In The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood discusses different types of freedom. As we have discussed a very important quotation from the novel in regard to the theme of freedom is:
There is more than one type of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.
In Gilead the regime says it allows women to have freedom from danger and attack. Offred’s mother fought for women to have the freedom to control their own bodies and their actions. We learn from Offred that she mourns for the loss of the freedom she had in the past. Offred also reflects on her past life and the ways in which her freedom was restricted:
I remember the rules that were never spelled out but that every woman knew: don’t open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don’t stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble.Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, don’t turn to look. Don’t go into a laundromat, by yourself, at night.
In the past Offred had the freedom to live her own life and she could work. She could choose her own clothes, what she did in the day and who she would marry. She remembers “I used to dress like that. That was freedom.” She may be able to walk the streets in safety but she has paid dearly for this – she has lost individual freedom.
This loss of freedom is huge. In Gilead the Handmaid’s bodies are not there own; they are the state’s property. They are owned by the Commanders and their wives – they are Of-Fred or Of-Warren. They are spied on, monitored, restricted by The Eyes, The Angels and The Guardians. The Handmaids even spy on one another, “The truth is that she is my spy, as I am hers.”
Gilead has a ritualised and segregated lifestyle. Handmaids don’t have personal belongings and their rooms are like cells – the regime makes it like this so they can’t commit suicide. They are not allowed to speak freely and group together. Offred says they learn to communicate silently, “We learned to whisper almost without sound.” The Handmaids try to find their own freedom. Offred’s affair with Nick and meetings with the Commander give her some sense of freedom as they break the boring routine of her life. However, to escape the oppressive regime all Offred really has is her thoughts as her private thoughts can’t be controlled by Gilead. Offred has learned that, “Freedom, like everything, is relative.”