The Handmaid's Taleby Margaret Atwood
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It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now...everything has changed.
The New York Times
"The Handmaid's Tale is in the honorable tradition of Brave New World and other warnings of dystopia. It's imaginative even audacious, and conveys a chilling sense of fear and menace."
—The Globe and Mail
"The Handmaid's Tale brings out the very best in Atwood — moral vision, biting humor, and a poet's imagination."
Read an Excerpt
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat, shot through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures, later in miniskirts, then pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair. Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light.
There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectation, of something without a shape or name. I remember that yearning, for something that was always about to happen and was never the same as the hands that were on us there and then, in the small of the back, or out back, in the parking lot, or in the television room with the sound turned down and only the pictures flickering over lifting flesh.
We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability? It was in the air; and it was still in the air, an afterthought, as we tried to sleep, in the army cots that had been set up in rows, with spaces between so we could not talk. We had flannelette sheets, like children's, and army-issue blankets, old ones that still said U.S. We folded our clothes neatly and laid them on the stools at the ends of the beds. The lights were turned down but not out. Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts.
No guns though, even they could not be trusted with guns. Guns were for the guards, specially picked from the Angels. The guards weren't allowed inside the building except when called, and we weren't allowed out, except for our walks, twice daily, two by two around the football field, which was enclosed now by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The Angels stood outside it with their backs to us. They were objects of fear to us, but of something else as well. If only they would look. If only we could talk to them. Something could be exchanged, we thought, some deal made, some tradeoff, we still had our bodies. That was our fantasy.
We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren't looking, and touch each other's hands across space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other's mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed:
Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.
A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier, once. They've removed anything you could tie a rope to.
A window, two white curtains. Under the window, a window seat with a little cushion. When the window is partly open--it only opens partly--the air can come in and make the curtains move. I can sit in the chair, or on the window seat, hands folded, and watch this. Sunlight comes in through the window too, and falls on the floor, which is made of wood, in narrow strips, highly polished. I can smell the polish. There's a rug on the floor, oval, of braided rags. This is the kind of touch they like: folk art, archaic, made by women, in their spare time, from things that have no further use. A return to traditional values. Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?
On the wall above the chair, a picture, framed but with no glass: a print of flowers, blue irises, watercolor. Flowers are still allowed. Does each of us have the same print, the same chair, the same white curtains, I wonder? Government issue?
Think of it as being in the army, said Aunt Lydia.
A bed. Single, mattress medium-hard, covered with a flocked white spread. Nothing takes place in the bed but sleep; or no sleep. I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed. There's a lot that doesn't bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last. I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.
So. Apart from these details, this could be a college guest room, for the less distinguished visitors; or a room in a rooming house, of former times, for ladies in reduced circumstances. That is what we are now. The circumstances have been reduced; for those of us who still have circumstances.
But a chair, sunlight, flowers: these are not to be dismissed. I am alive, I live, I breathe, I put my hand out, unfolded, into the sunlight. Where I am is not a prison but a privilege, as Aunt Lydia said, who was in love with either/or.
The bell that measures time is ringing. Time here is measured by bells, as once in nunneries. As in a nunnery too, there are few mirrors.
I get up out of the chair, advance my feet into the sunlight, in their red shoes, flat-heeled to save the spine and not for dancing. The red gloves are lying on the bed. I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by finger. Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us. The skirt is ankle-length, full, gathered to a flat yoke that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are full. The white wings too are prescribed issue; they are to keep us from seeing, but also from being seen. I never looked good in red, it's not my color. I pick up the shopping basket, put it over my arm.
The door of the room--not my room, I refuse to say my--is not locked. In fact it doesn't shut properly. I go out into the polished hallway, which has a runner down the center, dusty pink. Like a path through the forest, like a carpet for royalty, it shows me the way.
The carpet bends and goes down the front staircase and I go with it, one hand on the banister, once a tree, turned in another century, rubbed to a warm gloss. Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a large rich family. There's a grandfather clock in the hallway, which doles out time, and then the door to the motherly front sitting room, with its flesh tones and hints. A sitting room in which I never sit, but stand or kneel only. At the end of the hallway, above the front door, is a fanlight of colored glass: flowers, red and blue.
