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Social Classes of the Gilead Era Compared to Today
In Margaret Atwood s The Handmaids Tale you learn about a fictional time in North American future that seems so different and unreal when you think of all the freedoms you have today. The Gilead Era is supposed to be a period of about one hundred years from about 2005. It describes the time after the government had been destroyed and taken over supposedly by corporate goons, and women property and rights were taken away. The protagonist, who goes by the name Offred, is what they called a handmaid. She qualified more as a walking uterus than as a person. Today social classes vary around different parts of the world. Here in America your class mostly revolves around your money, job, family, education, and ability to stay on the good side of the law. America right now is basically a money country. Your family name might mean money to some, increasing your social class. You need money for a good education, whether it be to pay for private schooling, or to live in a good school district. People who have a good education and family name, are the one most likely to get the high paying executive jobs. No matter what your class, every one has the rights to work, vote, have free contact with other people (non-law-abiding citizens excepted), raise their kids if they act responsibly, own property, have second marriages after divorce, read, go where they want when they want, do their own laundry, and all the other freedoms you don t notice every day. Discrimination exists, but not in the constitution or any laws. Even though the government has lots of problems, unfairness, and maybe even corruption, it can t take away your rights as long a you stay out of jail. In Offred s world she has no freedom or human name. Social classes were different for men and women. First there are the unpeople, deformed babies who are killed, old women who failed as handmaids or had had previous second marriages, younger women who broke the law or had more than three miscarriages or bad births, men who broke the law, were sympathetic, or were against the government, and any doctors who performed abortions before the revolution. The unpeople all had to wear cheap gray dresses and ugly brown shawls while they either died while cleaning nuclear waste, or broke their back harvesting crops. Next were handmaids. These were young women who were fertile, and labeled adulterous by the government. They lost their money and property, like all other women, but also lost their rights and families, their lives. They were only used as new uteruses for older women married to men of power. They wore baggy red dresses and cloaks, and white wings to narrow their vision and hide their faces. The Marthas were law abiding older women who cooked and clean for the wives in their green uniforms. The Aunts, in blue military style uniforms and stern frowns, were in charge of training and converting the handmaids. They also beat and disciplined them if they tried to escape. The Wives were the assigned partners of law-abiding men. They took the babies from handmaids when they got older, and sat around enjoying luxuries all day. They had fine clothing and nice ruffled light blue cloaks to wear. Econowives, the wives of poor men, had ugly orange, green, brown, and red stripes on their clothes. Men s class was based on age and occupation. Soldiers, called Angels, and commanders were held in high regard. Doctors, workers, and others were the poorer men. All had assigned wives when they got to a certain age. Older men, and teenage boys were guards, they made sure no handmaids left or broke the law. Other minorities of people include the women that escaped the unpeople colonies by having their tubes tied, and working at whorehouses for commanders, and Eyes, who were men and women forced to go undercover and report any criminals. Anyone could be an Eye without you knowing it. Offred, who was a handmaid, describes her life which is at its worst because she remembers having a daughter, a husband, a name, a job, freedom and dignity. She remembers happiness, too. Our time today was called anarchy by the people of Gilead. Today we have lots of freedom, and discrimination, which isn t socially acceptable, is not supposed to be part of the law. Even though The Handmaids Tale is fictional, it told of a world that seemed like it could be real when described, even though it is different from today. The era of Gilead sounds like a legal dark ages where your body is more important than your mind, where you are judged then filed. Reading Margaret Atwood s book made me realize how much freedom I take for granted.

 



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