Last Updated 25 May 2018

Misogynistic Societies

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Societies Although written in different time periods and in dissimilar settings, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy are both feminist novels with main characters who are suppressed by their societies. Misogyny is fully apparent in both novels, and both Offred and Tess utilize similar means to endure their harsh societies. A misogynistic society is clearly depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale. In Offred’s society, the handmaids’ only role in society is becoming pregnant.

When Offred is going to the Commander’s house, she states, “We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices” (Atwood 136). Because the Republic of Gilead is suffering from low birth rates, the handmaids are treated not as human beings, but as mere objects with the sole goal of bringing children into the world. Their only values are their wombs. In addition to being an object only focused on birth and children, Offred is a slave to everyone and everything around her.

Throughout the whole novel, Offred is rarely able to make any decisions for herself; everything is already chosen for her. “Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us” (8). Offred is even judged and branded by her clothes. Red, the color of fertility and raciness, tells citizens of Gilead who she is, and what she is meant to do. As a handmaid, Offred is fully taken care of, but has no basic rights. Although not as prominent, Tess of the D’Urbervilles also contains several portrayals of a misogynistic nation.

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In the novel, Alec takes advantage of Tess and completely disregards her feelings and opinions. He never listens to what Tess has to say, but constantly comes back for Tess, as if he owns her. When he offers to help Tess and her family, he says, “You are Eve, and I am the old Other One come to tempt you in the disguise of an inferior animal” (Hardy 366). Alec is mocks her and Angel, and always thinks of her as an object he owns to which he can always come back. Angel also contributes to the misogyny in the novel.

When Tess tells Angel about her past, he gets angry and leaves for Brazil, even though he has confessed to the same sin. “In considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was, and forgot the defective can be more than the entire” (282). He only saw one side of Tess and chose not to see her faults, which caused a major break in their relationship when he finally came to realize that Tess, just as everyone else, has faults. Because of their restricted, difficult lives, Offred and Tess often find ways to cope with their situations.

Offred’s companionship with various people around her is an escape from reality, as well as a diminutive act of rebellion. After talking about how frightening and “loose” Moira is, Offred claims, “Nevertheless Moira was our fantasy” (Atwood 133). Moira is secretly a hero to many of the handmaids and Offred is somewhat able to experience the excitement and rebellion vicariously, through Moira. Also, Offred’s companionship with the Commander helps her survive. When talking about the commander, Offred says, “To him I’m no longer merely a usable body.

To him I’m not just a boat with no cargo, a chalice with no wine in it, an oven – to be crude – minus the bun. To him I am not merely empty” (163). Once she realizes that the Commander actually cares for her and doesn’t think of her as an object, she becomes hopeful and starts believing that she might have a chance. Likewise, Tess utilizes her friendship with Marian, Izz, and Retty to overcome the many obstacles that come her way. Her friends often help her realize how much she loves Angel, and they constantly tell her that she is, in fact, worthy of Angel’s love.

When Marian and Izz how miserable Tess is when Angel has left, they stick by her and write an anonymous letter to Angel telling him that Tess loves him and he should come back to her if he loves her, because there is an enemy nearby (Hardy 383). Although all three girls love Angel, they step aside when they realize how much Angel really cares for Tess, even if doing so lead to self-destructive behavior. Additionally, Tess and Offred both attempt to resolve their problems with their past lives. Lying in bed, with Luke, his hand on my rounded belly. The three of us, in bed, she kicking, turning over within me” (Atwood 103). Offred constantly thinks about Luke and her daughter to remember the happy times in her former life. She tries everyday to remember her family, because it is gradually getting harder to remember the life she had before Gilead.

Tess is also always thinking of her past, which constantly reminds her of her sins and because of these terrible memories, she keeps from making the ame mistake. When Tess walks by the sign painter, he has a sign that reads: “THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH NOT” (Hardy 95). Such as this sign, throughout the whole novel, Tess is constantly reminded of her wrongdoings, which helps her become a better person. The Handmaid’s Tale and Tess of the D’Urbervilles contain misogynistic societies in which females are treated as objects. Offred and Tess both feel repressed by their own societies and use similar ways to survive in their restrained environments.

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