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The Handmaid’s Tale: Subjugation of women

In the book of the Handmaid’s Tale, women are subjugated in the society of
Gilead. Subjugation means when someone is brought into subjection, in the Handmaid’s
Tale, women are made the subject and it is the oppression of women. Atwood explores
the ways in which women are subjugated in the Handmaid’s Tale. I will be exploring
how evident this theme is through the use of language, title, roles, situations and

In the Handmaid’s Tale, the names of each of the characters are different to what
they were called. The name for Handmaid’s is two put together, firstly, the word “of”
comes before the name of the Commander such as “Offred”, the name symbolizes who
the Handmaid’s belong to, it is like a property they own to bear children. The name of
Serena Joy is the Commander’s Wife; this again is a symbol for who she belongs to.
Therefore both women are owned by the Commander which shows the power and
control the Commander has over women (patriarchal society). The man who owns
these two women is called the Commander, the verb “command” connotes control and
power, which shows his status and the power he has over every women.

In chapter sixteen, subjugation of women is shown by Atwood through the

ceremony, which takes place every month between the Commander, Commander’s
Wife and Offred (Handmaid). The ceremony is the role that Offred and the Commander
have to play in order to build the society of Gilead. During the ceremony, Offred
describes the Wife’s actions and behaviour when Offred says, “The rings of her left
hand cut into my fingers. It may or may not be revenge.” This quotation shows the
Commander’s Wife’s feelings towards Offred even though she is doing her duty (bear
children for the Commander’s Wife); she still does not appreciate the idea of her
husband having sex with a handmaid (Offred). This situation (ceremony) is to use
women for the purpose of bearing children in the society of Gilead. The verb “cut”
connotes wound and detach which shows the Commander’s Wife’s feelings for the
situation they are in. the verb “cut” follows by the use of adverb “through”, cutting
through her hand like a knife. The ring of her left hand is a symbol of marriage and
Atwood has used language in a effective way, because it reveals the Commander’s
Wife’s inner thoughts about her husband’s role with the Handmaid, therefore she tries to
get revenge back by attacking Offred. Offed uses object pronoun “her” which portrays
her respect for the Commander’s Wife even though she has higher status. Offred thinks
the Commander’s Wife is getting revenge back when cutting through her hand, but this
is not certain because Offred then says,”it may or may not be revenge”. The revenge of
Offred having sex with her husband or anger for the situation she is at, but, can not
reveal it, so she takes it out on Offred. These all show that women have no choice
(especially Handmaid’s), which shows the subjugation of women in that society.

Another way in which Atwood shows the ways in which women are subjugated is
in the Jezebel’s section, when the Commander is introducing the people Offred sees.
The Commander says, “Well, some of them are pros. Working girls.” In this quotation,
the word “some” of them show that he is addressing them as groups, not individuals,
which show that some women in the “club” have been forced to go there, such as
Offred. Therefore, it is not only the society that has decreased the freedom that women
have, it is also a patriarchal society, where men are dominant. This shows that the
subjugation of women has been used through language (Commander’s speech) and
role (Commander’s role).

In addition to that, Atwood shows another way in which women are subjugated,
which is the relationship between Offred and the Commander. This is seen through the
action of the Commander when he has the key and shows it to Offred. This is when
Offred says, “He shows it to me, slyly. I am to understand.” The use of language used
by Atwood in this quotation is effective, she uses it effectively. The auxiliary verb “am”
shows that Offred is supposed to understand why he is showing her a key. The adverb
slyly connotes being secretive and a hint for his action. These connotations show his
position, he has power. The Commander treats Offred like a sexual object that he owns
he thinks of her as a prostitute and therefore uses her for pleasure, which is a
suggestion for the relationship between them. Offred does not make the decision herself
and can not reject it, which demonstrates the Commander’s position and status. This
portrays the subjugation of women through a place called the club, where prostitutes
are used for pleasure by men.

Finally, Atwood reveals Offred’s thoughts in the situation she is in (the

ceremony), only in her mind, not aloud. This is when Offred says, “I don’t say making
love.” This quotation portrays how women are subjugated in the society of Gilead. “I
don’t say making love”, this indicates how women are used to bear children only.
Offred’s emotions for what is happening to her, reveals she is not happy for her role in
society. The nouns “making love” connotes deep affection and sexual relations which is
not happing in Offred’s situation. The term love is forbidden to say in the society of
Gilead, this illustrates how women are controlled in that society and only used for

In conclusion, I think that women are subjugated in the society of Gilead through
Atwood’s use of language, role (the role of each character), situation (ceremony),
names and the title of the book. This could also be an advantage for the society, as
women bear children to build the society through Handmaid’s, but Handmaid’s are
under pressure because if they become infertile, they will be sent to the colonies.