated, “don’t call me ma’am, you’re not a Martha”. As well, in this scene his wife strictly states “I expect you know the rules…I want to see as little of you as possible… do you understand?…if I get trouble, believe me, I will give trouble back”.  These quotes demonstrate that the commander’s wife and the other commander’s wives dominate over the handmaids and Martha. The handmaids are given one event in which they are told to show dominance and that is at the ceremony when June and the other handmaids beat and killed the male that raped a pregnant handmaid and killed her baby. This is known as a disciplinary action that demonstrates the superior control the government has over the handmaids and those in society.

In our course readings, chapter three of Exploring Sociology a Canadian Perspective is based on Contemporary Social Theories. Within this chapter the terms domination, ruling, identity, discipline, discourse, and normalization are used to describe what takes place in a dystopic society. Domination is referred to as the direct physical and violent coercion exerted by the police and the military to maintain social boundaries and enforce social rules. Identity is defined as the sense of self, that is socially produced, fluid, and multiple. Discipline is defined as the means by which we become motivated to produce particular realities. Discourse is a system of meaning that governs how we think, act and speak about a particular thing or issue. Normalization is defined as a social process by which some practices and ways of living are marked as “normal” and others are marked as “abnormal”. These terms demonstrate the dystopian mindset the government has towards those leaving in Gilead. 

Handmaids play one of the most important roles in the dystopic society in which they are forced to live in. As stated in the episode, “I know this must feel very strange…but “ordinary” is just what you’re used to…this may not seem ordinary to you right now, but after a time, it will…this will become ordinary”, defines the process the Handmaids go through to normalize themselves into their new surroundings. The society and the citizens of Gilead shape the women’s identity as they are rewritten when entering the society as a handmaid. They are shaped as a result of the high ruling, domination and discourse that are forced upon them. The women are forced to think, act and speak in the way the commanders and those working for the commander want them to. For example, the handmaids are forced to grocery shop, cook and clean, dress the same, and have babies, and when the handmaids act abnormal or fail to act appropriately, they are punished. The act of discipline is viewed by the government as a form of education to teach the women to not act out, however, their ways of discipline add to the negative actions that occur within the dystopic society.

The examples relate back to our thesis, that the power of an extremist can quickly change an individual’s thoughts and actions, so they do not repeat the same behavior again. Individuals in Gilead who fail to follow the rules or act inappropriately are punished so they learn that behaviour is unacceptable in society. This connects to our society as individuals are to conform to societal issues and if not, they will be punished. For example, individuals are to conform to school rules otherwise they will be suspended or expelled, or if an individual break the law they will go to jail. The term discipline connects to religion as God punished those who did not follow what he said in the old testament.


In episode one, religion is strongly used, primarily from the Old Testament of the Bible.  In this episode, during the ceremony of fertility, June’s commander used Genesis 30:1-4 as he said “and when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said unto Jacob, Give me children or else I die. And she said, ‘Behold my main, Bilhah. Go in unto her and she shall bear upon my knees that I may also have children by her’. And she gave him Bilhah, their handmaid, to wife, and Jacob went unto her”. In our course readings, chapter thirteen of Exploring Sociology a Canadian Perspective is on religion. Religion is defined as a set of organized beliefs about the supernatural or spiritual worlds that guides behavior and joins people into communities of believers. The bible passage, Genesis 30: 1-4, connects strongly to the role handmaids have in Gilead. The handmaid assists the childless married couple by being their surrogates. Gilead gives the handmaids this role in society by ingraining this law of religion through education. The handmaids are educated at the Rachel and Leah Centre, named after the characters in this bible passage because the commander, his wife and a handmaid recreate the passage of fertility. 

The examples relate back to our thesis, that those in power can change one’s viewpoint, because the bible gives the people of Gilead power and a reason to think what they are doing is morally right rather than unjust, that shows they are entitled to this way of life. This connects to our society as abortions and same-sex marriages are causing large debates among those with strong religious views. There are constant protests about abortion and same-sex marriages regarding what is morally correct. A recent article by Baker, Bader, and Hirsch in 2014, talks about the Westboro Baptist church’s views on desecration, moral boundaries, and the Movement of Law. Throughout this article, the authors outline the church’s strategy of how they present and fight for their beliefs. An example of their strategy would be at Public Square in Cleveland when the Westboro Baptist Church protested their views on gay marriages and abortion with signs and chants to get their beliefs across. These examples demonstrate when a society shares their beliefs with the hope to change other people’s beliefs.

Throughout this critical analysis of the television show The Handmaid’s Tale, the dystopic society in which the handmaid’s live in was explained through the themes of women’s rights, superiority and religion. The aim of this paper is to support that the dystopic society portrayed in The Handmaid’s Tale represents current issues and potential dangers to our own community as the influence of an extremist view can easily alter an individual’s thoughts and actions. The alterations occur frequently in Gilead due to the inequality of women’s rights, questions of superiority, and religion. This relates to our society as these three issues; religion, the superiority of government and unfair women’s rights continue to be a problem. 


  1. Joseph O. Baker, Christopher D. Bader & Kittye Hirsch (2015). Desecration, Moral Boundaries, and the Movement of Law: The Case of Westboro Baptist Church, Deviant Behavior, 36:1, 42-67.
  2. Miller, B., & Morano, R. (26 April 2017). Offred [Season1, episode1]. In M. Atwood, Handmaid’s tale. United States: MGM Television. 
  3. Ravelli, B., & Webber, M. (2018a). Culture. In Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective
  4. (Module 5.1 – 5.7). New York City: Pearson Education.
  5. Ravelli, B., & Webber, M. (2018b). Contemporary Social Theories. In Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective
  6. (Module 3.1 – 3.7). New York City: Pearson Education.
  7. Ravelli, B., & Webber, M. (2018c). Religion. In Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective
  8. (Module 13.1 – 13.7). New York City: Pearson Education.
  9. Miller, B., & Morano, R. (26 April 2017). Offred [Season1, episode1]. In M. Atwood, Handmaid’s tale. United States: MGM Television. 

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