The Handmaid's Tale series

Richard Stanley

Well-Known Member
Yesterday I just watched the first three episodes of the new Hulu series, The Handmaid's Tale, based upon the novel of the same name. In working upon my latest work-in-progress analysis of the Biblical Judges I was stunned to see the reference to 'Gilead' amidst all the OT verses being salted amongst all the conversations. I had not read the novel and as such was not familiar with the storyline. Even if I had read it some years prior, the reference to Gilead would have made little impression on me ... then. But now that I know how to interpret the dark subtext of the Bible properly it stood out like a sore thumb.

As such, the following excerpted review discusses an aspect of the first episode involving making the newly subservient underclass women complicit in the new social paradigm. The novel and show recontextualize matters to a mostly women-centric class dialectic from that of the Biblical one - that of an ethnic Conquest and conversion struggle. Nevertheless the parallels are chilling, and one thus has to wonder just how much the book's author and the show's creators realize this aspect.

As the review discusses the darkly ironic 'Salvaging' ceremony, it is the Biblical people of Gilead who are made complicit in the ethnic cleansing of the men of Ephraim, no doubt the 'undesirables' - marked by their cultural inability to correctly pronounce the word 'shibboleth'. Like the protagonist (and her husband) caught while trying to cross the border to escape, the Ephraimites are caught up while trying to cross back over the border of Gilead (the multi-tribal trans-Jordan region - east of the river), at the river Jordan.

There are other significant parallels to the Bible story of the entire Conquest and conversion period, and here I claim it is the general nature of the takeover that came upon the prior culture, seemingly from within. But you would only understand this "seemingly" aspect from properly understanding the Biblical subtext and such as what archaeology is saying today. This rather than the extreme military blitzkrieg depicted in the religious canon.

From: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/05/the-handmaids-tale-treats-guilt-too-as-an-epidemic/524583/

At the end of the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, the excellent show now streaming on Hulu, the handmaids of Gilead gather in a grove for a ceremony that goes by an ominous name: the Salvaging. The women file together, in twos, in their red robes, to a series of red pillows that have been laid out in neat lines on the ground. They kneel. From a stage that has been set for the occasion, Aunt Lydia, the woman who is by turns their captor and their mentor, informs them of the reason for the gathering. She summons a prisoner to the stage. The man, Aunt Lydia says, raped a handmaid. The girl had been pregnant. The baby was lost. “This disgusting creature has given us no choice,” she says, glowering at the convict. “Am I correct, girls?”

“Yes, Aunt Lydia,” they reply.

The ceremony begins. “You may come forward and form a circle,” Aunt Lydia tells them. “You all know the rules … when I blow the whistle, what you do is up to you. Until I blow it again.”


Related Story
The Visceral, Woman-Centric Horror of The Handmaid's Tale

The handmaids slowly surround the kneeling man, whose hands are bound, whose lip is bust, whose eyes are defiant and scared. The whistle blows, and Offred, the story’s protagonist, starts: She kicks the man, hard, in the gut. Blood sprays from his mouth, the red of it briefly invisible against the women’s fluttering capes, as they pound and punch and scream. The man disappears, in that chaos of crimson, as the women flail and rage. Aunt Lydia blows the whistle again. They stop. They gather themselves. It is done.

Did the man rape anyone? Did he, in some small way, deserve this brutal death at the hands of women who had become, at the blow of a whistle, momentary agents of violence? In Gilead, of course, those are the wrong questions to ask: Justice, here, is vertically integrated. And the point of the ceremony, anyway, is not the man but the women who carry out the execution. The Salvagings—the ceremonies’ name, my colleague Sophie Gilbert has noted, suggests both salvation and savagery, notions of heaven mingled with notions of trash—offer a rare moment of freedom for the handmaids who carry them out. Within them, after all, what you do is up to you. For women who have been systematically stripped of their autonomy, it’s a potent promise.

But the Salvagings, as with so much else in the Republic of Gilead, are ceremonies at odds with themselves. The state-sponsored maulings may give the handmaids a brief outlet for their anger and a brief reminder of what power feels like; the rituals also, however, further enslave them. This is the cruel cunning of the ceremony, one that serves the cruel cunning of the state: The Salvaging involves the handmaids, intimately and violently, in the regime’s political project. It insists that the women are active participants in Gilead’s execution of justice. What you do is up to you.


* * *

What makes someone complicit—in a crime, in a moment of violence, in a slow-moving atrocity? Failing to speak? Failing to act? Allowing complacency to take over, until complacency is no longer an option? The Handmaid’s Tale, like the book that inspired it, is on top of so much else a nuanced exploration of all that. Its dystopia exists in the first place, we soon come to learn, because the people of the “before,” as the show’s characters tend to euphemize it, slowly allowed its horrors to come into being through the sum of small complacencies. “It isn’t my decision,” a feckless manager tells his staff as agents of Gilead invade their office, forcing the man to fire his female employees. He is explaining himself—and attempting to exonerate himself. “I didn’t have a choice,” the man insists. “I have to let you go. I have to let you all go.” ...​

As mentioned above about the sardonic relationship of 'salvation' to 'savagery' in relationship to the 'Salvaging' ceremony, the words 'salvation' and 'slavery' are two sides of the same coin, where I believe it was Goethe who stated that: 'there are none so enslaved who believe they are free'. American 'patriots' today, convinced of the purity of their 'freedom' delivered by conquest and warfare by Divine Providence are falling once again into the same 'cultural' cycle of complicity to their hidden human masters, their patrician lord(s). "Under his eye", as the show repeats.

