Under His Eye: Gendered Power/Body Relationships in The Handmaid's Tale

UNCA Author/Contributor (non-UNCA co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Megan Rhyne (Creator)
University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA )
Web Site: http://library.unca.edu/
Lorena Russell

Abstract: In Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the body is a powerful force that functions as a dystopic symbol of authority, control, and power. Scholars have applied several theoretical approaches to studying the body, but one of the most applicable theories to use in contextualizing and interpreting the role of the body in Atwood’s work comes from the scholar Michel Foucault in his works Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, in which he introduces ideas on bodily docility, utility, and the notion of biopower, or the ways in which the state controls the body in order to achieve their goals. In my thesis, I apply Foucault’s theories to The Handmaid’s Tale in order to show the ways in which the body is transformed and made docile in order for the Gileadean regime to establish and maintain societal structures grounded in extremist conservatism on religiosity. I argue that female bodies provide a lens from which body/power relationships can be examined in terms of gender and female subjectivity in an environment in which religious patriarchy and reproductive control contribute to a toxic environment for female bodies. I place emphasis on the handmaids, who are forced into sexual servitude and childbearing in response to a fertility crisis that those in power believe is a result of immorality and faithlessness. While I apply Foucault’s theories to examine female bodies, I also examine the absence of gender in Foucault’s ideas, using feminist scholars such as Susan Bordo and Sandra Lee Bartky for support in critiquing Foucault’s gender-blindness. By illuminating the ways in which gender impacts power relationships and bodily experiences, I show how The Handmaid’s Tale supports Foucault’s theories while also functioning as a corrective for his gender neutrality.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, Dystopian, Michel Foucault, Extremist Conservatism on Religiosity, Susan Bordo, Sandra Lee Bartky

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