November 22, 2019

Margaret of alienation. She recognizes that her reflection in

Atwood’s utilization of symbols in the work, “The Handmaid’s Tale” aid the pronunciation of ideas and instill
depth into the text. Atwood skillfully incorporates symbols that represent former
freedoms that have been deprived by the authority of Gilead’s theocratic
government. These symbols include: mirrors, eggs, and the names of characters. Mirrors
that were once tools for distinguishing one’s identity been removed, thus creating
an aroma of loss of individuality. Eggs that embody the previous beauty of
fertility are transformed to deprive women of spiritual aspect and craft them into
childbearing appliances. Names that were formerly permanent and definite become
interchangeable. In Margaret Atwood’s book, The
Handmaid’s Tale the symbols convey a loss of identity formed by the
authority of Gilead’s totalitarian branch.

            Mirrors are reflective surfaces that
are designed to reflect a clear replica of light. Mirrors are most commonly
used for practical purposes of one viewing themselves as a whole. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood creates a
totalitarian government that decides to remove majority of the mirrors. The absence
of mirrors create a distorted reality for the protagonist, Offred, who
consistently indicates that she cannot properly view herself. Offred states, “There remains a mirror, on the hall wall. If I turn
my head so that the white wings framing my face direct my vision towards it, I
can see it as I go down the stairs, round, convex, a pier-glass, like the eye
of a fish, and myself in it like a distorted shadow, a parody of something,
some fairytale figure in a red cloak, descending towards a moment of
carelessness that is the same as danger. A Sister, dipped in blood.” (Atwood,
9). When Offred looks at herself in the mirror she feels a significant sense of
alienation. She recognizes that her reflection in the mirror represents the
vast majority of the other handmaids that are, too, just “sisters” under the Gileadean
regime. Offred’s sense of alienation, and her incapability of differentiating herself
from the rest of the handmaids prove that the shortage of mirrors in the work build
the concept of loss of identity. Further in the book, Offred confirms her
incapability of distinguishing herself as she states, “‘Under His Eye,’ I
reply, and she gives a little nod. She hesitates, as if to say something more,
but then she turns away and walks down the street. I watch her. She’s like my
own reflection, in a mirror from which I am moving away.” (Atwood, 45). During
Offred and Ofglen’s departure Offred acknowledges that Ofglen is the reflection
of herself. The lack of mirrors subliminally force the handmaids into the conformity
that they are no different from each other. Therefore, they look to each other
to be able to view themselves. This work of inseparable uniformity created by
Gilead proves that the lack of mirrors embody a loss of individuality. Theodora
Hermes’s work, Reflections in
Contemporary Feminist Literature deconstructs the significance of mirrors
in The Handmaid’s Tale. Hermes cites
Jacques Lacan’s theory of the “mirror stage” as she states, “Mirrors and reflections have long
been associated with the fundamental concepts of selfhood and identity. The
French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was the first to draw our attention to the
realization of self-consciousness that occurs upon a very early encounter with
one’s reflection. In the mirror stage, an infant of about eighteen months
recognizes his or her own reflection, and the external image of the body
produces a psychological response of the formation of the illusionary “self” or
Ego. The mirror stage constructs part of the permanent structure of one’s
subjectivity and allows the self to establish a relation to its world.” (Hermes, 1). Hermes’s summarization of Jacque
Lacan’s concept shows that identity is created during the early stages of one’s
life.  The concept shows that it is human
nature for people to look to mirrors to create their identity. Therefore, Lacan’s
observation proves that the absence of mirrors in The Handmaid’s Tale do result in a loss of identity. Consequently,
with evidence of Offred’s inability to differentiate from the handmaids and
Lacan’s theory, it is concise that the absence of mirrors create the concept of
loss of identity in the work.

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            Eggs in The Handmaid’s Tale are part of the strict breakfast the handmaids
are provided every morning. Handmaids are given eggs because they provide an
excellent source of protein and nutrients necessary for pregnancy. Atwood
cleverly reveals the correlation between the egg and the handmaids when Offred
states, “In
front of me is a tray, and on the tray are a glass of apple juice, a vitamin
pill, a spoon, a plate with three slices of brown toast on it, a small dish
containing honey, and another plate with an eggcup on it, the kind that looks like a woman’s torso, in a
skirt. Under the skirt is the second egg, being kept warm.” (Atwood, 136). Offred
describes the eggcup as a reflection of the handmaid’s responsibility as
vessels to hold fertile eggs. This
realization portrays the power Gilead holds as Gilead is capable of influencing
the handmaid’s self-perception as carriers. Hence,
proving that the eggs embody the loss of identity as Offred views herself as an
egg. Similarly, Offred identifies herself as an egg when she states, “We are
containers, it’s only the inside of our bodies that are important.” (Atwood,
119). Atwood implements this indirect metaphor to emphasize the connection between
the handmaids and the egg. Egg shells are containers like the handmaids as they
hold the yolk like the handmaids hold the fertile eggs. Offred’s admission of
herself representing a canister like an egg conveys the evident loss of
identity in the book. Amelia Ayrelan Iuvino’s blog, What Eggs Mean in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ affirms the loss of
identity in the novel as she explains how Offred is reduced to a physical
object. Iuvino states, “Through her role as a Handmaid, and her strictly
controlled egg-centric diet, Offred is reduced to her physical self, and
everything else about her stops mattering—her only value as a human is through
her physical capabilities … Offred is nothing more or less than her uterus.”
(Iuvino). Iuvino summarizes how the handmaids are stripped of their spiritual component
as the handmaids are only seen as reproductive machines.  Iuvino’s statement proves that the eggs embody
the loss of identity in the book as the handmaids are solely seen as fertile eggs.
Therefore, the handmaid’s submission of the self-perception of eggs given to
them by Gilead, and Iuvino’s observation, it is evident that the eggs embody
the loss of individuality in the book.

            Names are supposed to be given
during birth and be definite until it does the person apart. However, in The Handmaid’s Tale the handmaids are
stripped of their birth names and replaced with new names that echo the name of
the commander they serve. For example, Offred’s name consists of the possessive
preposition “Of” with the commander’s name “Fred” following it. Offred reveals
the deprival of her name when she states, “My name isn’t Offred, I have another
name which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden.” (Atwood, 104).

            Margaret Atwood’s application of
symbols in The Handmaid’s Tale disclose
the concept of loss of identity constructed by Gilead. The scarcity of mirrors
engender a loss of identity as the handmaids are deprived of the tool to
differentiate themselves. The correlation of the egg and the handmaids reduce
the handmaids to a physical entity, thus portraying the deprival of their identity.
replaceable names and titles of the characters reveal the simplicity of
altering one’s identity. Atwood cleverly integrates the symbols to embody the persistent
theme of loss of identity in the text. 


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