The Handmaid's Tale

Language as support of totalitarian rule 12th Grade

Margaret Atwood uses language to help the reader understand the oppression and power relationships within Gilead. The new vocabulary used within Gilead, is both used to instill religious indoctrination into citizens and also establish hierarchy and order within society. Gilead is a theocracy and so the new set of language often has very biblical references, with men holding ranks such as “Angles” or “The Eye of God”, or women holding roles such as “Martha’s” - a reference to a character in the old testament. Atwood shows us the power of language in it’s ability to reinforce a totalitarian regime, especially within a theocratic system. She essentially creates an entire culture designed around a fundamentalist ideological society that is designed to bolster a totalitarian regime.

Language in Gilead is used as a means of control, throughout the novel Atwood is teaching us the importance of language, from Offred’s obsession with the latin phrase scrawled on her cupboard: “Nolite the bastardes carborundorum” to the slogans written by female activists: “FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. EVERY BABY A WANTED BABY. RECAPTURE OUR BODIES”. Atwood places emphasis on the manipulation of language in general because it is an important approach to control...

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