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Feminine Power In Gilead

Decent Essays
Serena Joy
The society which Atwood has created in her novel is one which is divided into two separate “spheres of existence”, namely the public and domestic sphere. These spheres originated from the ideology that first appeared in the 19th century, with its notion that separate spheres existed for men and women, where women were associated with family and children (Purvis). In Gilead, “men exert all social control, monopolize power, and occupy the public sphere, [and] women [were] essentially powerless and relegated to the domestic sphere” (Mohr 245), however, it could be argued that women within the novel’s domestic sphere were not “essentially powerless”. Atwood presents this argument by demonstrating the power that women have within a domestic
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This is especially ironic in the case of Serena Joy. In pre-Gilead society, Serena Joy held a position of power, and used this power in order to advocate “traditional women values” (Callaway 35) and to oppress other women. However, once the world she advocated for became a reality in the form of Gilead, she realizes that her social status does not exempt her from the oppression that she helped create, and her “anguish lies in her inability to adapt to the wifely role she has so ardently advocated” (Freibert 283). This results in the creation of a bitter character, and hence suggests how even women with power are unable to be happy within a restrictive male-dominated society (Callaway 36). Through this, Atwood uses her novel to “critique the feminine roles that support the repression of other women” (Callaway) by buying into conservatism, as well as using it to express her views on the controversy behind Second-Wave Feminism during the time the novel was…show more content…
By describing the Wife’s garden as her “domain”, Atwood implies that Serena Joy is in complete power, as “domain” has military connotations and is defined as “an area of territory owned or controlled by a particular ruler or government”. Therefore, by using the word “domain” in this context, Atwood could be comparing Serena Joy’s position to a dictator in a dictatorship, highlighting the absolute control she has within her domain and emphasizing the existence of a social hierarchy in Gilead. Serena’s power within the household is further emphasized when the reader learns that “he [the Commander] wouldn’t be able to intervene, to save me [Offred]; the transgressions of women in the household, whether Martha or Handmaid, are supposed to be under the jurisdiction of the Wives alone” (Atwood 170), when Offred begins to realize that her clandestine relationship with the Commander might be discovered by Serena Joy. This illustrates how within the household, Serena Joy holds more power than the Commander, a male character, and hence shows that even within a patriarchy, there are instances where a woman holds more power. However, the “garden” is a domestic environment, alluding to the domestic sphere in which Serena Joy belongs, and suggests that her power is restricted to this sphere and she is unable to influence that
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