Marxist Lens - Ioan Petculescu

Marxism is a worldview and a method of analysis that focuses on how a dominant economic class subordinates the rest of the society. This subordination can become extreme, to the point of objectifying a certain economic/social class. In Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale Offred is part of one of the lowest classes, and her only use is giving birth. She, as a human, has little to no value in a society dominated by Commanders and Aunts.

The reason for the exam itself does not necessarily mean that Offred herself has any importance, but that her ability to carry a child does. The check-up is to ensure that she is healthy enough to carry children, and is ‘obligatory’ (pg 73 B+R edition).

Due to her capacity to carry children, Offred is what Marxists would call a productive asset, or a means of production. Whoever owns these productive means is able to exploit the lower classes. Any babies that Offred gives birth to are considered capital (money) and her capacity for carrying children is the only reason she has not become an ‘unwoman’ yet. Productive assets must be maintained, in order to ensure production continues, much like how Offred has check-ups to ensure her fertility.

When the doctor enters the room that Offred is in, she informs the reader that “He isn’t supposed to speak to me except when it’s absolutely necessary” (pg 74 B+R Edition). Much like an engineer checking up on a production line, no communication is required between him and the productive asset. He must simply check that all of its mechanisms are functioning and that the means of production is in working order. The doctor’s task is simply to check on a Commander of Gilead’s Handmaid, not to communicate with her, as she is simply a means of production.

Next, the doctor offers ‘help’ to Offred, by getting her pregnant. He whispers to her, “I could help you” (pg 75 B+R Edition). As a Marxist, one must ask themselves, is he really offering his help for nothing in return? By impregnating Offred, the doctor would be receiving sexual pleasure, something that is forbidden for most of the population. The doctor has an ulterior motive, and it involves Offred using her sexuality as capital.

The word ‘sterile’ cannot be used to describe men in the Republic of Gilead; it can only be used to describe women. Offred tells the reader that “There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.” (pg 75 B+R Edition). The owners of productive assets put this law in place, the men known as ‘Commanders’. This is an example of how the upper class exploit not only the lower classes, but anything that they please. The ability to change a language is powerful, and can help their goal of staying in power and continuing to produce capital (babies).

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