In Handmaid’s Tale written by Margret Atwood, women’s bodies are heavily scrutinized and for used for other’s satisfaction. Offred, a handmaid experiences frequent changes in a form of internal conflict. The experiences maintain her subjectivity through the weapons of narration, bodily and sexual acts which advocate that Offred and other women are not under full oppression.
Other than being colourized, women are dealt as national property to function as a prize for men especially prioritizing those who are the leaders of Gilead. Offred narrates that “I wait, washed, brushed, fed, like a prize pig. Sometime in the eighties, they invented pig balls, for pigs who were being fattened in pens” (Atwood 79). She objectifies herself as a prize pig and dehumanizes herself as a lazy, brainless and a helpless animal who waits for instructions on what to do from the family or the society. This exemplifies how men like the commanders and angles are in power, and Offred is a perfect candidate for becoming a prey because of she is fertile. Offred is aware that her body is used a freight of hope and concedes the expectations and rights of her by others. She recognizes herself as “a queen ant with eggs” (Atwood 156) and “the vehicle” (Atwood 157) of other’s hope. The images of these objects help Offred understands how her body and womb is only reduced to a biological function of a female body with no subjectivity or what so ever.
Atwood further focuses and illustrates on how female bodies are torn apart in strict societies like Gilead. Offred, herself experiences a separation from her body and her sense of self in which she feels “Shameful, immodest. I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it” (Atwood 71). She describes her body as “something”, an “it” not belonging to her. The separation of her self from her body, she “composes” the body as “a thing” (Atwood 75). Then, Offred goes on to identify herself as “I am a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than she is and glows red within its translucent wrapping” (Atwood 84). Offred sees her body as something that was an extension of herself, but now “herself” doesn’t matter so her body is only valid as an object for reproduction. This makes Offred insubstantial. She expresses devastation from the failed attempt to reconnect with her inner self because she can only view her body as a materialistic object. The failed attempt of Offred to recognize herself allows Gilead to penetrate their power over her and the nation as a whole.
Due to the lack of identity, Offred is needy to herself and drives herself to believe that Luke is somehow still alive and will have a message “under my plate, on the dinner plate? Slipped into my hands as I reach the tokens across the counter in All Flesh?” (Atwood 120). Women are usually simple in patriarchal societies because they are women, therefore not treated humanely. Eventually, when her hope for Luke starts fading away, she uses Nick as a way to fulfil her needs for self- assertion. Nick becomes a person that Offred can share her problems with and someone who she visits secretly without anyone’s consent, not even Serena Joy’s. This is a proof of Offred’s rebellious bodily action. Through rebelling against the authority of Gilead, she becomes self-sustaining to some degree, a restoration of her individuality welfare.
It is later on Offred discovers the manipulation of the female body to emphasize total control. The night at Jezebel’s, she realizes Gilded not only manipulates female bodies but also exploits female’s sexuality. Offred is aware of the fact that the commander uses her to show off. She recognizes her body as a body wearing “a tag, purple” and as an “evening rental” (Atwood 270). Also, Offred perceives the way the commander condescends her almost as if she is an “extinct animal” (Atwood 179). However, she enjoys being watched and it makes her experience a sense of power. When her power is diminished, she uses her body as a source of power to detain her true identity. She accepts her body as a seductive apparatus to get through checkpoints. She seduces and allows guards to “touch with their eyes instead and I move my hips a little, feeling the full red skirt sway around me. It’s like thumbing your nose from behind a fence or teasing a dog with a bone held out of reach” (Atwood 25). Offred turns to her sexuality to feel powerful which is ironic because now men are slaves to Offred. In The Routledge Companion in Feminism and Post feminism (2006), Sarah Gamble state that “within this patriarchal paradigm, women become everything men are not (or do not want to be seen to be) when men regarded as strong, women are weak, when men are rational, they are emotional, when men are active, they are passive and so on”. As men become slaves, Offred becomes dominant. She gains control, something she used to have before Gilead. The idea of using a female body as a manipulation tool against men, it proves that women in Gilead are not in under complete oppression.
The courage and hope brought forth by Moira support Offred’s rebellious actions against the restrictions of Gilead. In spite of that, Moira acts indifferently with Offred at Jezebel suggesting her self-resignation and that she is lost. This makes Offred want to reclaim herself identity desperately and execute resistance at every chance she gets.
In addition to her rebellious bodily actions, Offred shows that she is actively trying to resist against Gilead by attempting to make connections with various people around her. She tries to connect with other Handmaids, Nick and the commander. By constructing relations with others, she feels more strength and gives her the ability to find information which otherwise may stay in disguise. “Knowing” is a form of power and by getting to know, she expresses resistance. Moreover, she is able to reflect on the past and she became more determined to preserve her self-identity.
Offred tries to challenge the meaning of the language and pays attention to little details when people talk. She criticizes speech and tries rephrase what she heard. Aunt Lydia mentions that “such things do not happen to nice women. And not good for the complexion” (Atwood 61). However, Offred corrects her and states that they weren’t supposed to care about reflection anymore, and it was Aunt Lydia herself who told the Handmaids that. Offred challenges Aunt Lydia’s speech, although it was internal. This presents her with rebellion acts and brings more strength to conserve her identity because she now knows she has the power to change things such as language.