Will they ever really awaken?
 
Last edited:

Jerry Russell

Administrator
Staff member
Joe is always saying that *everything* in the mass media, is weaponized anthropology designed to fry the peoples' brains. It's hard for me to fit shows like this into that scheme.

Even if there is some ideological flaw or trojan horse, the overt message is so solidly helpful and progressive that it's hard to believe it's entirely about creating a controlled opposition. But then, I have similar reactions to the views that JD Salinger, Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, and/or George Orwell, were entirely government / Illuminati tools. Or for that matter, Shakespeare. Something more complicated is going on.
 

Jerry Russell

Administrator
Staff member
Seems to me the Song of Solomon written by a dangerous subversive. And maybe the book of Job, for the most part.
 

Richard Stanley

Well-Known Member
I guess the tribulations of Job and his needing to accommodate via patience is meant to entrain the otherwise unwitting to entertain the lord(s) seeming caprice. Everything is a matter of perspective, especially if one happens to ride the correct portion of a wave of an historical or other cycle. Taken to the furthest extreme, the literalists then attribute their God's hand in saving their loved ones from an accident while at the same time others' lives are lost. All part of an odd Plan, which is sardonic because the cynical real Plan involves their own manipulation and sacrifice of their begotten for the lords' profit.
 

Richard Stanley

Well-Known Member
Oh, I just remembered that I forgot to mention a highly relevant Biblical detail in that the abducted women who are 'converted' into handmaidens are sent what the Stalinist Communists would have termed a re-education camp. In this case the facility was named the 'Rachel and Leah Centre'. In the novel, women have generally been experiencing a problem conceiving children because of nuclear contamination and other industrial pollution. A revolution occurs led by religious fundamentalists who invoke the Genesis story of Jacob's wives and handmaids. The latter (fertile women and former 'liberal sluts') being utilized to conceive children for them while the former were barren (until God decides to intervene that is).

In any case, the invocation of Rachel and Leah is proof that Margaret Atwood was deliberately making Biblical parallels throughout. Which makes sense since the new regime are Xian fundamentalists.

For more detail:

...

The most obvious allusion to the Bible as a justification for the practices in Gilead can be seen in the role of the Handmaids. The quotation the state uses for declaring the role of the Handmaids as a religious, biblical role, occurs in Genesis, 30:1-3:

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die!” And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, ”Am I in the place of God, who hath withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”

Then she said, “Behold my maid Bilhah, go in to her; that she shall bear upon my knees, and even I may have children through her.” This quotation is one of the mottoes of the novel, and it runs through the whole book. With this passage, everything the Handmaids have to do is justified. In ancient Israel, as described in the Bible, women who could not conceive were devalued. It was a general practice that the women's maids would be used as surrogate mothers. In Gilead, this principle is adopted in order to increase the white population. While the Handmaids are educated in the Rachel and Leah Centre and while they live in the Commander's household, they are constantly reminded of the “religious” value of their function in society. They hear extracts from the Bible all the time, be it at the Rachel and Leah Centre or at the monthly Bible reading:

(34) The fact that the Handmaids have to submit to a patriarchal regime, where they are treated as objects and reduced to their procreative function, is condoned by the regime by using the Old Testament as an excuse. To underline the “religiousness” of their procreative role in society, the Handmaids even have to look “religious”. In their red, long dresses and their white “wings”, they look like nuns, like a “Sister dipped in blood”, as Offred says. (35) They even have to live like nuns as they sleep in small rooms without mirrors and are never allowed to go outside without the company of another Handmaid. (36) Even the fact that the Commanders' Wives are present at the impregnation ceremony and at the event of a birth (in both events, the handmaid is lying on the Wife's stomach with the Wife's knees around her) is taken from Rachel's words “she shall bear upon my knees”. (37) Rachel's statement “Give me children or else I die!” (38), which Offred repeats in her head at the monthly check-up, indeed has “more than one meaning to it”. (39) Like Hagar, who is sent away, (40) a Handmaid who fails to conceive after she has been sent to three households is sent to the Colonies, where she will die eventually. (41) ...

http://www.heliweb.de/telic/breuer.htm
 

Richard Stanley

Well-Known Member
An excerpt from a lexicon of the show:

From: http://www.indiewire.com/2017/05/the-handmaids-tale-terminology-guide-1201809023/

...
Gilead: The country formerly known as the United States of America, now under new rule.

Sons of Jacob: The organization which went from an underground movement to the ruling political party leading Gilead.

Handmaids: Fertile women whose survival is dependent on bearing the children of Gilead’s leadership. They surrender their real names upon assignment, instead referred to as “Of” plus the first name of their commander, such as our heroine Offred (Elisabeth Moss). Their signature color is red.

Commanders: The men who lead the Sons of Jacob. Their uniforms are typically black.

Wives: The women married to the Commanders, who (if they’ve been assigned a Handmaid) have proven incapable of bearing children. Their signature color is blue.

Marthas: Women who serve the households of Commanders as maids and cooks. Their signature color is green.
...​
 
Top