Is Atwood’s novel ultimately a feminist work of literature, or does it offer a critique of feminism? (400-500 words)
Personally, I think Atwood’s novels, particularly The Handmaid’s Tale, cannot be easily categorized into a either feminist work of literature or a critique of feminism, because it involves so many complex themes including the exploration of society and humanity, rather than pure feminism. Through The Handmaid’s Tale, she presents a world with a clear social hierarchy of men controlling women, whose duty is just to give birth and produce new generations for the society to continuously develop.
Undeniably, the idea of gender inequality is central in the novel: This can be seen from the symbolisms of the handmaids’ appearance, that they have to wear white bonnets – “wings”, which not only obsure them from others’ sights, but also prevent them from looking around, showing a sense of lack of freedom; The red dresses represent “blood”, which emphasizes that women are just reproductive organs for the Gileadean society. Atwood shows how the women are being oppressed under such society, and criticize the gender inequality through the ironic language and representations.
As mentioned in the academic journal, “While she supported social equality for women, she did not envision antagonists behaviors or approaches as the means to achieve this”. She simply presents a world with critical gender inequality, but the oppressive atmosphere throughout the novel is already powerful enough to strike the readers and make us reflect on the issue. Personally, I think the academic journal has been too extreme about feminism. For example, she listed the four possibly related feminism categories – Cultural Feminism, Seperatism, Materialist Feminism and Radical Feminism, which all have extreme views on the relationship between men and women. For example, radical feminism ultimately advocates all men are enemies of women. However, I think Feminism is a much more diverse concept, and has various different degrees/extent to certain feminism tendencies. Personally, I believe The Handmaid’s Tale has some degree of Materialist Feminism because obviously, the whole story is based on the context of men having more power than women in Giledean society. This sense of class-consciousness has clearly divided women and men’s duties and thus oppressed the women to follow such a strict social hierarchy and complete their own duties. We can see this from how the handmaids and wives react when others become pregnant: they are so caught up in their duties, that they become inevitably jealous at the others when they have babies. The clear social hierarchy has fundamentally changed their mindsets. Therefore, it shows how poisonous a society’s rules could be to women.
Overall, I think there is some degree of feminism in The Handmaid’s Tale, but it shouldn’t be only identified as that, because it is indeed a very diverse piece of literature.