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Flower Symbolism in the Handmaid's Tale

  • Date Submitted: 12/10/2012 06:32 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 50.2 
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IOP Topic - Symbolism of Flower Imagery
In Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the Handmaids are thought of only as fertile objects in the same way that a flower is just an object; flowers symbolize beauty and fertility. The Commanders’ wives have luscious gardens that are a constant reminder of women’s infertility in Gilead. They keep the gardens so that they can have something to control in their lives. The Guardians assigned to each commander are ordered to do the heavy digging   and allow the wives to exercise slightly more control by instructing them.
When Serena Joy mutilates the flower it is similar to her hatred and envy of the handmaids and her own infertility.
The symbolic significance of the flower imagery is that it shows a vivid difference between past and present in Offred’s life. When Offred is describing Serena Joy’s flower garden she describes only the visual aspects of the garden; impersonally listing the “large and tidy” (1) lawn with crimson tulips, and “weeping catkins” (2) without using any emotion at all, similar to how presently Offred shows no emotion as a Handmaid. Now, Offred is simply a possession and she observes the world around her without feeling it.  
She then goes on to describe how she used to have her own garden. Here, Offred uses much more imagery, remembering “the smell of the turned Earth” (3) and how the flower bulbs felt in her hands. In the past, she could allow herself to feel emotion but now she is practically enslaved.

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