There remains a mirror, on the hall wall. If I turn my head so that the white wings framing my face direct my vision towards it, I can see it as I go down the stairs, round, convex, a pier glass, like the eye of a fish, and myself in it like a distorted shadow, a parody of something, some fairy-tale figure in a red cloak, descending towards a moment of carelessness that is the same as danger. A Sister, dipped in blood.
At the bottom of the stairs there's a hat-and-umbrella stand, the bentwood kind, long rounded rungs of wood curving gently up into hooks shaped like the opening fronds of a fern. There are several umbrellas in it: black, for the Commander, blue, for the Commander's Wife, and the one assigned to me, which is red. I leave the red umbrella where it is, because I know from the window that the day is sunny. I wonder whether or not the Commander's Wife is in the sitting room. She doesn't always sit. Sometimes I can hear her pacing back and forth, a heavy step and then a light one, and the soft tap of her cane on the dusty-rose carpet.
I walk along the hallway, past the sitting room door and the door that leads into the dining room, and open the door at the end of the hall and go through into the kitchen. Here the smell is no longer of furniture polish. Rita is in here, standing at the kitchen table, which has a top of chipped white enamel. She's in her usual Martha's dress, which is dull green, like a surgeon's gown of the time before. The dress is much like mine in shape, long and concealing, but with a bib apron over it and without the white wings and the veil. She puts on the veil to go outside, but nobody much cares who sees the face of a Martha. Her sleeves are rolled to the elbow, showing her brown arms. She's making bread, throwing the loaves for the final brief kneading and then the shaping.
Rita sees me and nods, whether in greeting or in simple acknowledgment of my presence it's hard to say, and wipes her floury hands on her apron and rummages in the kitchen drawer for the token book. Frowning, she tears out three tokens and hands them to me. Her face might be kindly if she would smile. But the frown isn't personal: it's the red dress she disapproves of, and what it stands for. She thinks I may be catching, like a disease or any form of bad luck.
Sometimes I listen outside closed doors, a thing I never would have done in the time before. I don't listen long, because I don't want to be caught doing it. Once, though, I heard Rita say to Cora that she wouldn't debase herself like that.
Nobody asking you, Cora said. Anyways, what could you do, supposing?
Go to the Colonies, Rita said. They have the choice.
With the Unwomen, and starve to death and Lord knows what all? said Cora. Catch you.
They were shelling peas; even through the almost-closed door I could hear the light clink of the hard peas falling into the metal bowl. I heard Rita, a grunt or a sigh, of protest or agreement.
Anyways, they're doing it for us all, said Cora, or so they say. If I hadn't of got my tubes tied, it could of been me, say I was ten years younger. It's not that bad. It's not what you'd call hard work.
Better her than me, Rita said, and I opened the door. Their faces were the way women's faces are when they've been talking about you behind your back and they think you've heard: embarrassed, but also a little defiant, as if it were their right. That day, Cora was more pleasant to me than usual, Rita more surly.
Today, despite Rita's closed face and pressed lips, I would like to stay here, in the kitchen. Cora might come in, from somewhere else in the house, carrying her bottle of lemon oil and her duster, and Rita would make coffee--in the houses of the Commanders there is still real coffee--and we would sit at Rita's kitchen table, which is not Rita's any more than my table is mine, and we would talk, about aches and pains, illnesses, our feet, our backs, all the different kinds of mischief that our bodies, like unruly children, can get into. We would nod our heads as punctuation to each other's voices, signaling that yes, we know all about it. We would exchange remedies and try to outdo each other in the recital of our physical miseries; gently we would complain, our voices soft and minor key and mournful as pigeons in the eaves troughs. I know what you mean, we'd say. Or, a quaint expression you sometimes hear, still, from older people: I hear where you're coming from, as if the voice itself were a traveler, arriving from a distant place. Which it would be, which it is.
How I used to despise such talk. Now I long for it. At least it was talk. An exchange, of sorts.
Or we would gossip. The Marthas know things, they talk among themselves, passing the unofficial news from house to house. Like me, they listen at doors, no doubt, and see things even with their eyes averted. I've heard them at it sometimes, caught whiffs of their private conversations. Stillborn, it was. Or, Stabbed her with a knitting needle, right in the belly. Jealousy, it must have been, eating her up. Or, tantalizingly, It was toilet cleaner she used. Worked like a charm, though you'd think he'd of tasted it. Must've been that drunk; but they found her out all right.
