Notes on The Handmaid's Tale Themes

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The Handmaid's Tale Topic Tracking: Religion

Chapter 2

Religion 1: Marthas are unmarried, unfertile women who perform household duties in the homes of the elite of Gilead. In the gospels, Martha is one of two sisters. Martha devotes herself to housework while Mary spends her time listening to Jesus speak. Jesus praised Mary, whereas Martha's role is exalted in Gilead.

Chapter 5

Religion 2: In the Bible, Gilead is an idyllic section of the land of the Hebrews. Atwood was probably referring specifically to Jeremiah 8:22: "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?" The Republic of Gilead was intended to be a panacea for the problems left unsolved by the United States of America.

Chapter 11

Religion 3: Offred fears being caught having sex with the doctor. He reassures her that two people will not break down the locked door. Deuteronomy 17:6 requires two witnesses to an act of adultery for a couple to be stoned to death.

Chapter 13

Religion 4: The Bible the Commander reads from is usually locked in a box. This practice was prevalent during the Dark Ages. The Commander reads prescribed sections of the Bible that support the Ceremony and the role of the Handmaid. The sections he reads are Genesis 8:17, 30:1-8, 30:18, and Zechariah 4:10. His selective reading mirrors the censored television programming Serena flipped through before he entered the room.

Chapter 13

Religion 5: The televised news reports on different battles the Republic of Gilead is fighting. The enemies are all religious groups, Baptists and Quakers. Earlier Offred mentioned that trade routes to Central America were severed by the Libertheos, a group probably vying for freedom of religion.

Chapter 19

Religion 6: In Offred's room there is a cushion with the word "Faith" embroidered on it. Offred imagines that it belonged to a three-cushion set. She refers to I Corinthians 13:13, "So faith, hope, love; abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." As a Handmaid, Offred has been denied hope and love and told to have faith.

Religion 7: Janine gives birth on a two-tiered birthing stool, so that she can fulfill the biblical practice of the maid giving birth on the knees of the wife.

Chapter 31

Religion 8: The Republic of Gilead gave Jews the opportunity to immigrate to Israel or convert to the state religion. Jews that pretended to convert and were found out were hung.

Chapter 34

Religion 9: The orator at the Prayvaganza quotes scripture that says women shall save themselves through childbearing. He says it was Eve that caused sin to enter the world and she must pay for it.

Chapter 38

Religion 10: Moira is taken in by Quakers and smuggled to Salem before she is caught. This religious group is sympathetic to the plight of women and its members risk their lives in their involvement with the Underground Femaleroad.

Historical Notes

Religion 11: Professor Pieixoto's talk is prefaced with a list of the studies he is famous for. One is a comparison of the Iranian government of the late twentieth century to the Republic of Gilead. Iran's conservative Islamic revolution involved demodernization and severe restrictions on the freedoms of women.

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