In this multi-award-winning, bestselling novel, Margaret Atwood has created a stunning Orwellian vision of the near future. This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate “Handmaids” under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the “time before” and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.
I have this saying. “Once you’ve read one book about totalitarianism, you’ve read them all.” The reason why I came up with this saying is because after I read Nineteen Eighty-Four, A Brave New World and even Fahrenheit 451, I was struck by how similar all the voices were. Though the details of the novels were different, it didn’t change the fact that the subject was the same and so was the atmosphere and general demeanour of the books.
I read V For Vendetta recently, and though the subject was by no means original, it had a spark of unique creativity and the dialogue in it was incredible. (I’ve always thought Alan Moore to be a genius.) This is the first Margaret Atwood novel I’ve read, and I didn’t have very high hopes for it. Somewhere along the line, I became sick of books about dystopian Orwellian societies that were all cookie cutter copies of Nineteen Eighty Four. I really thought I would hate The Handmaid’s Tale.
I was very wrong. The aspect that changes this novel and makes it resonate with me is that it’s from the point of view of a woman. There’s no equality for women in this world and they’re treated as commodities, as resources that will create further resources. It was a harsh role for women to play, but Atwood had an even harsher portrayal of women in this novel. The men in this novel were barely mentioned and when they were, they were all superficial characters that didn’t have any thoughts of their own. When women were mentioned, they were painted as either demanding, with loose morals, or violent and imbalanced. In Atwood’s world, nobody is a hero.
The concept that defines this book is one that Atwood mentions in the first half.
“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”
I kept thinking about this concept through the entire novel. In our day, women have freedom to do what we want, but we’re plagued with fear of walking down dark alleys at night. In Atwood’s world, freedom meant no fear because women wouldn’t be allowed to walk around at night anyway. I guess the point that hit home for me is that maybe women don’t have complete freedom in any society.
I highly recommend this book for women. It’ll make you question what we have and the harsher realities of what we could lose.