Or I would help Rita make the bread, sinking my hands into that soft resistant warmth which is so much like flesh. I hunger to touch something, other than cloth or wood. I hunger to commit the act of touch.
But even if I were to ask, even if I were to violate decorum to that extent, Rita would not allow it. She would be too afraid. The Marthas are not supposed to fraternize with us.
Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin. He liked knowing about such details. The derivations of words, curious usages. I used to tease him about being pedantic.
I take the tokens from Rita's outstretched hand. They have pictures on them, of the things they can be exchanged for: twelve eggs, a piece of cheese, a brown thing that's supposed to be a steak. I place them in the zippered pocket in my sleeve, where I keep my pass.
"Tell them fresh, for the eggs," she says. "Not like last time. And a chicken, tell them, not a hen. Tell them who it's for and then they won't mess around."
"All right," I say. I don't smile. Why tempt her to friendship?
I go out by the back door, into the garden, which is large and tidy: a lawn in the middle, a willow, weeping catkins; around the edges, the flower borders, in which the daffodils are now fading and the tulips are opening their cups, spilling out color. The tulips are red, a darker crimson towards the stem, as if they have been cut and are beginning to heal there.
This garden is the domain of the Commander's Wife. Looking out through my shatterproof window I've often seen her in it, her knees on a cushion, a light blue veil thrown over her wide gardening hat, a basket at her side with shears in it and pieces of string for tying the flowers into place. A Guardian detailed to the Commander does the heavy digging; the Commander's Wife directs, pointing with her stick. Many of the Wives have such gardens, it's something for them to order and maintain and care for.
I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way. Sometimes the Commander's Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance it looks like peace.
She isn't here now, and I start to wonder where she is: I don't like to come upon the Commander's Wife unexpectedly. Perhaps she's sewing, in the sitting room, with her left foot on the footstool, because of her arthritis. Or knitting scarves, for the Angels at the front lines. I can hardly believe the Angels have a need for such scarves; anyway, the ones made by the Commander's Wife are too elaborate. She doesn't bother with the cross-and-star pattern used by many of the other Wives, it's not a challenge. Fir trees march across the ends of her scarves, or eagles, or stiff humanoid figures, boy and girl, boy and girl. They aren't scarves for grown men but for children.
What People are Saying About This
–New York Times
“Atwood has peered behind the curtain into some of the darkest, most secret, yet oddly erotic corners of the mind, and the result is a fascinating, wonderfully written, and disturbing cautionary tale.”
“A novel that will both chill and caution readers and which may challenge everyday assumptions.…It is an imaginative accomplishment of a high order. . . . ”
–London Free Press
“Moving, vivid and terrifying. I only hope it is not prophetic.”
–Conor Cruise O’Brien
“A novel that brilliantly illuminates some of the darker interconnections of politics and sex.…Satisfying, disturbing and compelling.”
“The most poetically satisfying and intense of all Atwood’s novels.”
“It deserves an honored place on the small shelf of cautionary tales that have entered modern folklore – a place next to, and by no means inferior to, Brave New World and 1984.”
“Deserves the highest praise.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood has written the most chilling cautionary novel of the century.”
“Imaginative, even audacious, and conveys a chilling sense of fear and menace.”
–Globe and Mail
“Margaret Atwood’s novels tickle our deepest sexual and psychological fears. The Handmaid’s Tale is a sly and beautifully crafted story about the fate of an ordinary woman caught off guard by extraordinary events. . . . A compelling fable of our time.”
“This visionary novel, in which God and Government are joined, and America is run as a Puritanical Theocracy, can be read as a companion volume to Orwell’s 1984 –its verso, in fact. It gives you the same degree of chill, even as it suggests the varieties of tyrannical experience; it evokes the same kind of horror even as its mordant wit makes you smile.”
–E. L. Doctorow
Meet the Author
Nominated for the first ever Man Booker International Prize representing the best writers in contemporary fiction, Margaret Atwood is the author of more than 35 internationally acclaimed works of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her numerous awards include the Governor General’s Award for The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Giller Prize and Italian Premio Mondello for Alias Grace. The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, and Oryx and Crake were all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, which she won with The Blind Assassin. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and has been awarded the Norwegian Order of Literary Merit and the French Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres among many others; she is a Foreign Honorary Member for Literature of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in Toronto.
