Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Book Review : The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Written By: amodini - Feb• 07•18


Title : The Handmaid’s Tale
Author : Margaret Atwood
Genre : Dystopian sci-fi
Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating : 4/5

Set in a not-so-distant future, The Handmaid’s Tale is a horrifying look-see into what could happen were the baser tenets of patriarchy to take over the world. In this new world, governments, as we know them, have been abolished. A right wing fringe group has taken over that role and established the Republic of Gilead. Women’s rights have been severely curtailed; they can no longer read, hold jobs or live independent, self-sufficient lives. Women now have narrow lives and even narrower roles to play. A Woman can be a Handmaid, a Wife, a Martha, an Aunt, or an Unwoman, among other roles. While the first four come under rigid roles and have specific duties, an Unwoman is considered a rebel, and deemed fit to only live on the toxic colonies.

Because human births have decreased, women are prized for their abilities to give birth and all healthy child-bearing females have been forced into service as “HandMaids”. Each is “allocated” to a high-ranking officer, to allow that officer to beget a child. Handmaids to be are trained to be “of service”, by residing in a home, lead stark, joyless, government-ordained lives.

Our heroine Offred (Handmaids ae known only by the officer they belong to, e.g; Of-Fred) is attached to Commander Fred, and lives a stultifying, closed life punctuated only by the allowed single daily visit to the market to get fresh produce as she waits to get pregnant. The process of impregnation itself is a dry, impersonal one, involving the man, his wife, and the Handmaid.

Offred, despite “Handmaid school” and all the brain-washing and indoctrination, can remember her old life, where she held a job, had a husband and child of her own, drove a car and led a life of self-volition. Now she knows not where any of her family is. Survival is hard, but survive she must if she is to have a shot at finding them. There have been rumors of fleeing Handmaids facing summary execution or worse. But then there also have been rumors of free women . . .

I had read The Handmaid’s Tale as a teenager, and I read it again recently. While this is an interesting book and warns of dire consequences should we choose to get complacent about our human rights, this is shorter than expected and offers no clear resolution at the end, only a hope of one. This book was written in the 80s but its message, amazingly, rings true now more than ever before. One would think we would have progressed way beyond that point by now.

Atwood, as always, shines in her descriptions of this dystopian society, and manages to bring home the horror of it all by describing each cruel dictat and custom forced upon women in threadbare, play-by-play detail. The atmosphere is one of doom-and-gloom, sadness, heart-breaking longing and nostalgia, as we become privy to Handmaid Offred’s thoughts. A line from the book sums it up:

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”

Indeed. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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