The Handmaid's Tale

the role of religion in the Gileadean political system

Provide an in-depth analysis of the way that religion is used in the political system; how it is employed, enforced, etc, and the importance it plays in the infrastructure of the Gilead regime.

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One of the questions asked by The Handmaid's Tale is whether the needs of society should be allowed to trump the rights of the individual. As the Historical Notes stress, the Gileadean society was facing extreme pressures. Their population was shrinking, and they were going to disappear if severe actions were not taken. The isolation and enlistment of women with viable ovaries is a solution that makes the best use of available resources, but there are at least two serious problems with such methods. Essentially, the Gileadeans are acting under the idea of Utilitarianism: they are attempting to do what they think is best for the greatest number of people.

One of the major problems with this reasoning is that as a theocracy, the Gilead regime's reasoning is not always as coldly logical as it needs to be in order to solve its problems. The Gileadeans decide that fertility is always a problem in the woman, never in the man, as was the case in the Bible. As a result, the regime wastes many fertile handmaids on clearly infertile Commanders. This reasoning drives handmaids to violate the sexual mores of the new society and make use of doctors or other accessible men to get pregnant. In order for the Gileadean society to effectively fix their birth-rate problem, they need to take a more scientific perspective on the issue. Ultimately, the Gileadean leaders place their religious beliefs over the rights of the individual or the survival of the group.