- Toronto, Ontario
- Date of Birth:
- November 18, 1939
- Place of Birth:
- Ottawa, Ontario
- B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967
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Everyone should read this book. Period. Take it as a warning, of what CAN happen in the U.S., if religious extremism is allowed to infiltrate our society, and if Church and State don't stay separate. And keep in mind that Atwood took the social/political circumstances in the book from real situations that have happened or are happening somewhere in the world. The writing pulls the reader in, and even though the subject is terribly depressing, you just can't quit reading it. Now that I've finished it, I can't quit thinking about it. I want to read about it, and talk about it, and read more by the author. But I won't read it again for a long time, because it's plausibility is just too disturbing. Any author who can instill such strong emotions in her/his readers is a very talented writer.
To categorize The Handmaid's Tale as another feminist piece of literature would be inaccurate, as it is really more. Like other novels that present visions of the world in the future, The Handmaid's tale imagines a dystopia that is all at once surreal and convincing, just as Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World are. Though Offred's condition may appear unrealistic or even absurd at a glance, as the novel unfolds, Atwood reveals social circumstances shockingly real and in fact similar to our own.
I picked up this book over a decade ago on a break in between classes while I was at school and bored. I remember vividly reading the entire book in a day and re-reading the book so often that when I purchased my nook last December, "The Handmaid's Tale" was the first book I bought. Atwood's glance at a sexist and distopian society is terrifying and the book makes a strong statement about what happens when the state has too much control. The Red Dresses and Blue Dresses haunt me til this day, and yet I read the book over and over again when I cannot find anything else to tempt me.
This story is extraordinary.chilling, but extraordinary. As with all of her books, Atwood as a canny ability to insert the very basics of human nature into the most outrageous and horrifying of environments, which is essentially what makes this book believable. I challenge any reader to keep the chills at bay when they come to the part of the story where it is explained how the United States is overtaken by a group of religious fanatics and the world as we know it is mutated to a dystopian hell.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is a novel of dystopia set in the near future. In the tale, women are now commodities. They are not allowed to read or gain knowledge in any way. They are not allowed to make conversation with each other. Sex is for reproduction only, not pleasure. They have a job to do and if you happen to be a Handmaid, like the protagonist in this novel, then your job is to get pregnant by the Commander under whose roof you live. Our protagonist lives under a man named Fred so her name is Offred (Of Fred). Throughout this tale she remembers a time when she had her own name, her own husband to make love to, her own daughter to nurture, her own job and money....but those days are gone. She describes in pieces how the government in America changed to the totalitarian Republic of Gilead and how many people, her husband and daughter included, tried to escape it. This novel is chilling and gloomy. Offred describes her life as a handmaid in a dispirited and dejected way. The book is compelling though and thought provoking.
I had never heard of the book, and chose it simply because it had good reviews. I was lost in the beginning - it took me a while to realize it takes place in the future but when I did I found it startling. The author has a unique style that keeps the reader enthralled. It was a refreshing change from much of the fiction I have been reading.
Presenting a truly frightening view of the future, Margaret Atwood's novel describes a totalitarian regime oddly reminiscent of Hitler's reign. She creates a world in which no one dared speak against the unreasonable demands of an evil government. Subjugating women to secondary roles in society, Atwood presents herself as an unorthodox feminist writer, whose intent is unclear. While the novel warns against a possible fate for humanity, Atwood leaves the conclusion ambiguous, and readers may interpret it as one of two extremes: salvation or destruction. Paralleling people to lifeless objects, Atwood uses frightening images to define the characters by the roles they play in society. Through the dehumanization of faceless victims, she portrays a society in which any dissent is a sure-fire ticket to a humiliating death. Equating Salvaging victims to scarecrows, she implies that those killed for misdeeds were punished publically as deterrence for potential rebels. Emphasizing the anonymity of victims, this comparison diminishes the executed criminals to mere tools used at the discretion of the government. Thus, Atwood crafts a world modeled after her fears and warns the world of potential dangers. While I personally was extremely disturbed by the content of this book, I respect it as an honest work and a call for reform. Despite its unwelcomed implications, The Handmaid's Tale brought to light issues facing today's society that are commonly overlooked. The idea that time does not equate to progress is manifested in this novel, as Atwood suggests a future similar to the most horrific pasts. As Gilead oppresses its citizens to fear defiance, truth gradually fades to oblivion, as no one dares speak against the government. Those awaiting death sit "like graduating students who are about to be given prizes" and do not protest at all. Such an illustration arouses concern for the future of our society, as we wonder if humanity is headed for the described fate.
