Does a Villain have to be a Character in literature?

A villain in literature’s main goal is to break and destroy the individual heroine or hero, in Margaret Atwood’ s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, this villain is in fact the society of Gilead. The structured regime and also the way women are considered objects leaves the female protagonist Jeanette fighting for her freedom. This novel brings the idea that a villain does not have to be a single person but in fact a whole society is able to become the enemy.

Throughout the novel there are striking similarities between Gilead and Nazi Germany, the way in which women are ushered into the training to be a handmaid shows the lack of consideration by the society. Also how simply if a woman does not fit into a particular criteria can be thrown away just like Germany, these similarities bring to light how things like this can happen in an everyday society. Questioning what control a government has on the people living in the society and how censorship is a tool to control people’s views.

The most villainous act in this novel is the way women are treated, ‘the small tattoo on my ankle. Four digits and an eye’ being branded like cattle, Atwood brings to light how this protagonist is simply a number and that she is in the villainous world of Gilead unable to escape. Jeanette is a strong protagonist seen in this society to be only good while she is fertile, the trials and tribulations she goes through in order to gain her freedom are similar to those of a heroine, sacrificing her love for a man in order to survive as an individual.

Gilead’s regime is based on that of the New Right ideology, how a man is able to dominate women in his life with the justification that it is God’s law and the way nature intended it to be. Atwood brings religion into her novel as a background answer for the way in which this society is built, ‘Blessed be the fruit…May the Lord open’ twisting religious quotes Atwood expresses how sometimes villainous acts can sometimes get justified by religion.

Atwood’s novel is not the stereotypical good versus evil text; however Jeanette is a woman who overcomes evil by escaping a regime enforced by the Gilead society. This society with its corruption and twisted ways is similar to that of any typical villain, thinking that it has justification for doing what it does. Gilead may not be a character but it has the same characteristics of a villain and therefore a villain does not have to be a single person, it can be a corrupt society.

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