The Handmaid's Taleby Published 01 Apr 1998
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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...
The Handmaid's Tale Reviews
There are only a small handful of books that have affected me in a REALLY personal way. In a way that I always try to put into words and always, ultimately, fail. I have read a lot of books over the years and I've liked many, disliked plenty too, loved and hated a smaller amount... but out of the thousands I've read, there's less than ten - maybe even less than five, now I think about it - that honestly hit me so hard that I would go so far as to say they changed me.
The Handmaid's Tale is a book that changed my life.
I know, I know, big dramatic statement to make. I hear you. And normally I wouldn't say that, even about books I give five glowing stars; but with this book it is nothing short of the truth. This book was the spark that turned me into a feminist. It was the spark that made me interested in gender politics and, through that, politics in general. One of my favourite teachers in the world gave me this book and said "I think you'll like this one."
She was so wrong.
I didn't like this book; I loved it. And I hated it. I lost sleep over it. I lived in it. I was so completely absorbed into this world, into this dark but oddly quiet dystopian reality. There is something about the tone of Atwood's novels that works like a knife to my heart. Quiet, rich, the drama just bubbling under the surface of the prose. Atwood doesn't waste words, she doesn't sugarcoat her stories with meaningless phrases, everything is subtle and everything is powerful.
This dystopia is a well-told feminist nightmare. An horrific portrait of a future that seems far too reminiscent of aspects of our own society and its very real recent history. The best kind of dystopian fiction is, for me, that which convinces me this world might or could happen. Atwood's world-building may be sparse and built up gradually as the story unfolds, but she slowly paints a portrait of stifling oppression and injustice that had me hanging on her every word.
For someone like me who was so caught up in Offred's experiences, this book was truly disturbing. In the best possible way. There are so many themes and possible interpretations that can be taken from this book - plenty of which I've literally written essays on - but I'll let new readers discover and interpret the book for themselves. I will issue you one warning, though: the ending is ambiguous and puts many people off the book. But, for me, it's one of the very few cases where an open ending has worked 100%. It made the story even more powerful, in my opinion, and guaranteed I would never be able to forget Offred and, indeed, this whole book.
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
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Looking back on my original review, it reads as quaint compared to the draconian state laws recently being passed, my state of Ohio being one of them. Make no mistake, this not about ‘life’ it’s about controlling women. If you can’t decide what happens to your own body you do not have freedom. This is about bodily autonomy.
Women have the RIGHT to legal and safe abortions with no qualifications. The fact that the narrative has gone to ‘in cases of rape and incest’ is troubling. Rape...incest...life of the mother....horrible birth defects....you’re young, single and not ready....you have five kids and can’t afford more, it doesn’t matter!
This is a medical procedure and pregnancy is a risky condition, it can cause death. Every woman has the right to decide whether or not they want to take that risk. Period.
Men don’t have anything that compares to this. No law is forcing them have vasectomies, or even denying them their bonner pills.
7/7/17 I'm just going to leave this here.... fuck Paul Ryan.... but not literally, ew.
Sleeveless women? My stars and garters!
03/31/17. So, this Russia thing.... Am I right?
2/5/17.....just another giant step towards making this book a reality, like they always dreamed of.
Original review written in 2o12:
WARNING: This review is being written after I worked a 13 hour day, with another one on the horizon tomorrow, and a glass of wine and while watching the Rachel Maddow show. Current events have put this book on the forefront of my mind, and damn it I got to get this out.
I have never written a review on The Handmaid's Tale because I love the book, and it is so hard to write about a book you love.
Ehh, what the hell.
OfFred was a normal everyday woman with a career, a name, a life like all women have come to expect and take for granted in this age. When the Religious Right came into power, they began to put into practice their insane beliefs which strip women of their identity, their rights, their body, their very name. Women are to be called Of(whatever asshat they belong to), instead of, say Beatrix. Reproduction is an issue because all the toxins in the environment have rendered many women infertile. But if you are fertile, woe to you, you get to be a baby factory against your will, get promised to some jerk you don’t love or even like because someone deemed him important enough to breed. Oh, come on!
This book was written in 1986, FYI. I thought it was scary and sort of possible when I first read it, but farfetched. This could NEVER happen in the United States of America. Never would it be allowed to happen here, we are too educated.
I turn on the news (in twothousandandfrikntwelve) and certain religious factions on the right are trying to defund Planned Parenthood, because they perform abortions which is only 3% of what they do (with NO federal $ going towards them). Mostly PP provides healthcare to women who wouldn't get it otherwise………..icky poor women.
Now it’s birth control? Seriously? Birth control??????? Did I wake up in 1950? Am I stuck in a Atwood novel? 98% of Catholic women (technically I’m one of them) use/used birth control. Even they are asking WTF?
I’m not sure what these people are trying to do. There are more women than men and we vote……unless that’s the next right on the chopping block.
There have several updates to this review that I have removed to make room for the next. what follows is the most recent one.
