The Handmaid’s Tale and Property
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One of the strongest points of comparison beteen ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Property’ is the way in which both novels explore relationships of power and ownership. In each novel different characters exert elements of power, in Property for example plantation owners literally own the slaves; in ‘The handmaid’s tale the novel also deals with elements of ownership too, for example the motive behind the Commander’s wife taking in the handmaid’s which is to ‘own’ children which are not biologically theirs.
In both novels, the societies depicted could well be perceived as evil by the reader, as well as the narrators of the novels; Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and Manon in ‘Property’. To be “Manifestly evil’ meaning completely or utterly evil. In this essay, I argue that Gilead and native New Orleans are manifestly Evil. In ‘Property’ a relationship of power that also displayed ownership is that of the plantation owner, Manon’s husband and the slaves he owns, including Sarah, who is mother of his illegitimate son.
Primarily, the fact that Sarah was black and the plantation owner was white already indicates to us that this was mentality of the nation in the early ninteeth century ( white people having power over blacks), since slavery was yet to be abolished. Also, Manon’s husband felt powerful in the sense of using his manhood, and brought this power physically to bear upon Sarah, despite her attempts to resist whilst Manon was away. On page twenty-five Manon Narrates, “Then while I was standing there, listening to Sarah’s pleas and his curses, I understood everything.
This shows that Manon’s husband held the power in the relationship, because although she was begging for her resistance towards him for his sexual desires, he clearly wasn’t about to listen to what she was saying and ‘cursed’ instead, insisting and “by the end of that year, Sarah was pregnant with Walter. ” Sarah’s engagement to the butler and the conception of their child worsened conditions and was a prime example of the actions that took place in a society that was perceived as evil by the slaves, that undoubtedly had severe consequences.
As a consequence of these actions, the butler was nearly beaten to death by Mr Sutter, which shows power and dominion physically over Bam. Sarah’s baby was taken from her, as shown on page twenty-six, and would be sold when he was older. This displays ownership as when money is used to buy anything, it becomes among the owner’s possession. Manon’s husband again demonstrates his power over her as he raped Sarah against her will, and in turn she bore him a child, Walter. Charge and ownership of her body were also taken in this act, just like the Commander took power and ownership over Offred’s body in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.
The physical demonstrations of power and ownership that are shown in ‘Property’ differ slightly, because the way in which Manon’s husband exerts his power over Sarah is sexual, whilst the demonstration of Mr Sutter towards Bam was intentionally aggresive as well as physically abusive and actually beating him up. Both exhibitions of abuse are very similar because of the pain they release and the long-term damage it does. Correspondingly, in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, one very prominent relationship is that of the Commander over the Handmaid.
The commander had sex with the handmaid in order to bear fruit (in this case children) as he and Serena Joy were unable to have children of their own. Power was executed on the Commander’s behalf. Offred had a choice, but not a real or practical choice as the regime of Gilead had denied her ownership of her own body. Some may interpret the ceremony as rape as Offred is forced to concieve children for couples who can’t conceive on their own. Offred expresses her thoughts on this act in Chapter sixteen, when she says “Below it the Commander is fucking…
I Do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate.. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for. There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose. ” (p. 104) Her use of language is very harsh and raw, which implies that she hates it as well as the fact there is no thought put into it. She has stripped the emotion of love from the act, which is the emotion that should in fact be most prominant. She defines it as her duty.
From this quote, it can be deduced that as the commander is carrying out an act that results in only his pleasure and not Offred’s, he is taking ownership of her body in a sexual relationship. This also shows the extent to which the handmaid’s freedoms are restricted and ownerships of their bodies limited. The use of the Handmaids is disguised as necessary evil – for the good of the whole socity because they allowed the citizens to feel that there was democracy as to choosing which living suits you, as well as carrying out duties to the family the handmaid’s have been assigned to.
However, it is arguable that although there is a lot of “feminist critique of male power, that the power structure of Gilead also critiques the feminine roles that support and enable the repression of other women. ” (Callaway, Women disunited : Margaret Atwood’s The handmaid’s tale as a critique of feminism, P1. ) There ar e multiple interpretations of the novel. I agree with Callaway because an additional example of relationship of power as well as ownership is Offred’s power over Serena Joy in ‘The Handmaid’s tale’ and Sarah’s power over Manon.
Both sets of relationships produce the ownerships of the ‘victims’ mind and thoughts (in these cases, the victims being the less dominant; Serena Joy and Manon). These relationships are similarly ironic because the people perceived as powerless and as non-entities are the people emotionally troubling the unexpected victims. In chapter sixteen, immediately after the ceremony Serena Joy told Offred to ‘Get up and get out’. Atwood relates Offred’s internal thoughts to the reader; “She’s supposed to have me rest for ten minutes, with my feet on a pillow to improve my chances…
There Is a loathing in her voice, as if the touch of my flesh sickens and contaminates her… Which Of us is it worse for, her or me? ” This shows that Serena Joy couldn’t bear to have Offred around her if it didn’t physically involve the ceremony, as Offred had the power to have children, whilst she had been stripped of it, and this situation was a constant reminder physically, mentally and emotionally. This also shows that Serena Joy is reasserting her power over Offred following the ceremony where she felt utterly powerless, which is another feminist interpretation.
Serena Joy exerts her power over Offred because of the position the patriarchal society places her in. Likewise, Sarah, the servant, has power over Manon. Apart from the fact that Manon’s husband was the father of Sarah’s child, Manon’s husband was the one who desired Sarah as opposed to Manon; Sarah gave him children as well and he wanted her. Sarah was not supposed to be in that position in Manon’s matrimonial home, and they both shared bedrooms, which brought about more tension and symbolism that they were almost on the same level in rank .
