Freedom to and freedom from

Personal freedom

The idea of personal freedom is a concept which has been debated for many centuries. In chapter 5 of The Handmaid's Tale Aunt Lydia tells the Handmaids that there are two kinds of freedom:

  • Freedom for the individual to do what he or she wants, which may seem desirable but can lead to anarchy
  • Freedom from, where rules and restrictions protect individuals from the results of amoral or anarchic behaviour.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, evidence of both attitudes have been seen in, for example:

  • The severe restriction of individual liberty and freedom of speech in such repressive régimes as the USSR
  • The insistence by anarchists on their right to attack the G20 financial meetings.

A Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up by the United Nations in 1948, which stresses, among many other ‘rights', that:

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.'

Not all countries or indeed individuals feel that such freedoms are always conducive to the public good; expressing some opinions may be harmful to other people. Atwood, whilst making clear to her readers the appalling nature of Gilead's theocracy, yet makes us question the extent to which unlimited individual choice is beneficial.

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