It’s been nearly a week since the unimaginable happened and I had to let the shock wear off before I could put a coherent, non-rage filled update on this review. Not that I don’t have rage, I have plenty to spare, but I think it’s now at a level that is manageable enough for me not to just type out a string of obscenities. That being said…
Update 11/14/16: An unqualified, racist, xenophobic, sexist, pathological liar, psychopathic reality star was elected to be the 45th president of the United States and the leader of the free world.
The United States has officially shat the bed. Few foresaw it, but in hindsight, it was coming down the road for a very long time. The United (divided) States voted for Hillary Clinton on whole (popular vote) by over 2,000,000 votes and counting (millions are still out in California, for example), yet Donald Trump is our president elect (gag) due to an antiquated electoral college system (which I could explain, but I’m not because Google can do that better than I can.) Now, I’m all for ditching the electoral college, unless the electors decide to do what it was intended to do under this circumstance; to save us from ourselves. See, our founding fathers knew that we would fall for some con artist, demagogue at some point in the future, so they wisely created the electoral college, a group of actual human beings trusted upon to stop such a calamity. I implore the folks of current electoral college recognize this election as a collective loss of sanity of less than a quarter of the population of this nation, and on December 19th put their votes towards the popular vote winner, Hillary Clinton. I realize that this is unlikely, but one can dream.
How did this happen? There are many factors involved. Lots of opportunity for pointing fingers and fighting amongst ourselves, which I will admit to being a party to…..guilty. But, in my opinion, what it boils down to is these four things: Division, misinformation, apathy and fear of the ‘other’.
Division: We are all in our own comfortable bubbles, digesting the information we are most comfortable with. For example, I never believed there was this much hate it this country because I didn't want to look at it; I knew it was there of course, but not at the level that it appears to be. Everyone wants to live where they feel they belong. Amongst those that are like minded and reaffirm your very rightness. Liberals don’t want to live in Indiana (or Ohio….sigh) any more than a conservative want’s to live in Washington state. We even do this in our social media as well (guilty again). This is what messed us up with the electoral college.
Misinformation: I am not going to tell you who’s right or wrong here, I’ll let this study speak for itself.
Apathy: Half…HALF… the country didn’t vote. You guys suck.
Fear of the other: This country harbors more racism than I can comprehend. The white people in this country seemed a little angry about the black man in the white house and the white men were staunchly determined not to have a woman (white or not) follow him. I don’t mean all white men, just too many of them (chill.) “The advantage for Trump among men is larger than the 7-point advantage Romney had in 2012 and much different than in 2008, when men preferred Obama over McCain by a single point.”-PewResearchCenter. But then there are the white women, 53% went for Trump…..oh my sisters, I have no words.
Which brings me to the reason why this update is relevant to this review and to this book (for those who tell me that my opinion is unwarranted....again.) Is the United States a more racist country, or a more sexist country? America has spoken, at least the ones who cared to speak, and the answer is “a goodly amount of both”, but in this election sexism won and women lost.
I am lying awake in my bed. I keep my eyes closed and beg sleep to come. Fruitlessly! Outside, the rain is whipping the windows without mercy. My husband is sleeping next to me, oblivious to my struggle. I need my thoughts to go away. I need to forget that I just finished the Handmaid's Tale and its effect on me. I knew I should have resumed myself to the self-imposed daily quota of 10%. But no. I had to read the last 30 % in one go and now I can't sleep because of it. It’s like a shot of caffeine to my veins. How can I review such a book? How can I explain how I feel? I don’t even know. I can't say I enjoyed it. I was both dreading and expecting to open the pages. I wanted it to be over, like I want a punishment to be over. It made me choke; I was uncomfortable and in pain the whole 312 pages. However, I was also in awe to the power and poetry of Atwood's writing. The last novel they made me feel this way was Never Let Me Go. I can still smell the heavy the heavy atmosphere. Submission! This is it. Both were about submission to a terrible destiny. I could not understand and accept it then and I cannot do it now. Or can I? What would I do to survive, if submission were the only hope? There is a knot in my throat.
What she wrote in this novel, the world she created is absurd isn't it? It cannot happen, not in a million years, right? We are past this, we have evolved enough. We cannot get there. It would be terrible, unthinkable. It is absurd to think that people’s will can be so easily obliterated, that minds can be erased and that fear can rule one’s life into submission. And still... Kim Jung-Un in Korea, Putin in Russia, more recently the election in Turkey. Trump is just as dangerous. Le Pen can become the next president in France. Yes the daughter of the man that said that Holocaust did not exist. The world is a dangerous place and freedom is fragile. We need to open our eyes, be vigilant and never be complacent with what we have so it is not taken from us.
I still cannot sleep. The rain becomes even more punishing. My mind races. I think about the past of my country. In the end of the novel, at Historical Notes, there were a few examples of other similar regimes that reacted as Gilead. It said that Romania has anticipated Gilead in the eighties by banning all forms of birth control, and imposing other restrictions. How I wished this was also part of the author’s imagination. Ok, there were no compulsory pregnancy tests and promotion did not depend on fertility but a decree was passed by Ceausescu, our last communist president where all birth control and abortion was banned. The punishment for not complying was severe; women were imprisoned and beaten to confess. During the 20 years when the decree was in place, more than 10,000 women died from illegal, mostly home-made abortions. Another world where men controlled women’s body. Not so long ago. We cannot go back to that, can we?