Can any religion, when taken to its logical conclusion, be anything other than a fundamentalist trap of self delusion? Does censorship help anyone? Freedom to or freedom from ... This is a great book. Buy it and read on ... you won't regret the decision.
THE HANDMAID'S TALE is not a new book, having been published in 1985. I finally read this very intense and disturbing book by Margaret Atwood and I'm glad I waited. Ms. Atwood's tale is almost a blueprint of how severe changes to our very existence could actually occur. It's a good lesson for us to all protect the freedoms we do have and reminds us to not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon of anything that lessens any one else's personal freedom. Just as women all lost their jobs and access to any of their finances and basically became chattel of the men in society in THE HANDMAID'S TALE whether they were wives, handmaids or Marthas you could just imagine how quickly it could happen. THE HANDMAID'S TALE is a powerful and frightening book and if you haven't read it, you should. Lynn Kimmerle
I don't know if I've ever been more powerfully affected by a novel than I was by this one. Offred (meeting Ofglen, and it finally dawning on me how the Handmaids are named, was a stunning moment) is so beautifully and painfully rendered; she is a fully human character. Atwood gets inside her head, and Offred becomes real, in a way few characters ever do. From the beginning we are dropped into a horrifying near-future in which all women are subjugated to one degree or another, and Handmaids are on the bottom rung. As the story unfolds and the past is slowly revealed we become more and more horrified, because Atwood shows us how this all came about, and it doesn't seem all that far-fetched. One of the more profound aspects of this book (for me at least) is that Atwood doesn't only focus on the plight of the Handmaids, who have it the worst, but also shows how others have been affected by these societal changes. The Wives, who occupy the highest social rung amongst women, at first seem to be part of the problem; they have freedoms other women can only dream of, and exercise power over women of lesser social standing. But life's not good for them either; they're still not allowed to read, work, own property, or make decisions about the direction of their lives. They are the property of their husbands. And even most men don't have it all that great; lackeys to the great and powerful, forced to follow a strict social doctrine, not allowed to make many of their own life choices, and if they step out of line, just once, just a little bit, they're publicly executed as traitors. That Offred, despite her own suffering, is still able to sympathize with others, who all have it better than her, is deeply moving, and ultimately a sign of hope. Some people seem to have a problem with the prose in this novel. To those people I say, don't ever read Garcia Marquez, Pynchon, or Joyce. To everyone else I say, forget what your 9th grade English teacher taught you, this prose is stunning. If this novel was written as a straightforward narrative it wouldn't be anywhere near as powerful; the stream-of-consciousness prose is what makes this novel so affecting.
I love science fiction and future fiction, and this is one of my favorite books of all time. The story about the handmaiden who has been separated from her family for the sin of not being married, who is used for her known ability to procreate, who is a prisoner in her own country, is both entertaining and thought provoking. Margaret Atwood is a master when it comes to weaving an interesting story, and excels at telling it. Now that I think about it, I think I'll read this book again! :)
What happens when the government is taken over by a religious sect...mayhem for women under the guise of "tradional values".
More adult than young adult. Definitely for the conspiracy theorist anti big brother crowd. Cautionary tale, anyone?
Great story that kept me wanting to read more and more. Loved it. Then it just ended. No ending really at all. No idea what happend. HATE THAT. What a cheap way to end a great story. Would never have read it if I had known.
In its quiet progression it is harrowing. In the age of Trump, we must be very vigilant .
I loved this book so much! It was written beautifully, and it's very relevant in the time we live in today.
A low tech Hunger Games, without the games.
This is a book that will truly make you think. The book is beautifully written, and all too possible for the future. I would say this is one of my all time favorite books.
A good read that leaves me wondering just how long we have considering she wrote this 30 sum years ago It starts with censoring or silencing the press. My first Atwood book and she is a colorful and descriptive teller. I was not disappointed.
I found this book extremely unsettling- never trust a religious fanatic who wants to impose their beliefs on the rest of us "for our own good"! This includes the bible thumpers currently running for office. When they get control of a society, the first things to go are human rights, especially women's rights.
