The Republic of Gilead, sometimes colloquially referred to simply as Gilead, is the authoritarian, theocratic regime that takes over the United States of America in The Handmaid's Tale. The regime can be seen as the overall main antagonist of the novel and the television adaptation.
See also: The Takeover
The origin of the Republic of Gilead is not entirely clear, mostly because all information on it comes from the accounts of Offred, who has limited knowledge or can be seen as an unreliable narrator. It would seem that Gilead originally began as various religious extremist groups that believed that America needed to be 'saved' from sin and corruption. According to the conference transcript at the end of the novel, these coalesced into a single conspiracy which referred to itself as "the Sons of Jacob" led by its leader Samantha Ter.
Eventually, the Sons of Jacob devised and executed an elaborate coup d'etat against the United States government. Through a series of coordinated attacks, they assassinated the U.S. President and members of Congress (novel), as well as staff from the White House and all nine Justices of the Supreme Court (TV Series). Blaming the attacks on "Islamic fanatics", "the army declared a state of emergency". In quick succession, the United States Constitution was suspended, online bank accounts were frozen, and all employed women were fired from their jobs. Offred recalls that the entire coup happened so fast that the widespread emotion among the general population was bewilderment as the Sons of Jacob's own troops systematically cleared women out of places of employment. There were a few protest marches at first, but the new Sons of Jacob government immediately responded with blunt, naked aggression; it deployed its own soldiers - the Guardians of the Faithful - to mercilessly slaughter the unarmed protesters rather than disperse them. After the first protests were quashed with such sheer brutality, the population was too terrified to mount any further reaction. However, the Sons' actions against unarmed protesters would fan the flames of armed resistance with various rebel groups and citizen militia units across the country started to take up arms against the Sons of Jacob regime.
The new government began by quickly hunting down anyone they perceived as being "unGodly" or a threat. This included political activists, doctors, members of other religious groups and gender minorities, and intellectuals. The Republic of Gilead was declared as the successor state to the United States of America. However, at least some American civilian and military officials survived the coup and fled to Alaska, where they declared the new US capital in Anchorage, resulting in a Second American Civil War.
In the TV series, a scene from the Holly episode inside the Mackenzie household shows three maps along the wall. When searching for Mr. Mackenzie's car keys, maps can be found behind Offred on the wall which show the opening, middle and later stages of the civil war between the US and Gilead. The end result being American forces largely being pushed off the Lower 48 states.
A map revealed during an event for the season 2 finale revealed the full extent of the Republic of Gilead. It has largely taken control of most of what was the United States with the eastern, northeastern, and mid-western parts of the country being in Gilead hands (as evident with these particular areas being in a shade of blue on the map), but anti-Gilead/pro-US forces have retained control of the entire West Coast and the Gulf Coast including most of Texas and all of Florida. Rebel forces also control a large tract of territory along the Canadian border and northern Michigan along with an enclave in New England centering around Vermont, and parts of New Hampshire, Maine and New York state.
Offred mentions in her inner monologue in Episode 2 that "Guardians of the Faithful and American soldiers still fight with tanks in the remains of Chicago", confirming that the Second American Civil War is still ongoing.
In addition to this, the official United States governmment operating out of Anchorage has total control over Alaska and Hawaii. Their level of influence over the rebel-held areas of the former US, such as California and Texas, remains to be seen.
Areas euphemistically termed "the Colonies" exist, which have been ecologically contaminated - apparently due to a mixture of industrial pollution, chemical/radiological accidents, and chemical/possibly-nuclear warfare. The Colonies are located in what was once the American mid-west and south-west. Gilead condemned criminals to slave-labor on cleanup projects in the Colonies, which is essentially a death sentence.
Not much is known about the foreign relations of Gilead, due to extreme media censorship. It can be assumed that the vast majority of the world sees the Republic of Gilead as an illegitimate regime and still sees the United States government-in-exile as the true legitimate government of America (the TV series mention a UN embargo against Gilead). The United Kingdom has placed sanctions on Gilead and raised the cap on American refugees relocating from Canada, according to "Radio Free America". In Season 2's episode Smart Power, Canada cuts off economic relations with Gilead following the publishing of the letters within Rachel's Package.