Motherhood. Another hurtful subject. To have your child taken away from you. To be unable to have a child and have your husband conceive with someone else while you watch. A nightmare for any woman (or man). No more love, no more sex for pleasure. No, here I draw the line. I cannot see this happen. And still…
The above memoir of a distressed reader that could not sleep because of the Handmaid’s Tale, was found in the notes of a mobile phone. It is hard to identify the person that wrote the document as there were probably many people that lost sleep over this novel in Atwood’s republic. She tends to write some uncomfortable stuff, that author. We cannot confirm the authenticity of the document, still the disturbed tone suggests that the person actually read the Handmaid’s Tale and was deeply impressed by it. And scared.
P.S. I found in another review an interesting article wrote by Atwood where she discusses the book. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/bo...
(edited from a paper I wrote in college about the book)
In 1986, when Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale, Ronald Regan had declared “Morning in America,” and society was going to renew itself by returning to the old values. The Christian right, in its infancy at the time, was rising in reaction to the Free Love, and the horrors of AIDs. The 1984 election gave us Willie Horton, and a reminder about how violent and evil society had become. Finally, even though Chernobyl happened shortly after the book was published, the Union Carbide disaster in Bopal, India was still fresh in the headlines—a reminder that even the air is not safe. It was not hard at the time to extrapolate the ultimate end that this cocktail of fundamentalism, conservatism, violence, disease, and disaster would bring, but what Atwood could not know, is how much of her novel would become reality in the world.
Amazingly, twenty years after it was written, there are elements of the story that have become true—perhaps not in the United States, where the story takes place, but throughout the world. The most obvious first connection is with many of the issues regarding women’s rights and religious fundamentalism that are taking place in the Middle East. It was shocking to read in the book that the initial attack on the US Government was blamed on Islamic Fundamentalists, though the story was written after the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing, and the massacre at the Rome airport. While this kind of terrorism was only in its infancy, Atwood’s insight is almost prophetic in the book. When the Murrah building in Oklahoma City was bombed, the initial reaction by the media was to blame Islamic terrorists, when in fact—like the novel—the terrorism was homegrown. The scale of the attack that took out the US Government in the novel is also eerily similar to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Reading this novel in the post-9/11 world can send chills down one’s spine: the novel includes suicide bombings at checkpoints, restrictions of rights in the name of safety, blind patriotism, and an overwhelming belief that there is only one true religion, and deviants from this should be killed.
While George Orwell’s 1984 is often referred to as an insightful perspective on modern society whenever someone puts a video camera on a street lamp, or the government begins referring to negative events with positive doublespeak. Orwell’s world never materialized in full, and likely never will materialize to the degree he created. Instead it is Atwood’s distopia, seemingly outrageous at the time it was written, that became reality. This novel should serve as a cautionary warning about the result of any extremist view taken to its logical conclusion—the Taliban is proof that society cannot dismiss the notions of this book as outrageous and extreme. They have proven in the last decade, a plausible end to the error of letting fundamentalism in any form guide one’s society.
What a perfect time to be scared to death by this novel. It doesn't feel dated or far-fetched at all, thanks to President Trump.
Claire Danes is a pretty good match for this narrative.
Imagine the near future where power is overtaken by the religious right under the guise of protection from Islamic terrorism. Imagine the future where the roles of the women reduced to those assigned to them in Old Testament - they are no longer allowed to read, work, own property, or handle money. Imagine that due to the pollution and man-created viruses, the fertility rates are so low that the few fertile women (the Handmaids) are now a communal property and are moved from house to house to be inseminated by men of power under the watchful eye of their wives. Imagine the future where women can only be the Wives, domestics (the Marthas), sexual toys (the Jezebels), female prison guards (the Aunts), wombs (the Handmaids), or, if they are unsuited for any of these roles, Unwomen who are sent off to the Colonies where they harvest cotton if they are lucky or clean out radioactive waste if they aren't.
Well, after you've imagined that, you can imagine very easily how much I was terrified by this book. As a modern woman, I am horrified by the notion that at some point in time I can become nothing more than a servant, a toy, a reproductive organ. The world created by Atwood seems too much of a stretch of imagination at a first glance, but if the current climate, how implausible this feminist dystopia really is?
To say I am impressed by this novel is to say nothing, really. This book is one of those that stays in your brain and you keep coming back to it over and over again.
Having said that, I have to note, that this is definitely not an easy read. Offred (the protagonist Handmaid) is in many ways a frustrating narrator: she is broken, she is passive, she is desperate and her only goal is to make it through another day. The ending is ambiguous. The narration is complex with constant switching from present to past and back. But it all worked perfectly for me. For me, "The Handmaid's Tale" is a powerful novel that is in my mind next to Saramago's "Blindness," another book that left me sleepless.
Reading challenge: #22