Atwood is a really wonderful writer; she is good at turning the mundane into something captivating. However, I'm not sure science fiction/dystopian futures are her strong suit. Dystopian futures are not the mundane, yet she chooses nevertheless to focus on the mundane aspects, which can be a bit of a bore at times. Her writing is poetic and lovely, but given the genre it often feels overly verbose. Periodically I would come across a chapter or paragraph or sentence that struck me as brilliant and wonderful; more often than not it was too much mystery and buildup for too little pay off. That being said, I would still absolutely recommend this book. The very concept is so disturbing that it deserves to be explored and pondered over. Not Atwood's best work, but still a work deserving of attention.
I liked that this was written as a sort of memoir/diary, but wasn't divided into daily entries that make reading more staccato. Like so many of my favorite oral history/memoir style fictional future dystopia novels [which is an awesomely specific yet diverse genre:], Atwood doesn't take much time here to explain how things have come to be the way they are, giving just enough in the way of allusion and event timeline to keep the reader from feeling frustratedly out of the loop. We are given to understand that there has been a catastrophic and widespread change in the fertility of women and viability of fetuses, and that as a result women of confirmed or potential fertility are being conscripted and shuttled from home to home as 'handmaids' - one of the three functions now for wives. Handmaids are intended an entirely for non-romantic procreation role, and bizarre loveless sex rituals have been enacted as part of a regular 'ceremony'. The nameless narrator is independent and self-reflective enough to engage the reader and bridge the gap between the common experience of contemporary romance and the dystopian future world, but not the sort of spunky derring-do heroine that becomes grating in novels of this ilk for their casual dismissal of a totalitarian regime previously established as very dangerous by the author. I loved the conclusion to this book. At first I thought it was horrifically unsatisfying, but after reading the epilogue I was more willing to embrace the point at which Atwood chose to leave off the narration. Every unexpected plot twist in this book drew me deeper in, and while it wasn't a can't-put-it-down book, it was a more engaging read than the other two I was reading at the time
Margaret Atwood, in The Handmaid¿s Tale, creates a dystopian world where equality is unknown and the truth is concealed. The risk of betrayal, the fear looming in all under the regime, instills a sense of excitement where one¿s heart stops and breath is held while the story gradually unravels. Alongside the appealing plot, Offred is portrayed as a woman whose words are full of contradictions. Irony looms in every page as Atwood highlights the fear stirring inside every handmaid, in this case Offred.
The plot is simple, a female portrayed as similar to an object and a possession, coerced to live under a government who manipulates the world. In a sense, women were blinded from reality as they were constantly fed deceit in a way that forces them to believe what is given to them. Whether they truly agreed with the regime was completely dependent on who she is. In this novel, we see the development of Offred from a girl who only does what is necessary and hides in fear to a woman who utilizes strategies to endure in a world where truth is unknown. However, irony becomes apparent in her method of survival as her notion of freedom is just another way to pull her back into the hands of oppression. This is due to the fact that her ultimate goal is to become fertile, but in reality by doing so, although seemingly liberation-like, it is only another method for Offred to remain under the slavery condition and in the prison-like situation. By having a child, Offred is indicating her acceptance to the false reality the government reveals to her. Her consideration of a way out is technically a way in. Her form of salvation is ultimately damnation.
By having a substantial amount of controversy evident in this novel, Atwood enables a deeper implication, a mystery, and a method to confuse yet appeal to the readers. Alongside the satisfaction of discovering the irony, there is also puzzlement of what is truly in Offred¿s mind. This novel rich in enigma enables us to continue reading in hope to unravel the secrets behind each and every line.
Although the plot may be straightforward, by it being accompanied with mystery the story evolves into one where questions are proliferating and answers are left awaiting. The excitement is truly alluring and I applaud Atwood for a story remarkable in its ability to enlighten and its style.
When I read The Handmaid's Tale back in the nineties, I remember feeling chilled but thought this could never really happen in America. I just finished reading it for the 2nd time and it is terrifying because the plot is now so plausible. I saw the HBO movie that came out in 1990. I haven't watched the Hulu series but will eventually. Here's a quote that basically sums up my feelings about this novel: "When almost every day brings another assault upon the personhood of women, can we ALL affirm that women deserve the same inalienable right over their bodies that men claim for their homes and rifles?" Pastor Jim Rigby (Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church, Austin, TX).