While I was reading Chapter 27 of The Handmaid’s Tale, I found a part especially interesting. When Offred and Ofglen walk by the Wall, Offred thinks of her husband, Luke, and ponders if he is in one of the buildings beyond the Wall, maybe the Library. In this part, Atwood describes the Library as almost a church, as there are sculptures of angels. But what really interested me was that there were sculptures called Victory and another called Death. These sculptures are not only different in name, but even their location in the Library is distant, as “Victory is on one side of the inner doorway, leading them on, and Death is on the other” (Atwood 166). What’s even more interesting is that the statues on the Death’s side are still alive, and that either Death or Victory is a statue of a woman (Offred can’t remember).
These small details might correlate to the broader theme of a woman’s culture, and Offred’s criticism of her mother’s feminist ideals. As Offred’s mother fought for Victory and rights for women, the result is exaggerated version, Death, Offred’s current situation where women are so protected that it compromises their human rights. In this way, the symbolism of Victory could represent the founding principals of Offred’s mother’s movement, but the finishing product is actually the Death of the principals which symbolizes Offred and all other women’s conditions in Gilead. Thus, the statues on the Victory’s side are dead because not only is Offred’s mother’s generation dead, but their core ideas and purposes live on in Death only in a different form. Therefore, Offred cannot distinguish which statue, Victory or Death, is a woman and which represents the true principles of feminism.
However, another interpretation of this could be that since Death is actually victorious in this scenario (the men on the Death’s side are still symbolically alive, rather those of Victory’s side are dead), Gilead prefers and idealizes a woman whose rights are dead. Gilead makes Death a beautiful woman which is in line with their society, as it glorifies the oppression of women and blurs the line between Victory and Death.