Refugees from Gilead attempt escape to Canada or Europe, which are apparently still free societies with minimal influence from Gilead. Several "Save the Women" campaigns exist in England for former Handmaids who have managed to flee.
Society and politics Edit
Little is known of how Gilead's government functions; as its official name contains the term "Republic," it can be assumed that the country has a Senate or similar governing body. In the TV series, these governing bodies are referred as the "Committee" , or (on a local level) "Council" as a board of local Commanders, with Commander Pryce as its current chairman. There's strong evidence the Republic of Gilead abolished America's federal system of government and states, and has become a unitary republic with a centralized government. One piece of evidence to this can be found in Episode 6 of the 2017 TV series with the Mexican ambassador's aide telling June/Offred that her husband Luke is still alive in Canada by mentioning his details and place of birth, in which the aide said "former New York state".
In the early years of Gilead, the nation's new leaders (in the form of the Sons of Jacob) were from amongst the regime's earliest supporters. When the Sons of Jacob established the Republic of Gilead, the new regime suspended and eliminated the United States Constitution and all the rights and liberties the citizens of the United States had and enjoyed e.g. freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom of assembly, freedom of choice, the right to a fair trial in a court of law, protection from cruel and unusual punishments etc.
Gilead has a strict class system and hierarchy, with everyone being assigned to a particular class and expected to fulfill certain roles. The high-ranking men who govern Gilead are known as Commanders of the Faithful. The Eyes serve as Gilead's police force and spies. Guardians serve as bodyguards, security officers and personal drivers to Commanders, while Angels serve as soldiers and can become high-ranking if they serve their country well. In regard to the majority of the male population in Gilead, they are now classified as Econopeople and it appears they are treated no differently from slave laborers with the majority of men in Gilead wearing clothes in the same dull green/grey color scheme as the Marthas.
Gilead is a patriarchal society, with only men having access to education and holding political positions. Women are regarded as second-class citizens as they cannot hold property or be employed, and must submit to the authority of men. Women, except for Aunts, are forbidden to read or write. The lowest class of women are probably Econowives, who are wed to poor or low-ranking men and must fulfill all functions of a Gileadean woman. Wives are probably the highest-ranking women, though they still remain oppressed. Unwomen and similar criminals or "infidels" are not considered citizens at all. Wives and Aunts are of higher social classes, having a considerable amount of influence, power and control over the people under them to the point that some of the high-ranking men of Gilead are afraid of them. One example of the Wives' power and influence with the Commanders is the amount of influence Naomi Putnam had over Commander Pryce in having her husband's left hand amputated for his transgressions with Janine. Another example of the Aunts' power and influence can be seen when Aunt Lydia beat and tortured Offred with a cattle prod during an interrogation by The Eyes of her interactions with Ofglen. During the interrogation, the Eye carrying out the interrogation didn't intervene in stopping Aunt Lydia from assaulting Offred.
Gilead is a strict, totalitarian regime that bases its laws and customs around a very literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian Bible, in particular the Old Testament. Hence, much of their teachings and legislation are influenced by their own rigid interpretation of scripture.
The law is absolute in Gilead. Any rule-breaking or subversion must be reported and is harshly punished. Criminals are often executed and their bodies displayed as a warning; the Eyes also use torture and other brutal interrogation tactics on their prisoners.
All citizens must follow Gilead's own official version of Christianity. No other religion or belief system is tolerated; as Gilead rose to power, those of other faiths and of other Christian denominations were forced to convert on pain of imprisonment or death. Jewish people were given the choice of converting, or leaving for Israel. It is implied in the novel that those who chose to leave were actually killed in secret.
