The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. It focuses on the journey of a handmaid called Offred. The novel shows feminism being stripped away and how women of this dystopian Republic of Gilead are being oppressed and are having their rights and freedom taken. It’s a repugnant concept but it’s worth remembering that similar practices and events occurred in the mid 1800s. If this novel had been written or read around the 1850s, the events taken place in the novel wouldn’t be seen as nearly as bad. This is because similar discrimination occurred back then like gender roles. This would result in the meaning being interpreted differently and message not having as much of an effect on people.
The Handmaid's Tale is seen by many readers as quite disturbing, it takes place in the dystopian Republic of Gilead where woman are seen as property. They're prohibited from working outside their homes, reading or even being able to spend money. There simply a huge difference between the genders. The small section who are fertile are enforced to become these baby making machines. If this novel were to be read back in the 1850s the novel would be seen in a significantly different manner due to gender roles. If read in that era, readers wouldn’t perceive the novel nearly as disturbing due to the fact that similar practices were occurring back then. Woman were discriminated and had many restrictions to what they could do throughout society. In the novel Offred mentions "People will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot." (Offred, 215)She’s admitting in a way that her own and other woman’s life’s have no meaning. Many woman back in the 1850s would relate to this quote and wouldn’t see it as such a cruel thing as woman on average weren’t treated well. There are numerous events throughout history that you can see in The Handmaids Tale.
The Handmaid's Tale has a strong meaning showing themes of discrimination ofwomen in a patriarchal society and the countless means of such women attempting to gain individualism and freedom. Seeing as events similar from the handmaids tale occurred back in the 1850s, readers from that era could interpret the meaning in a different manner. During that era it was a common belief that woman belonged in the home, cooking for the family, cleaning the household, taking care of children etc.“It reminds me of other kitchens, kitchens that were mine. It smells of mothers; although my own mother did not make bread. It smells of me, in former times, when I was a mother” (Atwood 52) Offred relates the smell of the kitchen to the smell of mothers when at home. Like the 1850s, woman in the handmaids tale had very similar expectations. The message and themes wouldn’t be as clear to the people of that time as these instances occurred often so it wouldn’t appear as discrimination to the level of extent that people see it in today’s world. A big factor in why they would perceive this book/message so differently is due to the fact that they can relate to many situations in the book."Women can't hold property anymore, she said. It's a new law." (Atwood 224) This is speaking on the Pre-Gilead days speaking on how woman couldn’t own property, this is a large topic which woman in the 1850s could relate to. They too could not make any financial decisions and couldn’t own property and alike the handmaids were seen as their men’s property. Through numerous similarities between book and reality the meaning/themes of novel could even be perceived in an entirely different way.
Margaret Atwood uses The Handmaids Tale to portray an envision of society of extreme change, governmental, social, and mental oppression. The message intended for reader is if earth continues to discriminate, the end result will look similar to Gilead. In our generations this message is very important as it frightens the reader by showing the worst case scenario. This making the readers think of what’s wrong with society and may result in them trying to make it better. This message wouldn’t be significant for readers of the 1850s. “Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary”. (Atwood 33) Aunt Lydia’s words speak on the fact that Gilead succeeds not by making people think that what they’re doing is right, but by making people forget what a equal, peaceful world is like. This quote relates to why the novels message wouldn’t be effective to people in the 1850s. They don’t recognise such events in the novel as being so awful because they go through similar circumstances throughout their lives. As a result in the reader not recognising the discrimination and sexism in Gilead, the message of the novel is doesn’t is pretty much eliminated.
The 1850s was a much different time from today. If The Handmaids tale were to be written in those days, the activities occurring in novel wouldn’t be perceived as bad. The reason for this is that woman were discriminated in there every day lives with gender roles. As similar incidents took place in there lives, readers would interpret the meaning of the novel in a different manner. This significantly effects the way the reader perceives the messages entirely. The Handmaids Tale is a book written for its generation of people and is why it would differ so much if read in a different time.