Mairead Matthews Particicution

Literary lenses give us the ability to critique, see similarity and contrast and draw connections between novels and the real world. Through a feminist literary lens, one can draw connections between novels and women's issues in the real world - a subject of great importance world wide in the 21st century. Common amongst the majority of novels set within a future society (not too distant from our own) is a strong presence of the very same issues prevalent within our society today. A very obvious example of an issue present within Handmaid’s Tale is rape. Passage #4, entitled Particicution, is a perfect illustration of the horrors rape instills within the people of Gilead. The subject is first mentioned by Aunt Lydia, after which Offred notes that the word was said not only with rage but with “a kind of triumph”. Aunt Lydia’s twisted satisfaction concerning the “triumph” rape has to offer is a subtle reminder of the anti-female bias present in Gilead. For Aunt Lydia and other high-level members of her country’s government, rape is an oppressive measure used to control the population. For example, the term rape is used to form a bias against sex and in turn control who can reproduce. By controlling sex and offspring, the government has in it’s back pocket, the generations to come. The term rape is also used as an easy mechanism to generate hate for those who defy the government’s regulations - as seen in this passage. Aunt Lydia’s twisted feelings about the subject are a reminder of another passage in the novel, where the girls are forced to chant at a fellow Handmaid and rape victim that it was her own fault she was raped.

This concept that rape is the fault of the victim is echoed in the passage once more; Aunt Lydia informs the girls that the rapist’s “partner in viscousness” had already been shot and states that rape is a crime punishable by death. She continues on, referencing the Old Testament of the Bible in order to reinforce her statement. The passage referenced is Deuteronomy 22:23-29 which consists mainly of the rules moses passed on to the Jewish people prior to reaching the promise land. Although the Bible does state that in some cases, rape is punishable by death (for both the rapist and the victim), Aunt Lydia does not specify the circumstances in which the rape at hand took place. This is just another example of how the Bible is skewered in the novel - of how the Gilead’s government uses Religion as a crutch with witch to cripple women. Furthermore the Bible states that it is only a woman’s fault if she does not resist and/or scream for help. Though this is already an inappropriate and revolting take on rape/rape victims, Atwood chose to take it one step further when writing about the government of Gilead. She did this in order to outline the social bias against women and rape victims present in the very world we live in. We see this when Offred retells the story of her fellow Handmaid’s rape and how she was forced to accept the event as her own fault. Interestingly enough, the bible states that, “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[a] of silver”, placing some form of blame on the man and expressing a need for compensation, whereas Gilead has no room for such a concept in their society.

Another interesting thing to note is how rape is seen subjectively within their society. Whilst in one scenario it is a crime punishable by death, in another, the rape of Handmaid’s on a daily basis is seen as a national service. Gilead has made a strong effort to condone and institutionalize a certain kind of rape in their society - the kind of rape that the government benefits from, by controlling reproduction and the classes. Furthermore they have managed to brainwash the women to the point where they are mad at the rapist for committing the same crime as the institution they are a part of. In the phrase “the baby. After what we go through” shows the acceptance of this bias - what we go through specifically meaning rape on a scheduled, condoned and monthly basis. The government also uses the women’s hormonal vulnerability in order to conform them. Using their love and want for children they can turn them into people who will torture, beat and kill at the loss of a child.

A final aspect of this passage is the “Particicution” itself. Margaret Atwood was a Canadian author who published this particular novel in 1985, in a time where a government movement known as “Participaction” was introduced. In the late 1960’s the Canadian government was specifically concerned about the participation of certain groups in physical activity - one prominent group being females. The correlation between Particicution and Participaction is extremely eerie, and shows the profound nature of Gilead’s government, who introduced the program to get women to join in on the murder, hatred and conformity against themselves.

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