Frenemies: Disunity of Women in Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"

Faculty Sponsor

Megan Telligman


Christ College


Christ College

ORCID Identifier(s)

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-4-2017


As a fictional novel about a post-apocalyptic theocracy, we might think Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is too imaginary and extreme to be relevant as a warning to contemporary America. Yet as fantastic as Atwood makes her dystopian world, the novel remains influential and widely studied thirty years after it was written, with significant literary research continuing to address the adversarial relationships between the female narrator and the other female characters. In this paper I combine a literary analysis of The Handmaid’s Tale with a study of contemporary society to argue that the kinds of relationships that Atwood explores and interrogates in her novel continue to flourish in modern America. I investigate the structure of this imagined futuristic society and evaluate the effect that the strict patriarchal system has on interactions between women. These relationships, and the kind of socio-political manipulation of women that Atwood details, remain remarkably applicable in modern times. After dissecting Atwood’s imagined society, I examine current research that shows America’s patriarchal culture makes women likely to create divisions between themselves when they feel threatened. This contributes to the collective oppression of women, as they are competing against one another, rather than the system that oppresses them, much like in the theocratic and patriarchal society of The Handmaid’s Tale. Thus, Atwood’s novel serves not only as a warning to women, but as a call to action if they wish to avoid moving closer towards the extreme society that she portrays.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Abigail is a sophomore psychology major from Glen Ellyn, IL. She is minoring in Spanish and human biology, and is a part of Christ College. She plans on pursuing her Ph.D. in health psychology after graduation.

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