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An Ecofeminist Analysis of the Handmaid’s Tale

Author LiuHongBo
Tutor ZhangZuo
School Harbin Institute of Technology
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale ecofeminist criticism dualism patriarchy
Type Master's thesis
Year 2010
Downloads 162
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Based on the theories of Karren J. Warren and several other ecofeminist critics, this thesis analyzes Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale from an ecofeminist point of view. Margaret Atwood is the most famous contemporary Canadian writer. Her unique point of view of a female writer, incisive style, and accurate descriptions win her international reputation. Most of her novels take female characters as protagonists, aiming at revealing the particular problems that women face and reflecting universal social problems. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1986. Taking females as the leading characters, and environmental crisis as its background, it depicts people who are suffering from tragic environmental pollution in a totalitarian country, in which females are taken as scapegoats of men for environmental problems and are exploited and oppressed.Ecofeminism is a combination of both feminism and environmental protection movements. Born in the 1960s, ecofeminism aims at solving the increasingly severer environmental problems by connecting nature with feminism. It inherits feminist theories, respecting the difference between two genders, encouraging diversity and criticizing dualism and the antagonism between males and females, culture and nature, sense and sensibility; at the same time, it adopts the basic ideas of ecology, such as liberation, opposing oppression, and the pursuit of harmony. Based on these two theories ecofeminism takes establishing s female culture as one of the fundamental solutions to environmental problems. Ecofeminist criticism attacks dualism and patriarchy, doing literature research from the perspective of both environment and gender, calling upon the elimination of dualism ideology and the care of nature and women, so as to develop harmony between nature and human beings, males and females.The Handmaid’s Tale is a paradigm of explaining eco-feminist ideas. On the basis of the patriarchal ideology, Gilead is built into a totalitarian country which features taming and ruling females. Females are forced into a submissive position, which makes the whole society fall into abnormality; at the same time, due to the ignorance of the nurture of nature, and the hubris in science development, people trap themselves into doom. In the novel, natural phenomenon and natural creatures are the incarnation of females; and the products of civilization such as guns, cars and books are the incarnation of males. Females, natural phenomena, and natural creatures show resemblance under the same oppression. Females hope to find harmony, equality, wholeness and mutual benefit by getting close to nature, which indicates the closeness between women and nature, as well as nature’s healing power upon women. In contrast, men pay much attention to the strength and power that technology and civilization bring to them, and focus on increasing their ability in competition and rivalry. Through revealing the antagonism between nature and civilization, females and males, this thesis points out that the ideology of dualism is the chief reason for Gilead’s falling into crisis: on one hand, human beings’self-centeredness and blindly exploitation of nature breed the technique abuse which causes the sterility of nature; on the other hand, the sterility of society comes from women’s exclusion from men and men’s hostility towards women. Besides, the depiction of female friendship and the thought-provoking ending of the novel indicate that although Gilead is horrible, the female friendship and the closeness to nature have pointed out ways out of the control of patriarchal and dualistic ideas.The Handmaid’s Tale reflects eco-feminist ideas that women and nature, which enjoy the same joy and moan the same sorrow, are closely linked together. It also points out that dualism and patriarchy are harmful to both nature and society, which are the root of misery. The novel warns readers of existing antagonism between nature and human beings, females and males and informs people of the value of current achievements of ecofeminism.

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