Death in the corrupt male dominated societies of The Handmaid’s Tale and Hamlet
In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the depiction of the main character’s point of view as both are contributing to extremist societies. Although the protagonists are on the opposing ends of the patriarchy in their worlds. Death affects us all regardless of gender; it is an inescapable aspect of life. Human bodies whether fertile, infertile, considered beautiful/ugly, young or old are only made to last until they are incapable of functioning any longer. In the corrupt male dominated worlds of Gilead and Elsinore where the ability of action and inaction is limited based on gender, to what effect and end does the imagery of death have?
The oppression of women in Gilead is very unapologetic and is clearly under control of patriarchal views, which can be defined as a society with males in position of power having “values that uphold such dominance”. Where the value of women is solely based on their bodies’ ability of serving a higher purpose. An example of this would be the role of Offred and her place in society as a middle class Handmaid. One of her only jobs in Gilead is to give birth to a child, Her inability and need to bring a new life in the world is also what ends up threatening her own. As she is the protagonist of this story and she is writing in a variety of different ways we are introduced to this harsh Dystopia in which we don’t fully understand right away, because of her changes from past to present tense. She is often having flashbacks of Gilead before it became such a harsh and cruel dystopian society. Some of which just highlight how controlling and how far the enforcement of beliefs are taken. Offred talking about the color of their required uniforms shows that literally almost any aspect is controlled.
“Everything except the wings around my face is red; the color of blood which defines us… I never looked good in red, it’s not my color” (Atwood p.9).
In another instance that the main character is faced with the possibility of death was when Offred has had illegal sexual activity with the commander and Nick. The ending result of all that would mean she is killed. Atwood uses death imagery such as suicide, murder and abortion; to be symbolic and a reminder of mortality. These are then influencing factors of the actions and inactions made in order to adapt and survive in the power of the oppressor.
“I avoid looking at my own body, not because it is shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely” (p. 63)
In which she is alienated from her own body unused to her own nakedness. In her perspective she is a fair bit more passive only comparatively to Ofglen. As it was Ofglen who was more affected emotionally by the male “salvaging” otherwise murder of doctors who have preformed abortions in the past than Offred was. “Each has a placard of hung around his neck to show why he has been executed: a drawing of a human fetus” (Atwood page 41). The different emotions from Offred and Ofglen foreshadow their different actions in order to adapt. Ofglen’s suicide causes Offred to be relieved. Offred isn’t affected as emotionally to the idea of feminism as Ofglen. And Ofglen’s action to take control of her own death to escape the torture and exposing those others involved in the rebellion against.
On the other side of the societal patriarchy. In Elsinore the oppression of Women is seen from Hamlet’ s perspective, he is a male in a male dominated society and upper class his father was the King. And Shakespeare’s use of killing King Claudius as a plot device and to set the atmosphere of the Setting of the play is where Hamlets dad has recently died and his Mother the queen is getting married to his brother. Hamlet is upset and proceeds to publicly disapprove of this new relationship. Death is presented to us by establishing a setting/ atmosphere where he then meets the ghost of his father and he tells him to take avenge his death. Hamlet’s views on his mother are changed and he is disgusted by his mother’s actions of her choosing to marry her brother in Law and proceeds to have an “Incestuous” and wrong relationship. Death used to dramatize the corruption of the world around them and establish the dark atmosphere of the unbalanced and unfair society. Another female character in hamlet in which Hamlet has low opinion of is Ophelia and in her suicide he is
Authors use death as a symbol for a consequence to acting against the accepted social order.
Point of view of protagonist and how they view death and react contemplates death. End to suffer fear of afterlife and consequences
In both worlds the authors show death as a consequence to acting against or nonconforming to the rigid boundaries of society.
Roland, Karla M., The symbolic power of red in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale.” (2013). https://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1171&context=honors
“Patriarchal Society” Definition: http://www.thefreedictionary.com
“Dystopian society” Definition: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/dystopian
Spark notes character list Offred: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/handmaid/section11/