The red capes. The wall. The rebellion. These are the images conjured up when fans of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale think of the acclaimed series, starring Elizabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fienneand Anne Dowd. With Season 5 coming to an end, viewers have been bombarded with questions, answers, and moral dilemmas that will continue into the sixth and final season.
Although full of political commentary, The Handmaid’s Tale permeates a multitude of grassroots themes, explored through plot, relationships, and individual characters. Although the series has had its fair share of criticism – especially for its cheeky depictions of the horrors of Gilead – it’s the frontal scenes that can be difficult to watch but are key to allowing viewers to see all of the important themes of the series. series. From commentary on social engineering to trauma, here’s every overarching theme in The Handmaid’s Tale.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Gilead is how the country was founded and how it is run. A religious sect in America has grown wary of the future, with declining birth rates, environmental pollution causing health problems, and an aversion to traditional gender roles.
Enforcing religious values in a new society, the Sons of Jacob carried out attacks on American citizens and captured women who were of value to their new society. In their ideal world, everyone is heterosexual, wants to have children, and will do anything to maintain their religious standard, even if their actions are not tracked in the Bible. social engineering in The Handmaid’s Tale argues that there is no such thing as a perfect society, even when it is believed that it can be achieved through extravagant change.
Oppression and rebellion
The oppression of women is the foundation of Galaadean society to ensure that birth rates increase and women are placed in traditional roles of domestic chores, under the leadership of men in high places. With commanders, guardians, angels, and any other men laying down the laws and regulations over women, the patriarchal theocracy cements any holes in their power that allow women to seep into rebellion.
The systematic oppression became internalized for many women, who accepted their position and embraced Galaadean beliefs. These are just a few, like June (Elisabeth Moss), Emily (Alexis Bledel), and Esther (Mckenna Grace) who reject the teachings of Gilead and actively fight against it. Despite the risk of injury or death, rebellion, whether large or small, is what slowly allows Gilead to unravel. The theme of oppression and rebellion serves as motivation – never give up and never stop fighting.
The series’ religious themes can be misinterpreted as an atheistic perspective trying to persuade viewers that religion is the root of all evil; however, the true currents of religious conspiracy in The Handmaid’s Tale actually alludes to the manipulation of power for those of high status.
From the story of Rachel and Leah as justification for using the Handmaidens to the idea of stoning and hanging as the proper means of criminal justice, religion is just the cloak over evil’s back. Most of the characters hold on to their beliefs, but some are confused by the true meaning of the scripture.
In a world where fertile women are forced to become concubines, themes of fertility and gender roles become important. Fertility is an obstacle and a blessing in Gilead – where fertile women are forced to have children regardless of their wishes, but if they do not conceive they risk death in the colonies.
However, for survival reasons in Gilead, pregnancy becomes the only form of protection. In a world where gender roles are slowly dissipating, the idea that a woman’s worth is tied to conceiving children is seen as misogynistic, and in current political discourses where women’s rights to their own bodies are questioned, the show’s plot revolves around the orchestration of bodies is haunting and relevant.
One of the reasons Gilead exists in the first place is as an economic solution to the environmental consequences of human industrialization. Gilead uses ways to fight climate change, such as managing agricultural systems through organic and sustainable methods and reducing fossil fuel emissions.
Environmentalism and population control go hand in hand in Gilead, where a deteriorating climate has impacted fertility and the survival of newborn babies. Unfortunately, this meant that anyone capable of bearing children once captured in Gilead was subject to means of control, from forced births and sterilizations (as punishment) to the prohibition of birth control. The theme of environmental consequences serves as a warning to viewers of the awareness issues that come with it.
The show’s most iconic quote, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”, or “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”, comes from the show’s theme of survival. Survival is the ship that drives The Handmaid’s Tale conspiracy and is not just about staying alive, but in certain circumstances, about conforming to hostile environments and inflicted rules, and committing transgressions despite their moral compass.
In the series, surviving means rejecting patriarchal theocracy in any way – big or small – to retain a part of oneself, in order to conserve the energy to fight back. For characters like June, survival isn’t just for herself, but for her family.
Loss of agency
Women lose their individuality, rights and freedoms. Wives are nothing but an attachment of a commander; Marthas are home helpers, maids are walking wombs, and aunts are teachers. And, for those who are considered sinners – because of inhuman reasonings, including homosexuality and inability to conceive – the title of “non-woman” is bestowed on them.
The loss of agency in Gilead under patriarchy is a way to keep the power structure in place, with men as the dominant figures who reap all the benefits. A small part of agency is celebrated in the series through small victories against oppressors, which allows characters to survive in Gilead.
When June is first captured in Gilead, her love for Luke (OT Fagbenle) and Hannah (Jordana Blake) becomes her reason for survival, however, when she begins to lose faith in seeing her family again, June allows herself to fall in love with Nick (Max Minghella), who is stuck in the same oppressive sanctions.
June has also allowed herself to bond with some of her fellow maids, including Emily (Alexis Bledel), Jane (Madeleine Brewer), Alma (Nina Kiri) and Brianna (Bahia Watson), who formed bonds that ultimately helped in their resistance work against Gilead. Without love, June had no reason to keep fighting, or her story could have become a story of bondage or death.
Faith is an important theme in The Handmaid’s Talebecause it’s a thing that blinded bad deeds and kept characters like June and Moira (Samira Wiley) strong throughout the trials. Faith in the series is followed by two means – religion and the belief that better days will come.
Although The Handmaid’s Tale is often criticized as an anti-religious series, it simply uses religion as a tool for manipulation and justification of actions. Throughout the show, all of the characters maintain their religious beliefs, as they have a deeper connection to their divinity and know that the trauma they are experiencing is not from a God. Likewise, faith is the hope that changes will come to the characters’ lives, either through their actions or those of others, that will save them from a life of suffering.
Particularly prevalent in seasons 4 and 5, The Handmaid’s Tale explores the impact of trauma on an individual – from their reactions to everyday life, to their ability to move on, and even their obsession with their oppressor. Traumatic connections are a complicated theme the series attempts to unravel, where the relationship between June and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), June and Nick, Janine and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and June are explored.
Especially for June, the traumatic connections are present in her life beyond her flight to Canada, where she still longs for the chance to see Serena and Fred again, even if her intention is violence; and wishing to feel the security that Nick gave her, even though she is in love with Luke. The show’s multitude of responses to trauma, as seen in the difference between Moira’s healing and June’s healing, offers a multi-faceted reality of how individuals respond after escaping trauma.
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