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Daniel Granados

Kathleen King

English 1A

20 March 2018

Concerned but Powerless

With the pressures of everyday life, it's hard to stop and take a look around. Before, it

was watching T.V, but now, in the digital age, there is a plethora of media to absorb and seal

yourself off in. It’s something that can distract you from the outside world. A world that is

already starting to crack and crumble. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale takes the

reader's mind into society that spent too much time ignoring the world around them. The novel is

told through the eyes of Offred, a handmaid whose sole purpose is to reproduce. In the novel, we

are shown a political dystopian society that is under strict control by the government. Overall, it's

a society where the government has too much control over its people. As Offred puts it, the

formation of the dystopia didn't happen overnight. It was a gradual process. It’s also a process

that we soon may soon follow if we are not careful. If we take a moment and look around, we

can see that there are a few things around our very own lives that show that the government isn't

afraid to take control under any means necessary.

Everything starts with fear. Fear makes people irrational. We can see that in Gilead

people's fears are taken advantage of. With so much free time to think, Offred’s mind flashes

back to the beginning of the end for her old government. She describes, “It was after the

catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army

declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time” (Atwood 105,

Lacuna). The leaders of Gilead used the fear of terrorism to take control of its people. When
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things were in a state of emergency, it made people more vulnerable. At the surface level, the

control that the new government had taken might have seemed good at first. The general thought

is that it's all in the name of safety and security. However, this act of security spun out of control

and did more harm than good. For us Americans, 9/11 was our “state of emergency”, and the

result was the Patriot Act, which used people's fears to justify the actions of the government. An

article by the American Civil Liberties Union titled Surveillance Under the Patriot Act

describes,“Hastily passed 45 days after 9/11 in the name of national security, the Patriot Act was

the first of many changes to surveillance laws that made it easier for the government to spy on

ordinary Americans by expanding the authority to monitor phone and email communications,

collect bank and credit reporting records, and track the activity of innocent Americans on the

Internet. While most Americans think it was created to catch terrorists, the Patriot Act actually

turns regular citizens into suspects” (ACLU). Of course we want to be protected. However,

where do we draw the line? The government's use of National Security Letters have clearly been

used for reasons other than fighting terrorism. According to the ACLU, between 2003 and 2006,

there were 192,499 NSL’s issued. Only one of which, led to a single terror-related conviction. Is

handing over all of our privacy rights really worth it? The NSL’s aren't the only thing. The

Patriot Act resulted in an increase of warrantless wiretapping, surveillance of citizens,

government secrecy, and was even used to justify torture. This much power over people can

easily be abused and is clearly a recipe for disaster. This is most definitely something Margaret

Atwood would consider a key element for a political dystopia.

Censorship is another key element for a political dystopia. In The Handmaid's Tale,

censorship is briefly touched upon. Offred describes, “Things continued in that state of

suspended animation for weeks, although some things did happen. Newspapers were censored
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and some were closed down, for security reasons they said. The roadblocks began to appear, and

Identipasses. Everyone approved of that, since it was obvious you couldn't be too careful. They

said that new elections would be held, but that it would take some time to prepare for them. The

thing to do, they said, was to continue on as usual” (Atwood 105, Lacuna). What’s interesting is

how Offred says that the roadblocks were understandable because you could never be too

careful. It’s significant because it touches upon the overall attitude that the government knows

what's best. However, this is the same government that blinded its citizens and boxed them in.

Censorship is the first thing to go because it makes sure that there is no threat to fight back. Once

that’s gone, they can come and do as they please. Today, we have President Donald Trump

trying to censor the media. The Atlantic article Trump Wants to Censor the Media proclaims,

“Trump’s focus on a few outlets, especially NBC News, CNN, and The New York Times,

suggests he is interested not in across-the-board censorship so much as targeted persecution of

those organizations that he feels are making his life difficult” (Graham). Essentially, Trump

wants the Senate Intelligence Committee to “look into” the news outlets that he considers to be

“fake news”. Clearly there is no threat for national security over these news outlets but this is

rather a declaration of war over the freedom of the press. Now, that being said, it's hard to take

anything Trump says seriously. With the many tweets that he spills out, it has gotten to the point

where many have become resilient to some of the outlandish words written. However, we need

to understand is that this is our very own president challenging the first amendment of our

constitution. Without the press, we can easily be blinded and boxed in just like the people of

Gilead.

When a government is so focused on protecting what is established, they forget how their

recklessness effects people. The best example of this in Gilead is described by Offred as she
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takes a walk the through the streets, “Last week they shot a woman, right about here. She was a

Martha. She was fumbling in her robe, for her pass, and they thought she was hunting for a

bomb. They thought she was a man in disguise. There have been such incidents” (11). In such a

high alert state, innocent people are being killed. Everyone is terrified, and nobody knows who

can be trusted. It’s shoot first and ask questions later in Gilead. Sadly, this applies to the United

States all too well. The Independent article America has no idea how many innocent people it's

killing in the Middle East describes, “In recent days, the US has been again forced to address the

painful issue of civilian casualties following the publication of a investigation by the New York

Times, which found that, contrary to the claims of the Pentagon, as many as one-in-five coalition

air strikes on Isis targets in Iraq in 2014, resulted in civilians deaths. That figure was 31 times

higher than what the US has acknowledged” (Buncombe). It’s just simply reckless behavior. It

seems that the mentality is to throw a bomb at a group of people and put the pieces back together

later. With the government being so focused on destroying the enemy, they have become out of

touch when it comes to the disastrous results of their actions. Self absorbed and trigger happy.

What sets us apart from Gilead?

Margaret Atwood is screaming at the reader through the ink and paper of her novel. She

wants us to wake up and take a look around. Our freedoms have slowly been chipped away from

right underneath us and nobody is noticing. That's just one concern. How many more things have

we been neglecting? I’ve heard the term “amused to death” and I really do think that applies to

us. We have been so focused on pushing things away through the means of entertainment. It has

gotten to the point where it’s more important to us than what's actually going on in the real

world. Break away the chains that have been holding you down and wake up.
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Citation

Buncombe New York, Andrew. “America Has No Idea How Many Innocent People It's Killing in the

Middle East.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 20 Nov. 2017,

www.independent.co.uk/voices/us-isis-air-strikes-civilian-deaths-syria-iraq-america-no-idea-how-

many-dead-the-uncounted-a8066266.html.
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Graham, David A. “Trump Wants to Censor the Media.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 5

Oct. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/10/trump-wants-to-censor-the-press/542142/.

“Surveillance Under the Patriot Act.” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/issues/national-

security/privacy-and-surveillance/surveillance-under-patriot-act.

ATWOOD, MARGARET. HANDMAID'S TALE. VINTAGE CLASSICS, 2018.