In the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, everything’s changed. We see the oppression, the lack of freedom, the seemingly hopeless world. However, the people running the new society have a different viewpoint. Aunt Lydia claims that beforehand, the girls had “freedom-to” and now they have “freedom-from” unpleasantness.
The theme of freedom is explored thoroughly in The Handmaid’s Tale. Aunt Lydia’s words are true to some extent, but the new Handmaids have neither freedom-to nor freedom-from. Most of the Commanders, Wives, and Aunts have kept a bit of their morals from “before,” but justify their actions by creating lies that seem positive to convince themselves that this is utilitarian.
Serena’s, the wife, character has been developed more in the recent episodes. Similar to Petra in Jane the Virgin, the viewer begins to understand the character’s motivations and reasons for acting the way they do. Before the cultural shift, Serena was a powerful woman- a powerful woman who supported the ambitions of her husband and his fellow officials- and had to watch as her own power was stripped away. Not only did she lose her power, she lost love and her freedom. Although the life of a Wife is not as despairing as that of a Handmaid, they are also prisoners: always forced to watch, but not allowed to participate. I’m not only talking about the Ceremony, but Serena, a woman used to playing a big role in her life, watches as the men and Handmaid decide the path of her own life. She smokes, even though she isn’t allowed to, to gain a sense of control back into her own life especially since she has to rely on another quite rebellious woman to give her fulfillment of her own biological destiny.
The Handmaid’s with their red capes and white wings, are to be distrusted in the society. The officials convince themselves that they must punish the Handmaids because they are distrustful, but actually, the Handmaid’s are distrustful of the government because all their rights have been stripped away from them. June claims that Gilead is afraid of them escaping, both from Gilead and from life. The society needs them to continue the human race, but also do not respect them. For them, it’s easier to torture a few Handmaids to scare the others than to try to please all of them. Aunt Lydia’s comment that they have freedom-from violence and the unpleasantness of the world is frankly untrue. They outlawed rape, but renamed it to the Ceremony. They outlawed murder, but gave the government permission to do it.
We’ve all heard that saying about how it’s better to die fighting for freedom than to live as a prisoner. But the women in The Handmaid’s Tale live as prisoners, and getting a death sentence is just hard to achieve as freedom.