Today’s post is another book review because I am just in a very literary mood. So, last semester I found a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood tucked away in a thrift store in NYC. I had been meaning to read the novel for awhile and the $2 price tag was far too tempting to resist so I purchased the book and got reading right away on the train ride back home.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel that takes place in a country called the Republic of Gilead, an imaginary country that exists in the place of what was ‘formerly’ the United States. Within the novel it is assumed by the reader that some unknown tragedy (nuclear, biological, etc. fallout on a major scale) occurred somewhere in the past that caused the United States to fall and this new government system to take over.
The main character of this story, Offred, shows us this new republic from her point of view as a woman who is ‘employed’ in this society by rich couples to serve as a ‘vessel’ for carrying children; since the mysterious disastrous event left most people infertile. However, employed is probably the wrong word to use here since Offred is not offered any form of monetary compensation, nor is she given a choice in taking on this job’. Furthermore, her own daughter was taken from her and given to a richer couple showing the lack of respect for individuals and their relationships in this new society (this particular facet of the book especially reminded me of the lack of respect for family ties exhibited during the period of American history where slave-owning was condoned).
Through a series of Offred’s flashbacks we see the process in which this government slowly managed to take control over the people, starting with a slow removal of women’s rights. For instance, one scene describes Offred’s memory of the day she woke to find that women were no longer permitted to hold bank accounts or any sort of assets for themselves; eventually all women and terminated from their jobs entirely.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this novel is the peaceful compliance that these rules were met with, Offred’s husband (representing the majority of males at the time) seemed unworried and simply assured his wife that he would take care of her. Unfortunately her husband did not get worried until it was too late and, after a failed escape attempt, even his wife’s name was taken from her as she was given a new title: Offred (Of Fred) to signify her position as property of the ‘Commander’ (the man who tries to impregnate her).
While the events of the novel actually taking place are highly unlikely, The Handmaid’s Tale serves as an eye-opening parable that shows the slippery slope that can occur from the limiting of a certain group’s rights. After women lost their say in the society depicted in the novel it was not long before most people were being controlled, attacked, or even killed by the power hungry government (for instance, doctors were killed simply because they had performed abortions in the past, people who had faiths that differed from the uniform religion of the Republic were murdered etc.)
This novel manages to compel the reader primarily through the eerie familiarity of it’s flashbacks and it’s ability to place the reader into the dystopian society; leaving us to wonder, what would we do in a situation like this? Because the fact of the matter is even in today’s society there are large groups of people (homosexuals, women, various ethnicities) who are prejudiced against and denied rights based simply on a part of who they are, something inherent to them from birth. The point of this novel is not to make us fear an extreme totalitarian rule, it is to force the reader to open their eyes to the prejudice around them and instill in them a desire to do something about that prejudice, rather than just sit idily by.
Read it; I guarantee you’ll see things just a little bit differently once you have.
Also, use the comments to reccomend some other good books if you want or just to discuss whats on your mind :)