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 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...
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
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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(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.
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.