Sexuality In The Handmaid's Tale

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Female sexuality is a theme prevalent to many novels, particularly, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood, ‘Goblin Market’ by Christina Rossetti, and ‘The Clerk’s Tale’ by Geoffrey Chaucer. The restriction of this sexuality can be seen in the societal values of each era, and significantly, the role of religion in containing this. However, it is valid to say that sexuality can never be fully repressed, and this is explored in the imagery and language of the literatures. The definition of women is instrumental when considering the limiting of female sexuality. Dating back to Roman times, the concept of ‘Pater Familias’ is widely recognized as the social norm in the Victorian era and was firmly entrenched in British culture, with the man…show more content…
Additionally, gloves are also part of the uniform of the Handmaids, ‘The red gloves are lying on the bed. I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by finger’. As gloves are seen as a symbol of disguise, this could signify that the Handmaids are constantly hiding their sexuality and desires. The repetition in this sentence accentuates the sensual tone of the language used, heightening the idea of sexuality. Moreover, in her poem, ‘Cousin Kate’, Christina Rossetti also uses the image of a glove to show deep seated desire. ‘He wore me like a silken knot, He changed me like a glove’, suggests that whilst gloves can signify repressed desires, they also cover reality. This could be symbolic of Victorian attitudes towards relationships and sexuality, as women were expected to be virgins before marriage, and any sexual exploits was never discussed outside of the immediate household. The use of, ‘He wore me’ could imply that the sexual relationship shared between Cousin Kate and …, was purely for show, or short term pleasure, not meant to be prolonged. However, an alternate reading of this could be as the non-committal nature of the relationship, which shows how men were held in a higher standing, therefore could indulge in sex outside of marriage, and still be a part of society. Thus, Cousin…show more content…
Generally, red is a colour used solely for the Handmaids uniform, but it is symbolic of fertility, menstrual cycles and sensual feelings. Offred describes it as, ‘the colour of red, which defines us’. This could mean that red is associated with failure, as if blood is present then the Handmaids have failed in their sole purpose, to produce children. The use of red could signify the notion of passion, sin and sexuality being intimately connected. Furthermore, Atwood could have used this to highlight the contradictory statements that Gilead seem to make. For example, in one sense, the Commander and Offred could be considered to be having an affair, yet the Bible states, ‘"'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife--with the wife of his neighbour--both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death”’. Yet Gilead is a theocracy, a system of government which rules as the Bible states. One could also argue that the practice of having Handmaid’s is justified in the passage, Genesis 30:1-3, the story of Rachel and her maid Bilhah. Thus this could signify the antithetic nature of Gilead. So the use of imagery in red as a colour has two contrasting meanings, sin, passion and sexuality, and

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