Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor Books
Release Date: March, 1998 (Originally 1985)
Acquired: Purchased from Amazon
Read Dates: Oct. 11-22, 2013
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’m not sure how I feel about The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m having a really hard time rating it with my regular system. I guess I’ll tackle it in sections.
My knee jerk reaction to the beginning of this book was to hate it. My biggest problem with it was Atwood’s style of writing. It was very disjointed and hard to follow. There were also a lot of quotation marks missing, so I found myself re-reading sections in order to make them flow in my head. The second problem I had with the book was that the feminist portion of my personality roared out of control at what these idiots had done to the women of Gilead. Women are not allowed to read, they cannot own anything and they absolutely cannot think for themselves. They are totally at the whim of their male “owners” and are required to accept their plot with a kindly “Thank you, sir.” I hated everything about Gilead.
On Second Thought
After I got about half way through the book, my opinions began to morph. I was still struggling, but the plot picked up significantly. When Offred started breaking the rules, things started getting interesting. Offred often berates herself for being a wimp and I’m sure some people view her that way, but I didn’t interpret her as a wimpy character. I viewed her as a survivor. I guess some people feel that if you don’t stand up to “the man,” you are a wimp. I personally view that stance as having a death wish. Offred was resourceful. She did what she had to do to get by and stay alive. In this case any alternative meant almost certain death. She dreamed everyday of getting out and being free. I look at Offred as being like a caged bird.
The more I got into it, the sorrier I felt for all of the people in this society. The wives were forced to watch and participate in their husband’s sexual encounters with the handmaids. They hated the handmaids, yet required their services. Talk about a love/hate relationship! I also felt sorry for most of the men in this society. The elite men of the society were the ones with wives and big houses and handmaids, but most of the men were not allowed to marry. They couldn’t look at any women for fear of being hanged; they had to move up in rank in order to qualify for the right to procreate; they couldn’t even put their hands in their pockets because they might be accused of touching themselves. Then of course you have the handmaids which were slaves to their own fertility. This society was just harsh. I guess that’s why it’s a dystopian novel, huh?
The final chapter brought the whole thing into focus for me. A professor, 150 years in the future, gives his dissertation about the Gileadean society. The way he talked about Gilead reminded me of the way we often talk or have talked about Hitler, Communism and genocide. It made me realize there have been many atrocities carried out in our past and present that could have shown up in this book. The professor spoke about all the events leading up to the rise of Gilead and how they were able to overthrow the U.S. government due to circumstances and discontent. There were several items discussed that eerily mirror current events in our own government and society. I don’t believe American’s would ever submit to the sweeping changes addressed in this book, but I could see small parts of it coming to pass. We give up many of our civil liberties every day because of sheer laziness. Who’s to say we wouldn’t give up even more due to threat of death? It’s a scary look at what could happen.
So, what did I end up thinking about this book? I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I’m glad I read it. I believe it serves as a warning. To what extent, I’m not sure. It definitely made me think, which I interpret as a good thing. I think I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars, but that may fluctuate depending on what day you ask me. 🙂