In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale Extreme Religious

The right has imposed a violent dictatorship, and women have been stripped of all their rights. The town of Gilead has created a new facade of living, one that requires them to bring their religion to its extremes. People in power plant the thought that the citizens now have more freedom, when really there is no such thing anymore, “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze”. This story’s overall theme is connected more to the Bible than anything else.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood uses different stories and facts from the Bible to create an overall theme of power and ruling, through religious extremes. The Bible has been used as a source of stories or information for many different novels and movies, other than The Handmaid’s Tale. The Bible is a book with many different stories, that actually happened in history. Atwood claims, “One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened… God is in the details, they say.

So is the Devil” (New York Times). Atwood used religion and the Bible as the base of the story of the town Gilead. There are many examples of biblical symbolism throughout the book. Atwood uses religion to skew and manipulate the minds of the weak, and give them a concesce that makes them think they did something morally wrong.

Not only do they use rules from the bible, they recite the Beatitudes, and use locations like Gilead.

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Gilead was a place in the Bible that represented peace, fertility, and cleanliness. Which all of the people of power in Gilead wanted to be recognized as, and often worry a lot about , “ Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down” (135 Atwood). Atwood uses the Bible as a sort of rule book, and way to live by in her novel. Having used actual facts and stories from the Bible make it seem more realistic, and gives the reader a sense of relation to the characters in the book.

Not fully apprehending the religion they were forced to believe, created a sense of doubt for all of the Handmaids. Offred and Ofglen found themselves outside of Soul Scrolls, a place where prayers were printed out through machines for God. They sat and stared, contemplating the idea of it all. Ofglen had come to the question, “ Do you think God listens…to these machines?”(Atwood 168). All of the Handmaids knew what they were supposed to believe, but did not really understand it. A major character in the novel who engraves this religion into their heads, is Aunt Lydia. Her job is to be a mentor for the Haindmaids, and teach them the ways of their new life. Since the Handmaids did not fully understand the religion they were taught to believe, it gave them certain insecurities. This then gave people in charge a certain sense of knowledge and power.

The only person that was aloud the read the Bible was the Commander. This way none of the Handmaids could question anything. Having this sense of doubt leaves the reader on the thought of why all of these acts are being performed. Misunderstanding of the Bible is even found throughout different religions, and can be very confusing and hard to interpret. The theme of Genesis 30 is a huge theme throughout the book. In Genesis 30, Jacob has two wives, Rachel and Sarah. When Rachel discovered she could not have children, she ordered her husband to impregnate their maid Bilhah. In The Handmaid’s Tale, they are required to recite, “ Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her”, at their ceremonies.

This is then taken to an extreme, in which then a man ritually rapes their handmaid in front of the wives. This is another example of how in the novel, they have taken a religious story in history, that was not as intense as they make it out to be, and brought it to its extreme. Many times throughout the novel, when they are afraid, or even just feeling a sense of doubt, they turn to religion to comfort them. The Commander recites certain parts of the Bible to convince the handmaids that their willingness to abide by the rules would grant them peace after they die. During the ‘Prayvaganzas’, He manipulates them to get them to do what he wants, using religion as a tool to brainwash them. He then asks “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection?

All? But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve?”. The Commander uses texts and stories from the Bible to create laws and rules for the handmaids. The entire story is using the Bible, and use its rules and laws as a guideline to their new life. Offered could not escape Gilead even if she wanted to. She was bound by strict regulations and rules. There were people called the ‘Eyes’ that spied on people in the town, and served as guardians. This is an analogy of the passage in the Bible where it talks about God having all seeing eyes. The Bible mentions how His eyes are everywhere making sure people are doing His good works and serving Him, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good”.

The Commander mentions the idea that the ‘Eyes’ are watching their every move, to trick them into believing that they are being watched in everything that they do. Events like public sacrifices were made to scare the people of Gilead, where they would hang people who have wronged on a wall. In the book these acts are talked about as “salvagings,” which means saving. In the Bible, back in the day they would sacrifice living things as a sign of asking for forgiveness of their sins,“And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured”. Relating back to history, these acts were performed to create a sense of power and control, making the people feel unworthy, or degraded. Atwood uses these acts to set a mood of restriction and discomfort for the people of Gilead.

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In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale Extreme Religious. (2019, Nov 25). Retrieved from

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale Extreme Religious
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