Symbolism and Loss of Identity in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

940 Words4 Pages
Symbolism and Loss of Identity in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Offred recounts the story of her life and that of others in Gilead, but she does not do so alone. The symbolic meanings found in the dress code of the women, the names/titles of characters, the absence of the mirror, and the smell and hunger imagery aid her in telling of the repugnant conditions in the Republic of Gilead. The symbols speak with a voice of their own and in decibels louder than Offred can ever dare to use. They convey the social structure of Gileadean society and carry the theme of the individual's loss of identity.

All the women in Gilead wear color-coded uniforms. The colors parade their social status
…show more content…
First, it is symbolized by the handmaids' patronymic names. Their names are formed with the possessive preposition, 'of,' and the first name of the 'Commander' for whom they are to bear children (for instance: 'Of-Fred'). The handmaids are moved to a new posting after three attempts to bear child for the 'Commander' and his wife; at each new location, they drop their former name and adopt their new Commander's name. Thus, while the narrator's name is currently Offred, she may later become Ofglen, Ofwaren, or some other such patronym. Like their names, the handmaids have no personal identity and they lack stability; like their names, they are interchangeable and replaceable with each other (LeBihan 102).

It isn't just handmaids, or even only women that have forfeited their personal identity; men have lost theirs as well. Their loss of individualism is symbolized by their generic titles. There are three classes of men in Gilead: the 'Commanders,' the Doctors, and the 'Eyes.' Like the color-coded uniforms of the women, the generic titles of the men announce their function. The Commanders are supposed to fertilize the handmaids; the Doctors examine the handmaids monthly to check for possible problems with their reproductive organs; the Eyes are the spy network of Gilead and are responsible for enforcing discipline. Also like the women's color coded-uniforms, the men's generic titles deprive them of their individuality and reduce them to mere task objects.

More about Symbolism and Loss of Identity in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Get Access