On page 14 Manon describes ” her wide eyes watching me, and I thought , she has been watching me like that this entire night”. This exhibits boldness , as staring at someone shows they’re not afraid or they have more power, so Martin was successful in exploring that type of relationship in ‘Property’. In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, as discussed above, the Commander has power over the handmaid, so also in a peculiar way does the handmaid herself have a relative level of power over the commander in their relationship, although a patriarchial society.
The two are not supposed to meet each other or even speak at all, apart from their brief interaction during the ceremony, as Offred’s narration indicates in chapter twenty-two “My presence here is illegal. It’s forbidden for us to be alone with the Commanders. We are for breeding purposes. ” This shows the rule in the regime of Gilead was an absolutist rule all round, and didn’t cater to any exceptions. But the Commander requested her presence alone in his office to play a ‘game of scrabble’.
This is seen by society today as a normal, intellectual game, but in the Gilead regime, games and many other leisure activities were long ago banned and burnt. The desire for illicit interaction therefore perverts this seemingly innocent game; it becomes a game of intimacy between the two, although nothing sexual undergone; a conspiracy. Offred believed she deserved a sort of compensation, and requested for some hand lotion; a toiletry the handmaids were deprived of.
This shows a small exertion of power, because as a woman and a handmaid, she is well below the commander, but because she was going along with his desires, she was able to boldly ask for a need:”I’d be careful,” she acknowledges. “Besides she’s never that close to me,” Offred adds. “Sometimes she is” was the comeback of the commander. But the handmaid bluntly retorts by saying “I wont use it on those nights”. This shows that when she really wanted something, she’d make sure she got it, and by the fourth evening, she did. In ‘ The Handmaid’s Tale’ a game of scrabble becomes the arena for a power struggle, similarly in ‘Property’.
A game is also used to demonstrate a relationship of power and also ownership between the plantation and slaves. However, this game was a perverted game unlike the intellectual game of scrabble and stripped the slave boys who participated of their dignity, whilst giving Manon’s husband uttermost pleasure. This involved them swinging on a rope naked , and sustaining erections helplessly as their bodies can’t help rubbing against each other.
The boy with the unfortunate situation would often run away with Manon’s husband in tow, and if the mother of the boy was pretty “she will pay dearly for rearing an unnatural child. The implication is that he would rape them. This is ownership of bodies of the female slaves and mothers because he’s taking charge as well as forcing them against their will, like they are his possessions. It’s also ownership of the mind and body towards the boys, because in their minds and thoughts they genuinely believe they are playing a game, as that’s what they’re lead to believe by the plantation owner, but in actual fact the outcome is bad for the boys, but still pleasurable for Manon’s husband.
He has in a way taken ownership of their bodies, because he has forced them to do an act that will stimulate a natural action beyond their own power and control. Something as mere as the ideas or titles behind the novels contributes to the exploration of relationships of power and ownership among people living in a system which is manifestly evil. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a dystopian novel, depicting a community that is repressed or controlled, and is often disguised as being the right way of life; in other words the opposite of a utopian society.
The power of the totalitarian rule is a major example of the relationship of power and ownership from the government over the society. The social contract theory founded by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke describes the relationship between individuals and the government. The main belief was that people must agree to be governed. Whilst Locke believed human nature is good and will govern itself as well as people choosing to allow the government to protect us-but the government still leaving us with many of our rights; Hobbes argued that human nature is bad and needs regulating.
People give up their freedom to do whatever they want and in return get protection from the government from danger. Attwood explores this theory, particularly Hobbs because The handmaids submitted to the government giving up their freedom, to get protection from the government, providing they followed the rules of the regime. Also, the title ‘Property’ already indicates complete ownership. The idea that the slaves have to work for their masters in order to survive shows the power of the plantation owner over the slaves. The fact slaves are either bought or sold, indicates ownership of the slaves to their buyer, Manon’s husband.
In the early nineteeth century where this novel is set, during the civil war that broke out beteen 1861-1865 the division of the land into smaller units under private ownership became known as the plantation system. Child bearing started around the age of thirteen and by twenty, female slaves were expected to have four or more children. We are uncertain of Sarah’s age in ‘Property’, but it is presumed she is a very young woman. To encourage child bearing, some plantation owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced.
Again, there is no evidence in the book that suggests Manon’s husband used this tactic to have a child with Sarah. But one thing was certain; slaves had no rights and owned nothing. Both ‘Property’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ provide evidence of the exploration of the relationship of ownership as well as power. Both time periods these novels were set in; (one being in the foreseen future and a dystopian setting and the other being in the past) are perceived in our present day as utterly evil; this added to the evidence given to us and extended the explorations automatically.
I also feel that Gilead and native New Orleans are manifestly evil, because Offred felt detatched from her surroundings and could not be free to express her real and true feelings. Similarly, the slaves and servants were very restricted and were treated as objects rather than people. The decisions that were decreed in the two different societies were similar in the sense that there was a real lack of a democracy system available to everyone.
These novels explore these two major relationships to a great degree and it is very evident in both novels because most of these relationships were present throughout the entire novel, and the narrators (Offred and Manon) didn’t hesitate to describe them from their own points of view. Although both narrations may be biased, from the interpretations of what actually happened (according to them) that we are given, the strong conclusion can be made that they both successfully explore both relationships in an utterly evil environment being lived in to a far extent.