This introduction to The Handmaid’s Tale serves multiple purposes in really highlighting some of the major issues, themes, and motifs that saturate the story, and are brought up again and again in the opening chapters. In this segment, even before the story begins, Margaret Atwood addresses the connection of church and state, the poor and miserable way in which they live, and most prominently the stifling of women in their society.
The overarching theme is that everything is tied back to the Beatitudes, which ThefreeDictionary.com defines as “Any of the declarations of blessedness made by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.” It is without question that the fact that everything is based around these religious teachings is pointing to the idea that most, if not all things are tied to religion, as it seems to play into every matter of their lives.
The poor and miserable way in which they live is shown throughout the first twelve chapters. The oppressive and stifling government under which they live is seen as they completely dictate what their citizens can and cannot do and they persecute and even kill some of the ones that go against the belief’s of the society, as demonstrated by the hanging doctors. The Beatitudes represent those that are overlooked in society: The meek, the poor in spirit, and so on. All living in this society could fall under one of these categories, and thus the Beatitudes serve as a beacon of hope for them.
The final way in which the story is prefaced is simply in the inability for the Aunts to read the Beatitudes. Later it is told that women are not allowed to read, as this clearly was a simpler and easier time when they were illiterate. They are completely limited to what they can wear, what types of jobs they can do, and what their place is in society as a whole. This opening highlights that very thing.
This introduction, very generally put, prefaces the issues in the story, all the while expressing the feeling of hope and the idea that all is right in the world with the way these people are currently oppressed.