The Handmaid's Tale Symbolism

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Novels and Literary Devices

Novels employ various literary devices to ensure that the message is communicated effectively to the target audience. Additionally, such devices enable readers to understand the theme and the plot of the novel. It is, therefore, imperative for readers to critically examine various figures of speech used in a novel to understand the content. Different writers employ various literary devices for readers to establish the flow of the novel. Arguably, most of such literary devices employed by most writers include but not limited to symbolism, imagery, metaphor, allusion, personification, euphemism, foreshadowing among others. It is worth noting that stylistic devices are essential as they develop various themes in a novel. The Handmaid's Tale, for instance, has used various literary devices to enrich the main theme in the novel. Symbolism is one of the key literary devices used in the novel to enhance the key theme reflected in the novel. Eggs and flowers have been used in the novel on various occasions to enrich the major theme of the novel. It is essential to analyze how eggs and flowers have been used symbolically in The Handmaid's Tale to enhance the main theme of the novel.

The Manipulation of Power in The Handmaid's Tale

One of the main themes in The Handmaid's Tale is the manipulation of power (Busby et al. 23). The novel portrays various instances where symbols, for instance, eggs and flowers have been used to enrich the main theme. It is worth noting that Gilead, the society presented in the novel, is a theocratic dictatorship, therefore, power is imposed exclusively from the top. The novel portrays a scenario where it is difficult to appeal. In addition, there is no any way of legally protecting oneself from various oppressions from the government; there is hopelessness and there is no any other possible way in which outside power can intervene to protect the people in the society. Contrasting a democratic society where the people consent to be governed, in Gilead, the government covers not only different streets in the society but also safeguards individual homes (Busby et al. 25). Therefore, the government ensures constant surveillance.

Manipulation of Power by Characters

Even though Gilead’s is successful at imposing order, Atwood’s characters reveal that despite power being taken away from the people, they will still maneuver ways to maintain control over themselves and other people in the society. Offred, one of the characters in the novel, manipulates her sexuality in various ways fully aware of the power she has just because she is a woman.

Flower as a Symbol in The Handmaid's Tale

Throughout the novel, the narrator, in most of the occasions, refers to or compares women to flowers. The Commander and Serena Joy’s house is entirely doused in floral imagery. For instance, the narrator reveals that there is a “watercolor picture of blue irises in the narrator’s room.” In another instance, the narrator mentions that the bathroom is decorated with a sparkling canopy of silver flowers and prepared in tiny blue flowers.

Essentially, the narrator emphasizes a daffodil from one of Serena Joy’s arrangement. Flower as a symbol has also been used by the narrator by revealing that at Jezebel’s, where the Commander took the narrator was decorated with flowers. Arguably, this symbolism illustrates that the place was beautiful and attractive. In addition, flowers have been used in the novel to disguise different things that are not only considered to be ugly but also terrifying. For instance, the narrator compares the bloody mouth of a hanged man, for instance, to the “red of the tulips” in Serena Joy’s garden.

Notably, flowers are usually considered as symbols of not only beauty but also fertility. In the novel The Handmaid's Tale, flowers are accorded special attention as objects that can grow and bloom whereas few women can. From a critical point of view, as acknowledged by Atwood (37), a flower is the part of a plant that holds the reproductive organs. Therefore, as noted by Ferber and Michael (46), they continually remind people of the fertility that unfortunately most women lack. Arguably, most women are unable to reproduce, unlike flowers that are constant reminders of fertility. The novel The Handmaid's Tale reminds readers that it is likely that aged wives seek to cling to their fertility and attractiveness by decorating themselves with flowers and also tending gardens. The novel records that several wives have similar gardens and it’s something for them to order and properly give appropriate attention. As asserted by Sheckels and Theodore (48), Serena Joy spends most of the time mutilating flowers. Consequently, the narrator wonders when she observes her chopping them in an inappropriate manner.

Arguably, flower as a symbol in the novel The Handmaid's Tale has been used symbolically to manipulate the power of women. It is imperative to note that women are usually considered fertile and reproduce to give rise to offspring. According to Busby et al. (23), women are always believed to be beautiful. The natural characteristics of women have been interchanged by flowers as portrayed by various examples in the novel. Nonetheless, flower as a symbol has been used by the narrator to develop manipulation of power as one of the main themes in the novel.

Egg as a Symbol in The Handmaid's Tale

As presented in the novel, an egg has been used numerously to enhance the themes of the book. As asserted by Sheckels and Theodore (45), whenever an egg is mentioned in the book, the narrator constantly reminds readers that they are part of a human woman’s reproductive cycle. However, as shown in the book, the narrator usually eats them. As noted by Ferber and Michael (46), the narrator of the novel The Handmaid’s Tale is fond of having eggs for breakfast. They further state that the narrator argues that the main reason for taking eggs for breakfast is to make her own healthy eggs.

As noted by (Busby et al. 23), the narrator thinks that God may resemble an egg. She notes that “I think this is what God must look like: an egg, to look at the egg gives me intense pleasure.” It is imperative to note that the narrator’s feeling toward eggs alludes to what it signifies in Christianity. As acknowledged by Ferber and Michael (46), the narrator feels that egg is a symbol of birth and rebirth. She acknowledges that an egg, a lifeless object, gives life. A critical examination, as asserted by Sheckels and Theodore (46) reveals that an egg has been used in the novel The Handmaid's Tale to symbolize the resurrection of Christ. Accordingly, an egg has been used by the narrator to represent creation and the world.

Evidently, an egg has been used in the novel symbolically to develop, manipulation of power, one of the key themes in The Handmaid's Tale. It has been used to signify the power of reproduction and creation even though it is a lifeless object. The use of an egg in the novel is essential as it portrays the usefulness of an object that may be viewed by many as worthless.


The narrator of the novel The Handmaid's Tale has used different literary devices to develop various themes. For instance, symbolism has been used to enrich the theme of manipulation of power. Flowers and eggs have been numerously used symbolically to enhance the main theme. Flowers have been used to describe the beauty of women and their attractive nature. Additionally, a flower has been used in the novel to illustrate the beautiful decorations of various places. It is worth noting that flowers have also been used to disguise terrifying things. The narrator has also used eggs as symbols on different occasions throughout the book. An egg has been used in the novel to represent a woman's reproductive cycle. Additionally, the narrator has used an egg symbolically to represent birth, rebirth, and creation. The novel The Handmaid's Tale, therefore, is considered one of the best books as it has employed different literary devices to develop the themes of the book. Through the use of symbolism, for instance, the narrator has ensured that the readers' attentions have been captured and at the same time the message is clearly presented to the target audience.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid's tale. Vol. 301. Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 1998.

Busby, Karen, and Delaney Vun. "Revisiting The Handmaid's Tale: Feminist theory meets empirical research on surrogate mothers."Can. J. Fam. L. 26 (2010): 13.

Ferber, Michael. A dictionary of literary symbols. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Sheckels, Theodore F. The political in Margaret Atwood's fiction: the writing on the wall of the tent. Routledge, 2016.

November 24, 2023



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