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How to Read “the Handmaid's Tale” Like a Professor

  • Date Submitted: 02/16/2011 07:09 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 48.2 
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How to Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” Like a Professor
To the inexperienced reader, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood appears to be simply a feminist novel about female subjugation and extremist views in a dystopian society. However, after reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, one would be able notice the patterns, themes and motifs that are found in the novel. By reading between the lines, it becomes more apparent that The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel that explores a society built upon biblical references and the interconnectivity between sex and politics.
The setting for The Handmaid’s Tale is the Republic of Gilead found within the borders of the former United States of America sometime in the near future. The Republic was founded by religious extremists who intended to create a theocratic society in response to the social degradation of the country. Therefore, the foundation of this society was built on many biblical allusions. In How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster informs us that authors use biblical references because many people are familiar with biblical stories and their meanings (pg. 48). Once a month in every household in the Republic of Gilead, the Commander and the handmaid engage in a sexual activity solely for the purpose of reproduction. Anyone who knows anything about the Bible should recognize that this is a reference to the story of Rachel and Leah found in the book of Genesis. Rachel and Leah were sisters who began to compete to see who could bear the most children by using their handmaids and immediately taking possession of the babies. Atwood uses this biblical story in the Republic of Gilead in two ways. The scripture was read to the handmaids during every breakfast at the Rachel and Leah Center to teach them that their purpose in Gileadean society held a deeper purpose, that they were being used to serve God. The story is also read by the Commander of every household once a month to justify “The...

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