Hidden values

“We hand over our tokens, and one Guardian enters the numbers on them into the Compubite while the other gives us our purchases, the milk, the eggs. We put them into our baskets and go out again, past the pregnant woman and her partner, who beside her looks spindly, shrunken; as we all do. The pregnant woman’s belly is like a huge fruit. Humungous, word of my childhood. Her hands rest on it as if to defend it, or as if they’re gathering something from it, warmth and strength” (26).

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood describes a society that is far-fetched and dystopian and yet corresponds to a lot of the values held in our modern society. By juxtaposing imagery and metaphors, Atwood establishes a dyarchy between women in order to illuminate the subconscious prejudice prevalent in today’s society.

The most apparent piece of imagery in this text is the description of the pregnant woman in comparison to the other women. Atwood uses phrases of positive connotation, such as “huge fruit” and “warmth and strength,” to portray the pregnant woman as a measure of success, whereas the woman beside her “looks spindly, shrunken; as we all do.” This juxtaposition reveals the well-defined goals of women in this society: to produce offspring. Although this goal in this society is very obviously depicted, Atwood displays to the reader a significant, often concealed, value held in today’s society.

These hidden values and priorities of the women are shown through symbolic objects in this text. As mentioned before, the pregnant woman is described as having a “huge fruit” that gives her “warmth and strength.” However, Offred and Ofglen are seen purchasing “the milk, the eggs” given to them by male guardians. These two objects are highly associated with pregnancy and child-rearing, portraying a life where the basic needs of the individuals are met. Thus, the two woman desire these specific types of produce as opposed to the others because the society that they are in has created a value in child rearing. On the other hand, the pregnant woman has a “humungous” belly and “her hands rest on it,” which can be seen as being satisfied because of a full belly. This constant symbolism of food and child-rearing equates these two concepts as one; both are vital to our existence and both are responsibilities of women in this society and, to an extent, our current society.

In conclusion, Margaret Atwood criticizes our values towards gender roles and child-rearing by displaying a society where these values are ubiquitous. By portraying juxtaposing, symbolic imagery, Atwood creates a society where the hidden values of our current society are prominent and unopposed.

Citation: Atwood, Margaret. “Shopping.” The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor, 1998. 26. Print.


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