If you've been watching Hulu's intense new dystopian series The Handmaid's Tale, chances are you're feeling either incredibly lucky that you don't live under the control of a government like Gilead, or terrified of what the near future might hold for your freedom. You might also be a little perplexed over the specifics of Gilead, their rise to power, and the plethora of rules and regulations that form the basis of their doctrine.
While #TheHandmaidsTale show has deviated slightly from Margaret Atwood's original novel, much of Gilead society is shown to be much the same. However, the show prefers to drop small hints here and there as to the new reality that women like Offred face, rather than spelling out exactly what's going on.
So what the hell is going on? Where did Gilead come from? What exactly do they believe? And why do they divide women into such specific roles? Let's delve into Gilead and find some answers to those burning questions:
Who Are Gilead?
You've probably already guessed by now, but Gilead are a radical Christian group. They hold conservative, right-wing beliefs guided by their own interpretation of the Bible. While they started out small, they now have control of almost the entire United States.
They believe in a patriarchal society, which involves the oppression of women by erasure of their rights. They also believe that their religion is the only religion, and disapprove of other belief systems— even other sects of Christianity. While they were once a small group meeting in secret, they eventually amassed numbers and enough power to take control of the entire country.
How Did Gilead Take Over America?
On The Handmaid's Tale, mankind's dwindling population is due to high rates of infertility caused by environmental pollution. Driven by their religious beliefs, Gilead believe the future of the human race and the restoration of the environment is an utmost priority, doing everything they can to curb pollution and global warming. They also view fertility as a "national resource", and something to be utilized to help boost the economy as well as the population.
With these priorities in mind, Gilead orchestrated three false flag attacks. Fred relayed the plans for the attacks to Serena Joy in Episode 6: "Congress first, then the White House, then the Court."
The attacks were blamed on Islamic terrorists, and with no government in power, Gilead stepped in and introduced martial law. However, the military presence wasn't a temporary measure. It became a permanent feature of the new America, as Gilead used violence to completely takeover. Following this, they took away women's rights, and shut down borders to stop anyone from escaping.
The Handmaid's Tale has hinted that the country is still plagued by civil war, with reports of fighting in Florida. As hard as the resistance tries, the American flag has only two out of 50 stars remaining, which most likely symbolize Alaska and Florida— the last standing states.
While Episode 6 revealed that the UN has a trade embargo on Gilead, little more is being done to help— you can read an explanation of the lack of foreign intervention here. What's worse, countries like Mexico are willing to adopt Gilead's horrific way of life in order to fix their own fertility issues.
What Are The Rules Of Gilead Society?
Gilead are super Old Testament, and not just when it comes to picking stories from the Bible that resonate with them. They enforce their many rules using extreme violence, from beatings to mutilation and even execution. They also string up the bodies of those they execute as a warning to others.
Considering how many commonplace things are forbidden in Gilead society, it's hardly surprising that they need to use such strict measures to enforce them. Homosexuality, adultery and practicing other religions are deemed sinful offenses. Women are no longer allowed to drive, walk alone, own property, receive an education or even read— ever notice that all the shop signs in town have symbols instead of words?
Men, on the other hand, are given more freedom. Soldiers are called "Angels"— those are the black-clad men all over the street. Then there's the "Eyes", who are basically the secret police. It's their duty to spy on citizens and sniff out traitors. "Guardians" make up the Commanders' personal staff– Nick, for example, is a Guardian. Unlike women, the men are able to receive educations.
Sex that can't lead to procreation is also a big no-no, as showrunner Bruce Miller told Variety. That's right, not even Serena Joy and her Commander husband are allowed to engage in marital pleasure. IVF is most likely viewed as just as immoral, hence the insistence on natural conception only. During a Handmaid's labor, the Wives engage in their own simulated childbirth as a symbol of them becoming a mother.
Gilead society also has a strict hierarchy, hence why Commanders and their wives all live in wealthy manors. And don't think being married can save you from Gilead's interference, either— unless that relationship was completely sin-free in the eyes of Gilead, families are torn apart to make way for more pious dynamics. This is a big part of the reason why June and Luke wanted to flee, as Luke had previously been married.
Marthas, Handmaids & Wives: What's The Difference?
The women of Gilead are split up into very distinct roles with specific colored clothing to distinguish them. Infertile, "criminal" women are sent to The Colonies— extremely polluted areas that they're tasked with cleaning up. They often die from exposure to the pollution.
Fertile women are forced to become red-robed Handmaids, impregnated by Commanders in order to repopulate mankind. They are made to adopt the names of their Commanders— for example, Offred ("of Fred"). They are trained by The Aunts who, unlike other women, are permitted to read and write in order to teach scripture to future Handmaids. They wear brown robes.
Commanders' wives, who wear teal, are kept safe from such a fate, and serve as homemakers, raising children and doing other domestic duties. They are assisted by Marthas, who are essentially housekeepers. They wear green.
So what happens to fertile children when they grow up? Well, that's not exactly clarified. However, you could assume that the continued issues with infertility would mean that young girls would be divided into the same categories as they get older in order to ensure a steady supply of Handmaids, continuing the vicious cycle and strengthening Gilead's reign.
Do you have any questions or thoughts about Gilead? Post them below!