Executions are referred to as "Salvagings" and are held in public. Women are executed by hanging, with Handmaids being given the rope to hang the condemned together, thus sharing in the "responsibility" of punishing the wicked. Those that are spared execution can be sent to the toxic Colonies, where life is short and brutal. The Colonies are often polluted by rubbish and radioactive waste, and those sent there are tasked with cleaning up, eventually falling ill and dying slowly and painfully. Some regard being sent to the Colonies as a fate worse than death. Other punishments meted out to those who break Gilead's laws include the surgical removal/amputation of body parts e.g. fingers, hands and eyes.
The media and the news are heavily censored, and often include propaganda to promote the ideals and values of Gilead, whilst demonizing their enemies. As a result, it is difficult to obtain reliable information. To discourage women from reading, public writings or names of any kind, including shop signs, are removed. Information is instead relayed by signs with pictures or pictograms. Any secular artwork, films, music, television programs, books and any published materials are banned outright and anybody in possession of such items are punished severely, e.g. sentenced to death.
Gilead's names for shops, streets and certain concepts or practices are often derived from scripture. The name Gilead itself is taken from the Bible, referring to several different locations and individuals and generally translated as "hill of testimony."
Known classes Edit
Values and beliefs Edit
It is most likely that the leaders of Gilead are an extremist Christian cult. They believe that their strict interpretation of the Bible is the absolute truth, and that in order for people to achieve salvation and live a pure, godly life, they must follow these. To do otherwise is seen as living in sin, and the guilty must either repent, or be eradicated to prevent them from spreading their evil influence to others.
Women are believed to be the "lesser" sex, who should be subject to men. Women's main purpose in this society is bearing and raising children, which is given particular emphasis due to the possible rampant infertility present in North America at the time. Women are not allowed to participate in the government, be educated, hold property or have a career. By law, only women can be considered infertile, not men, thus placing the blame for the fertility crisis solely on women. Because of these beliefs, men cannot "factually" be infertile, even if this is the case; to suggest otherwise is heresy.
Modesty and purity in all areas of life are greatly emphasised, particularly for women, who are believed to be more prone to weakness of character and sin. Abortion and contraception are considered some of the greatest sins. Doctors who performed abortions before Gilead's establishment are executed. Adultery or fraternization between men and women is viewed as "fornication" and is punishable by death for all involved. Homosexuality, referred to as "Gender Treachery," is considered a sin and a crime punishable by death.
The "Sons of Jacob" that founded Gilead were essentially a junta of heterosexual men (and their wives) and women who wanted to seize power for themselves in a totalitarian regime, using warped trappings of Christianity as propaganda and basis for a system of government. Some of their most entrenched enemies, however, are other mainstream Christian denominations (e.g. Roman Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodoxy etc) whom the Sons of Jacob/Republic of Gilead view as evil and "traitors". Catholics abhor them for forcibly conscripting nuns to be sexually enslaved as Handmaids, and the novel makes sporadic mention that Gilead's military is fighting a protracted insurgency by Baptist groups across the American South. In her new author's foreword to the 2017 editions of the novel, Margaret Atwood compared this to how the Bolsheviks eradicated the more moderate Mensheviks during the Russian Revolution.
Gilead's leaders are largely just using women and minority groups as scapegoats because they can be easily discriminated against. They are also engaged in mass deportation of Jews from America to Israel, cramming them into cargo ships – though in practice, many transport ships simply cut corners by dumping their holds once they reach the open sea, leaving them to drown by the hundreds. In the novel, Gilead also discriminates against African-Americans, whom they refer to in their religious rhetoric as the "Children of Ham" (although this prejudice is absent in the television series).
Whilst some of Gilead's leaders and founders are implied to truly believe in the regime, it is hinted that many of them are hypocrites who use Gilead as a means to gain power for themselves. They do not care for its values and ideals at all, and regularly flout its rules whilst punishing others who do so.
The early Gilead periodEdit
The historical source known as The Handmaid's Tale is described as coming from the "Early Gilead Period."
