Title: Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor Books
Page Count: 311
Publication Date: 1985
Category/Genre: Fiction, Dystopia
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.08)
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.0)
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now
I was introduced to this book from all the buzz about the series that was airing based on Atwood’s novel that was written over 30 years ago. I didn’t see the program on television, but decided to take a look at the book instead, assuming it would be the better option of the two and to satiate my curiosity.
When I first started to read, I felt detached and found the beginning chapters to be ‘boring’ and uneventful. What I didn’t realize then, was this was the most perfect way to begin such a cautionary tale where women have one-dimensional functions and little else, if anything, to offer.
Our introduction to the main character is frustrating, and as a narrator and companion, even more so. She is broken, passive and her only goal is to make it through another day. Offred (literally of Fred named after the Commander she serves) is a Handmaid. Roles and functions are assigned to women based on class, age, health and society’s needs. In total there are five; Wives, Marthas, Handmaids, Aunts, or Unwomen.
The Handmaids, are average women that have no free will or individualism; they are simply babymaking machines. All hope and joy have been stripped away and their role is one of only perpetual subjugation. An oppressive regime is forced upon them, and to resist or take action results in a brutal and agonizing death.
As the book progresses, Offred tells the story of her daily life, often slipping into flashbacks given in bits and pieces. Through these moments, we are given the material needed to reconstruct the events that lead to both the downfall of the society and Offred’s journey from a typical citizen in what most of the readers can identify with to a life of inner torment while trying to accept her fate instead of resisting it.
Here, the book turns from what I had initially thought as slow, into a well-paced journey, evolving into a deeply moving complex story that eventually left me emotionally drained. Having access to Offred’s thoughts and conflicts, things quickly became very absorbing and disturbing.
The ending is ambiguous, with too many questions left unanswered and yearning for more.
I wanted to scream, I cried, I cursed. Above all, I was terrified.
And then there was the epilogue. Having just suffered with Offred all of the horrors of Gilead, having her life discussed in front of an amused audience in such a glib manner I was outraged.
A true dystopian classic, written so many years ago it would seem dated but is terrifyingly accurate today. It was not only a tale of terror, but serves as a warning as well. What is most frightening is that it is easy to see this as a feasible alternate reality where if we suddenly followed the misogynistic views with fierce intensity women would have no power whatsoever.
This novel hangs with you, haunting your thoughts long after you finish. It is thought-provoking and terrifying. A brilliant read that should be shared with women and young adults as well as those defending women’s rights to maintain control over their own bodies and lives now and forever.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.