Starting in the late 1920s, Joseph Stalin launched a series of five-year plans intended to transform the Soviet Union from a peasant society into an industrial superpower. He ruled through terror and with a totalitarian grip in order to eliminate anyone who might oppose him. He expanded the powers of the secret police, encouraged citizens to spy on one another, and had millions of people killed or sent to the Gulag system of forced labor camps. During the second half of the 1930s, Stalin instituted the Great Purge, which was a series of campaigns designed to rid the Communist Party, the military, and other parts of Soviet society from those he considered a threat.
Additionally, Stalin built a cult of personality around himself in the Soviet Union. His government also controlled the Soviet media. He made sure Soviet history books were rewritten to give him a more prominent role in the revolution and give other aspects of his life a more positive spin. Cities were renamed in his honor, and he was the subject of flattering artwork, literature, and music; and his name became part of the Soviet national anthem. Despite this, many who remember life before Stalin’s regime saw him as a paranoid megalomaniac and cold-blooded murderer.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood introduces Gilead as a totalitarian state similar to Stalinist Russia, a country which was dominated by fear of the regime, fear of rebelling against the regime, and fear that neighbors, friends, or family members might be spies for the regime. In Gilead, all power is in the hands of the male elite who call themselves Commanders. They enforce their rule through paramilitary groups known as Guardians of the Faith, and through spies and secret police known as Eyes. The Eyes are everywhere, and are equated by the theocratic Gilead regime with the Eye of God. "Under His Eye," for example, is a stock phrase used by the Handmaids to remind them that God is always watching what they say and do. There is no difference, in the ideology of Gilead, between the needs of the state and the will of God.
Think about the Red Center, which Offred describes as a palimpsest. What is similar to the Soviet Union? What is different? Compare Stalin’s rewriting of history to that of Gilead. What is similar? What is different?