It appears that Gilead existed on a scale of decades and not centuries. Several characters who were alive during the timeframe of The Handmaid's Tale are described as dying during purges which occurred in the "Middle Gilead Period." This implies that there was also a "Late Gilead Period." Gilead eventually fell from power, and is now studied in universities and schools in North America, where it is heavily implied that a new, secular, democratic government has been restored to power in the United States, with the harsh laws and regulations imposed by Gilead being overturned.
As shown in the map in the season two finale, it can be implied that the zones highlighted in blue are territories controlled exclusively by the Republic of Gilead. This falls in line with the limited details in the novel and the fact that most of the action in the novel took place on the East Coast and because Washington, D.C. was the first to "fall" given the attacks on Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.
The states that make up the Republic of Gilead in complete occupation are: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
The zones highlighted in yellow could mean that this entire region in the West and Midwest have been destroyed as a result of the civil war following the takeover. This is due to the fact that there are four radioactive symbols, in which the Colonies are located--the locations of the colonies are Arizona, California, and Missouri. A map prop from the show's production shows an additional two Colonies located in California in what was the San Francisco region and the Greater Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego regions. Reader theories placed the Colonies in Florida and/or Michigan.
Zones in the dark red, located in both the West, Midwest, and South, could be sites of active war between rebels of the former United States of America and Guardians of the Faithful--the army of the Republic of Gilead. It can be assumed that the zones highlighted in a lighter shade of red are areas where the war may be light and Gilead is nearing a successful takeover (or the territory is still being contested by American military forces/rebels/citizen militias and Gilead forces via guerrilla warfare/insurgency). In addition to the mentioned rebel areas, there is a large American rebel stronghold located in New England with this stronghold centered in Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, Maine, and New York state.
The number of states in which the former United States of America was divided into has also been reduced in favor of larger states and wider boundaries.
As Margaret Atwood has explained in various interviews, the "Sons of Jacob" and the "Republic of Gilead" they created, cynically don't actually believe in their own religious propaganda – almost every member of Gilead in a position of power, such as the Commanders, is at various points breaking their own rules, or expressing that they are simply using this as rhetoric. Atwood didn't conceive of Gilead as a Christian totalitarian regime, but a totalitarian fascist regime rising in the United States which happens to use some empty trappings of religion to justify itself.
Atwood looked at the rise of various totalitarian fascist regimes throughout history and concluded that it always rises around some central trappings of national identity, and that in her estimation, the national character of the United States has always been shaped by religious movements. Similarly, Nazi Germany used trappings of past rhetoric about prior Germanic empires such as Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire and the pre-World War I German Empire or latched onto pre-existing European discrimination policies against disempowered groups (Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, left-wing/far-left Social Democrats and Communists, anti-Nazi Germans etc.) – but fundamentally, this was just a convenient scapegoat for what was at heart a hyper-nationalist junta that wanted to seize power for itself. Atwood tried to imagine what a totalitarian regime would look like if it took over the United States, and as the saying goes, "When fascism comes to America, it will come carrying a cross and draped in the Stars and Stripes."
Atwood also said that Gilead was partially inspired by the Religious Right's reaction in the 1980s to the Women's Rights movements of the 1970s, during the Reagan years. Particularly, Atwood was reacting to large-scale but baseless propaganda being circulated by hard right-wing religious groups that abortion and contraception access was leading to a "white genocide," and that the birthrate among White Americans was sharply declining - despite the fact that there was no evidence to support this, and that census data proved it to be blatantly incorrect.
Atwood's vision of Gilead also draws inspiration from the "utopian idealism" present from 20th-century communist regimes such as Pol Pot's Kampuchea (aka Cambodia) and Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania as well as earlier New England Puritanism.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Episode 8, "Jezebels"
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Handmaid's Tale (Novel), Epilogue, "Historical Notes on The Handmaid's Tale"
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 The Handmaid's Tale (Novel), chapter 28
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Episode 6, "A Woman's Place"
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- ↑ Episode 10, "Night"
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