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The Technology of Colors in the Handmaid’s Tale

2009 March 22
by Marwa

One of the first things I noticed when I was reading the Handmaid’s Tale was how descriptive the narrator was of her surroundings from the very beginning. She never failed to mention the color of what she was describing. I was wondering why she went into such detail about every piece of what she was wearing initially, which of course was clear in a bit. Colors signified a lot more than one would imagine.

The main colors – red for handmaids, white for covering the handmaids’ faces, green for the Marthas, black for the Commanders and blue for the Commanders’ wives. Each somehow related to oppression, power and privilege. If we define technology as anything that is man-made, then this division/distinction is technology – the technology of colors. Each color had a very clear connotation that was created by the society. “Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us.” (page 8 ) Every time I read a line that mentioned the color of something, I always connected it to its underlying meaning. “I go out into the polished hallway, which has a runner down the center, dusty pink. Like a path through the forest, like a carpet for royalty, it shows me the way.” Dusty pink (close to red) carpets that we associate with special treatment for VIPs had a completely different meaning in the story, and the narrator’s uses a sarcastic tone to show that to us.

What did others think about color and its technology?

One Response
  1. March 22, 2009

    Just a few notes from the Psychology Majors’ discussion group talk. Her shift and underwear are also white, not just the wings leaning towards a pure, clean, healthy aspect. Nothing fancy or frilly to give them personality or any interest, just cold, clinical white. More imagery for the comparison between the bedroom and a doctor’s office I suppose. Also, the econowives wear all three of the female colors and seem to be lower in status than many of the Commanders’ Wives. Considering that fertility is a valued commodity and the econowives seem to be able to play all three roles (Marthas, Wives, and Handmaids) why don’t they appear more often in the story and why do they seem to be looked down upon by the other single castes?

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