‘The Handmaids Tale’ E09 ‘Heroic’: Distorted Religious Iconography & Ideology

Marc Barham
6 min readAug 4, 2019

Anyone who has spent any time looking at the paintings that dealt with the most sacred and significant moments in Christian religious belief will know how powerful the images are and the importance of setting, perspective and colour contained within them. Sometimes the meanings are clear and at other times they are shrouded in connections beyond the purely representative. There are whole books devoted to the study of the meanings behind the choice of particular religious icons and symbols.

The Renaissance was of course the very high point for religious imagery and the majority of iconic images are to be found here. There have been constant references to Christian symbolism throughout the Hulu adaptation of ‘The Handmaids Tale’ but it was in the ‘Heroic’ episode that the deliberate use of iconography and subject matter regarding the most important events in Christian belief and faith in the scenes depicted were used as a means to reveal the perversion and inversion of such doctrines in Gilead.

Of all the episodes perhaps this is the one that finally brought home the utter perversion of the Gilead theocracy and their adoption of these very sacred moments as official and unofficial methods of control and coercion to support domination by the patriarchy.

In the very first scene of ‘Heroic’ we see June on her knees in supplication. She has been in that position of enforced subjugation for months without respite and is now slipping in and out of consciousness. This is not by any means a normal way to pray or hold a Christian religious vigil. It is of course a punishment from the perverted male minds of Gilead.

To add to this we see June not by the bedside of Natalie but positioned deliberately, in front of three long rectangular windows reminiscent of a triptych painting composition. Triptych’s were an immensely popular form of religious composition as three separate paintings could be combined into one larger composition in a magisterial visual display for wealthy patrons wishing to buy their way into Heaven. The essence of the triptych was its religious visual significance. It functioned as an essential pictorial reminder of many important events in the Bible at a time when literacy was non-existent and these works the…

Marc Barham

Column @ timetravelnexus.com on iconic books, TV shows/films: Time Travel Peregrinations. Reviewed all episodes of ‘Dark’ @ site. https://linktr.ee/marcbarham64