Hypocrisy and Sacrifice in The Handmaid’s Tale

We all justify the worst of actions, the worst of lies, to ourselves to convince ourselves that it’s okay. What “it’s” is differs, and in The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s everything- from the horrendous government to the definition of love. Contradictions create instability and it creates little holes that tear the structure of Gilead down.

Gilead is so full of contradictions but its establishment was scarily simple. The Commanders claim that God wanted it this way, that they were following the word of Him. When Aunt Lydia says to June, “Blessed are the meek,” June remembers the ending of the scripture, “… and blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness.” June’s words convey the manipulation of scripture by the government and earns her a cattle prod to the face. The people who run Gilead twist and select pieces of the Bible that will help them justify their actions and maintain their power.

In addition to systematic hypocrisy, no individual character is perfect either. The characters in the show go against their own values to defend the values of the republic. Commander Waterford, a high-ranking leader of Gilead, continues to manipulate June through little favors and emotionally tears his wife down slowly.

Although Fred practices acts of hypocrisy for his own enjoyment, he still fully believes in Gilead. However, two of the most dynamic characters in The Handmaid’s Tale are two women who slowly realize the messed-up nature of the society they live in. Serena and Eden come from a place of full faith but as time passes, they both change as they know the system is broken but are too afraid to act on it. Until they do.

Eden, a young girl, fell in love with the idea of love and tried to chase it, despite her devotion to the republic. She, and the man she ran off with, are drowned. She sacrifices her own life as a punishment for disobeying Gilead, but she did not stray from her love of God nor her true love. The death of a devout young girl sparks realization in many of the Wives as they understand the unforgiving and religiously backward nature of Gilead.

Serena can’t seem to make up her mind. Sometimes, she helps June but sometimes she’s June’s worst nightmare. However, she makes a final sacrifice to protect “her” child. After trying to civilly propose an amendment to the council, she loses a finger for reading and realizes she can’t put her baby through this world, and thus, gives her baby to June to escape with. She redeems herself, but her future seems bleaker than ever.

Even after so much struggle, the people of Gilead still live in a shadow of hypocrisy and everyone, even the strongest, break.

Latin: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” A motif through the whole show, June scribbles it a final time before her escape.