Margaret Atwood explores a number of societal issues throughout The Handmaid’s Tale, including everything from the rights of women to the general effect religion has on a theocracy such as Gilead. A more minor, yet prevalent idea that is made throughout the novel is Atwood’s argument against the overwhelming deindividuation shown in their society. Atwood argues in The Handmaid’s Tale that mandated conformity leads solely to the loss of one’s identity, but also toys with the mental and physiological well being of the people living in the society. She proves this by first highlighting the ridiculously over-zealous regulations put in place to ensure the obedience of the conformity Gilead strives for, and through the actions of the people (most notably those of higher privilege and rank in their ever-so oppressive society).
Atwood begins by highlighting the strict rules and regulations that ensure people maintain the state of conformity and uniformity that is so coveted in their environment. This is perfectly exemplified by the government of Gilead’s controlled hanging of things that were not even criminal at the time they were committed. Look at the doctors, for instance. These were men that facilitated abortions before the war, when abortions were legal. The regulations and laws are not only strict, but the way they choose to enforce them is unprecedented and seemingly unfair. That being said, this is the only way they feel they can keep “order” in society, by keeping them oppressed.
This oppression only leads to the loss of convictions and beliefs of the people, though. You can point to anyone of the average citizens in this chapter and see how the forced conformity effects them and their ability to pursue the causes or beliefs they might like to. This is even more interesting when examining the officials actions, though. One would rightfully assume that the people that implemented these harsh rules upon their society would be happy with how things are going, however looking at Commander Fred, Offred’s superior, it is apparent that this is not true in the slightest. He has completely lost his interest in what is going on in Gilead, and he himself feels the need to break the rules that he was in charge of creating in the first place. His paradoxical behavior must have to do with his apathy for the system they created – whether it is because of a secret reservation he still holds regarding it, or if he is just bored with only mating with people everyday – the oppression and mandated conformity is not allowing him to obtain fulfillment.
It is clear that the system itself is very, very strict and wants nothing more than the conformity of their society to their ideals. What is more important is just how everyone – including the superiors – are effected.