The Handmaid's Taleby Published 16 Mar 1998
|The Handmaid's Tale.pdf|
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
I’ve been moved by books in the past, many times, but I’ve never before read a book that has emotionally drained me to such a degree. This is frightening and powerful. And sometimes it only takes a single paragraph to make you realise how much so:
“Yes, Ma’am, I said again, forgetting. They used to have dolls, for little girls, that would talk if you pulled a string at the back; I thought I was sounding like that, voice of a monotone, voice of a doll. She probably longed to slap my face. They can hit us, there’s Scriptural precedent. But not with any implement. Only with their hands.”
Needless to say, this is an absolutely awful situation. From the very beginning, I knew how much I was going to like this book. Its story isn’t one that it is simply read: it demands to be heard. It beckoned me to see the full force of the situation. The Handmaids, the average woman, have no free will or individualism; they are treated as simple baby producing machines. An oppressive regime is forced upon them, and to deviate from the said standard results in a slow and agonising death. There’s no hope or joy for them, only perpetual subjugation.
Indeed, this is where Atwood’s awe inspiringly persuasive powers reside. By portraying such a bleak situation, she is able to fully demonstrate what life could be like if we suddenly followed the misogynistic views of the old testament with fierce intensity. Women would have no power whatsoever. This would be reinforced by a complete cultural destruction and lack of any form of self-expression. They would not be able to read or write; they would not be able to speak their minds. It would even go as far as to condition them so powerfully, that they completely lack the ability of independent thought. And, to make it even worse, the women know no difference. Sure, the narrator of this remembers her past, but she’s not allowed to. She is forced to repress any sense of individual sentiment.
“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”
The narrator has a horrendous ordeal, in an equally as horrendous world. The notion was devised as a response against a drastic decrease in birth-rates. Men in power have taken complete control of women in both body and mind to insure an increase in the declining birth-rates. As I mentioned, their individualism is repressed, but the men also prevent any physical freedom. The women are owned by the state, by the men and by corruption; their bodies are nothing more than a means to provide new life. In this, they are degraded to a state of sub-human existence; they are no longer people. Atwood suggests that they are merely a reproductive organ, one that can be discarded without thought, mercy or conscience. This is reinforced on every level; the language delivers this on a revealing scale. The names are suggestive of the oppression; the protagonist is called “Offred.” She is of-Fred: she belongs to him. The women are assigned names that are not their own; they are dubbed with the disgusting title of “Handmaiden.” By doing so they are left with very little of their former lives. The women are simply objects to be used, controlled and destroyed and the slightest hint of nonconformity to such an absurd system. But, here’s the rub. The best, and most haunting, thing about this novel is its scary plausibility.
The culture created is evocative of one that could actually exist. The way the men attempt to justify its existence is nothing short of terrifying. They make it sound perfectly normal. Well, not normal, but an idea that could be justified to a people. Not that it is justifiable, but the argument they present has just enough eerie resemblance to a cold, logical, response to make it seem probable in its misguided vileness. The totalitarian elements provide an image of a people that will do endure anything if they’re provided with a glimpse of liberty. The small degree of liberty the Handmaids think they have doesn’t actually exist: it’s an illusion, a trick, a shadow on the wall. They’re manipulated into believing it and become frenzied in the face of it. It is the ultimate means of control in its nastiness.
“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”
This book was horrifying and strangely perceptive. If you’re thinking about reading this, stop thinking, just read it. It’s brilliant. It’s a book I will definitely be reading again because it is just so thought provoking and disturbing.
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I don't even know where to start with this book??
I was not able to connect with the Characters in the book at all. It was a task to completely finish this book at all.
I know I am in the minority, but I don't know what all the hype was with this book. I think that Atwood was long winded in her writing style and did not help with the connections with the Characters.
I honestly don't have much more to say about this book.
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.
A true dystopian classic. This is incredibly well written, & I think that is why it's fan base is so enormous & faithful. It made Entertainment Weekly's "Top 25 Best Books of the Last 25 Years" several years ago.
The account reminds me of, and is probably written trying to somehow emulate, "The Diary of Anne Frank." This new vision of the future is one devoid the female mystique, with only one sex becoming triumphant &) dominating the other. This is misogyny to the nth degree. It is a holocaust that mirrors the treatment of women in the Middle East. It is multifaceted & wondrous. But also terrible.
I must say that reading the last stretch of novel, I drifted & when the conclusion arrived, it hit me. It's impact waking me full tilt. What?!?!? It ends in a very Coen Brothers fashion! That it is tight, then unravels in plot is efficient... then chaotic. It belongs in the same shelf as "We," obviously, and I did not find anything funny about it, only pathos and ironic melancholy. Again, kinda like 'em Coens.
Don't let the bastards grind you down.
There's a lot of talk about women's rights these days. There were times where I thought: enough already. You girls got it good. I looked around me and saw women with strong voices and a million choices. If they wished to go for a career, they could go for it. If they didn't, no biggie. Their liberty seemed greater than men's in a lot of respects. The power they wield over men is magnificent and often described as the greatest humanity is capable of: a woman's love. They can choose to give it or withhold it. Men's political and physical powers look puny and artificial in contrast, as their strings are constantly pulled by forces they can't resist. Somewhere deep inside me I had a hard time believing things could really be so bad for women, with their majority in numbers and all this strenght at their disposal.
But then you turn on the news or you open a history book. You look outside your own country. You look at a presidential candidate talking about women as animals, as goods to be acquired, as territories to be conquered. You see people making excuses for it, making light of it, you see in their eyes they assume that it's normal. You see laws that tell women what to do with their own bodies, in the name of religion or the greater good. You hear of households where tiny kings use their physical power to terrorise their tiny kingdoms. And then you see all the machinations that have gone into trying to rob women of their mystical, almost holy, powers in greater kingdoms, machinations that often seem on the verge of systematising in the blink of an eye.
So, having accepted that the Woman's struggle is real, I was reading The Handmaid's Tale that paints a picture of how things would look like if circumstance and evil succeeded in stripping women of all the agency they have. When they have succesfully been ground down by the bastards. Bastards aren't Men, per se. Or all men. Or only men. This isn't so much a story about women versus men. It's a story of the artificial power against the real one, a story where the former won.
It's a bleak picture. Atwood uses the very claustrophobic perspective of Offred to great effect. Offred is the eponymous handmaid who find herself in a dystopia where her only societal value is also a curse: her fertility. Her world consists of her room, a stroll down the stairs, a garden, a walk to the butcher and her one and only societal mission: to get pregnant. She has to wear a cape that allows her to only look directly in front of her. She's isolated and stripped of her identity. Even her memories are slowly disappearing and losing relevance in a surrounding that offers nothing to link them to. Through this narrative Margaret Atwood succeeds in donning that same vision-confining cape on her readers' heads, immersing them in that same claustrophobic atmosphere.
This books does very well what it set out to do and that also explains why I didn't thoroughly enjoy it. I wanted more background. I wanted more explanations. I wanted more adventure. I wanted more action by the protagonist. I wanted her spirit, still apparent in the secretly hoarding of butter and the plotting of small thefts, to break free and wreak havoc among the bastards. Make them lose without losing herself. I wanted more direction. I wanted the flashes of hope to last. In short: the author succeeded in making me want what the protagonist wanted. She showed me what it is we should all strive to avoid actively.
An important book, and a good one to boot.